A little over a year ago Belgium implemented the EU Single Permit Directive for non-EU citizens seeking to work in Belgium for more than 90 days. The Single Permit, combining both work and residence authorization into one document issued through a single application procedure, represented an important step forward. However, substantial challenges continued to be faced by the business community due to lengthy procedures and lack of legal certainty.
"Belgium is taking steps towards optimisation of the Single Permit Process in the War for Talent."
The Single Permit application requires for both work and residence authorizations to be approved before applicants may start their employment in Belgium. The average total processing time in 2019 was three to four months. Prospective talent unwilling to sit out the extensive period for approval has resulted in businesses losing potential new hires and being unable to meet critical business needs. Renewal applications were not spared from these challenges, as applicants awaiting approval of their pending Single Permit renewal application were legally obliged to cease employment activity at the expiry of their current Single Permit to avoid the risk of non-compliance posed by continuous employment.
We are therefore very pleased to share a number of recent announcements from the regional and the federal governments that address several challenges.
Policy Change Assuring Work Rights During Single Permit Renewal Process
A policy change has been implemented with local municipalities instructed to assure working rights during the Single Permit renewal process. As of 29 January 2020, Single Permit renewal applicants no longer require approval from the Federal Immigration Office to continue working. Approval by the Regional Employment Authority (first stage of the process) is considered sufficient. The same expedited process applies to applicants for a Single Permit renewal due to a change of employer. Upon approval of the Single Permit renewal application by the Regional Employment Authority, applicants can now obtain a Temporary Residence document (Annex 49) from their local town hall, allowing access to the Belgian labour market.
Discussions to expand the policy change to some categories of foreign nationals who apply for an initial Single Permit are ongoing. These include foreign nationals residing in Belgium who want to change their residence status to an employment-based status (e.g. holders of student visa who subsequently find a job in Belgium), foreign nationals residing in another EU-member state and visa-exempt nationals (e.g. US Citizens) arriving in Belgium.
Single Digital Application Platform – Electronic filing in Flemish region since March 2020
The rollout of a single digital application platform has also been announced. The Flemish Region is taking the lead in this endeavour and is expected to allow renewal applications through the platform soon. Already since March 2020 all applications can be filed via e-mail instead of registered mail. The expectation is that in the Spring of 2021 a fully integrated digital platform will be operational that links regional and federal immigration and social security services.
Accredited Sponsorship Scheme
Another proposal launched by the Flemish government is the application of a scheme of accredited sponsorship. Recognised employers would benefit from expedited processing and document simplifications, similar to the system already in place in the Netherlands.
At the Federal level, an increase in personnel of 25% for the Labour Migration Department of the Federal Immigration Office was announced. The objective is to reduce processing time from eight to two weeks.
It is positive to see that the respective governments have proposed changes that directly address a number of the issues raised by key stakeholders. However, a number of suggestions for the further improvement of the Single Permit process remain unaddressed. Noteworthy are guaranteed total lead times that are competitive compared to neighbouring countries, the suppression of unnecessary administrative steps at the local municipalities and the design of a flexible work permit scheme for foreign nationals working partially in Belgium without residing here.
Should you have any further questions or wish to receive any further information with respect to the information contained in this blog post, please reach out to Wout Van Doren (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Alexander De Nys (email@example.com).
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