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BELGIUM: Transfer of Legislative Power From Federal to Regional Level

Transfer of legislative power from the federal to regional level was effective July 1, 2014 (in practice probably only as of January 1, 2015).

Belgian legislation with regard to immigration (residence permits, work permits for employees, and professional cards for the self-employed) has been federal.  Jurisdiction over issuing residence permits (Foreigners' Office) and professional cards (Ministry of Economic Affairs) has also been federal.  The authority to issue work permits, however, is regional (Belgium's three regions are Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia).

As of July 1, 2014 (in practice probably only as of January 1, 2015), part of the legislative power regarding work permits and professional cards has been transferred to the regions.  Below is a summary of the new rules.

In principle, the regions will have legislative authority over work permits A and B and professional cards, including the exemptions that are not based on the specific residence situation of the foreign employee or the self-employed.  This implies that the regions will be responsible for the regulations and their application, inspection, and compliance (although some federal authorities will continue to have inspection power).

However, the rules with regard to work permits C (work permits issued on the basis of the specific residence situation of the employee) and related work permit exemptions, as well as the rules with regard to exemptions for professional cards issued on the basis of the specific residence situation of the self-employed will remain federal.

In practice, this will probably have the following impact:

  • The regions can establish rules for highly skilled workers and executives (work permit B) and foreign self-employed businesspeople (professional cards).  The regions can also decide when a work permit of indefinite duration (work permit A) can be obtained.  Finally, the regions can also determine the activity-based exemptions for work permits and professional cards.
  • The federal authorities will continue to determine which foreigners who came to Belgium for purposes other than work and who reside in Belgium (e.g., asylum seekers, some family members of foreigners, students) are eligible for work permits (i.e., work permits C) or a work permit exemption.  The rules with regard to exemptions for professional cards issued on the basis of the specific residence situation of the self-employed (e.g., refugees) will remain federal.

The impact will not be immediate.  At present, no new rules have been issued with regard to work permits and professional cards.  As long as there are no such new rules, the federal legislation will continue to be applied.  The regional authorities are likely to continue to apply the existing federal rules until at least the end of 2014.

With regard to professional cards, a protocol appears to have been agreed upon between the regions and the federal Ministry of Economic Affairs.  Pursuant to this protocol, the transfer to the regions would be scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015.  Further postponement is not excluded.  In any event, professional card applications will continue to be processed by the federal Ministry of Economic Affairs until at least the end of 2014.

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