VISAS AND WORK PERMITS
All foreigners working in Belgium need a work permit, with the exception of most EU citizens (the exact legal wording is “citizens of the Union”) and EEA citizens (the EEA, European Economic Area, consists of the EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway ). Self-employed non-EU/EEA citizens need a professional card. A “LIMOSA notification” (explained below) of both employed and self-employed individuals must be made in some cases. In addition to work-related permits, a separate application must be made for an authorization of temporary stay/residence permit.
WORK PERMITS FOR EMPLOYEES
There are three types of work permits: A, B, and C:
Work permit A is valid for more than one employment and for an unlimited period of time but can only be applied for after having worked 4 years (over the last 10 years) in Belgium with a work permit B during a legal and uninterrupted stay.
Work permit B is valid for specific employment and is renewable for a duration of one year. This is the most common permit issued for business purposes. Most of these permits are fast-tracked, although it is possible (but rare) that the job market will be tested before the permit is issued. This resident labor test is waived for highly skilled and executive-level personnel who earn a gross salary that exceeds a threshold established on a yearly basis. For 2009, these thresholds are 35.638EUR (highly skilled) and 59.460EUR (executive-level).
Work permit C is valid for more than one employment and is renewable for a duration of one year. This permit is mainly granted on the basis of a residence situation; e.g., spouse and children (under 18) of diplomats.
Extensions of work permits can be applied for. The application for an extension should include an information document, stamped by the municipality, showing the worker’s address and immigration data. After five years, the worker need no longer apply for extensions if he or she has applied for permanent residence.
Almost all EU/EEA nationals as well as some of their family members (for example, spouses, but also registered common-law partners, entitled to reside in Belgium) are exempt from the requirement to obtain a work permit, with some exceptions applying to nationals of the 12 “new” member states (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania). Nationals of Cyprus and Malta do not need work permits, but nationals of the other 10 new member states may need a work permit until April 30, 2008 (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) or until December 31, 2011 (Bulgaria and Romania) but can enter the job market without a labor market test if they will be working in one of the “labor shortage professions, ” which vary depending on the place of employment (each region of Belgium has its own list). Other exempt groups include:
- Those who are authorized to live in Belgium for an indefinite period;
- Artists and entertainers of international renown working in Belgium for less than three months;
- Some students;
- Most trainees employed by international organizations;
- Certain non-EEA researchers for the duration of a research project determined in a host agreement with a recognized research facility;
- Certain non-EEA key personnel employed by a multinational at their headquarters in Belgium;
- Certain foreign employees for a limited time, under short-term exemptions that took effect in October 2007. This includes, for example, certain employees who are following training courses, participants in conferences or meetings of a limited duration, testers of prototypes, workers on assembly or installation projects (not including construction workers), urgent maintenance and repair workers; and
- Non-EEA employees under specified conditions who are employed by a company that is established in an EEA member state and that comes to Belgium to provide services, under the “Vander Elst” doctrine.
New Fast-Track Permits
In effect from January 1, 2009, third-country (other than EU) nationals who have been conferred the status of long–term residents in another EU country also can be fast-tracked if they want to work in Belgium in a “labor shortage profession.” Â After 12 months, they can be fast-tracked for all professions.
Procedures and Timeframes
A work permit is issued to the employee and work authorization is issued to the employer. Both are applied for on the same form, which is filed by or on behalf of the employer. For highly skilled or executive-level personnel, the process takes about two to three weeks. If a labor market test needs to be conducted, the process may take more than three months. To expedite this process, the employer may provide evidence that no Belgian employees are available for the particular type of work, such as placing ads for workers with the local employment agency before filing the application for a work permit.
Work permits are obtained from one of the three regions (Brussels, Flanders, or Wallonia) in which the employment will take place. In the latter two regions, the application is filed with the local employment agency, which then forwards it to the Regional Ministry of Employment; in Brussels, it is filed directly with the Regional Ministry of Employment. It is likely that this procedure (direct filing with the Ministry) will be adopted in Flanders in 2009.
Applications, which vary slightly depending on the region, must include a medical certificate, an employment contract or letter, and a copy of the worker’s passport. Additional documentation may be included; for example, a resume or copy of a university degree. Other requirements may apply, depending on the situation; for example, proof of social security coverage in the home country.
If the application is refused, the decision may be appealed within one month to the Regional Ministry of Employment.
Self-employed non-EU/EEA individuals performing professional activities in Belgium must obtain a professional card, whether or not the work is paid.
In addition to EU/EEA individuals, foreign nationals on “business travel” for a maximum of three consecutive months are also exempt from the requirement to carry a professional card. Business travels may pertain to visiting professional partners, networking with professional contacts, negotiating contracts, attending trade exhibitions to market products, or attending board or shareholder meetings.
Professional cards are obtained from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and must be filed either at the Belgian Consulate abroad, if the applicant resides abroad, or at an Enterprise Counter in Belgium , if the applicant resides in Belgium . The processing time is at least a month.
Self-employed individuals and commercial companies must also be registered with the Crossroad Bank for Enterprises, and before applying for that, must obtain a Certificate of Management Skills (with some exemptions) on the basis of degrees or experience; if he or she does not meet these requirements, courses and an exam will be required.
As noted above, LIMOSA notifications of both employed and self-employed individuals must be made in some cases. LIMOSA refers to a modernization effort Belgium initiated regarding the legal aspects of the employment of foreign nationals. The main requirement is that each foreign national, who is employed abroad and who is sent by his employer to Belgium to perform work there on a temporary basis (so-called posting of workers or secondment), must be registered before the start of the secondment.
A Royal Decree effective as of April 2007 sets forth exemptions for business need. For example, self-employed business persons, or self-employed directors and representatives of companies attending board or shareholder meetings, whose stay in Belgium will not exceed five days per month do not need to obtain a LIMOSA notification.
LIMOSA notifications may be applied for at http://www.limosa.be.
Residence permits, issued by the Ministry of Interior Affairs, must be applied for separately from work permits.
In general, the foreign employee who has obtained a work permit can apply for a visa D at the Belgian Consular Services abroad. This visa D will allow the employee to obtain a residence permit with the municipal authorities at the place of residence in Belgium. However, the foreign employee who does not need a visa to enter Belgium (such as US nationals) can also choose to enter Belgium first and to apply directly for a residence permit with the municipal authorities: to that effect, the work permit, a medical certificate, and a police clearance will be required.
The application process in Belgium may take several weeks, sometimes even months. Residence permits are issued for the duration of the work permit plus one month. Within eight days after arrival, the resident must register with the municipality where he or she will be living; the residence permit is issued after the place of residence is verified by local police. The residence permit allows the holder to enter Belgium again without a visa after leaving.