The Single Permit scheme set up by the Single Permit Directive 2011/98/EU has been in effect in Belgium since 1 January 2019.
The major innovation of the Single Permit is the creation of a "one-stop-shop" for granting residence and work permits to non-EEA citizens for long-term residence (more than 90 days) in Belgium for work purposes. Prior to its implementation, non-EEA citizens opting for long term residence in Belgium for work purposes were subject to a dual application system before the Regional Labour authorities (Wallonia, Flanders, or Brussels): one for work purposes, and another before the Immigration Office for residence purposes.
Why the Single Permit is interesting for foreign employees
The Single Permit is an electronic card which allows foreign nationals who intend to live and work in Belgium to stay for more than 90 days. Foreign nationals can now lodge one single application to obtain one combined permit for work and residence purposes (instead of two separate documents allowing work and residence).
It simplifies the administrative procedure by offering economic migrants a one-stop shop in terms of residency and work permit requirements for Belgium. It also reduces unequal treatment between non-EEA and EU employees by establishing a common set of rules to lawfully work in an EU Member State.
Foreign nationals who apply, from abroad, for residence in Belgium for work purposes for more than 90 days (so-called "economic migrants") and those who already reside in a EU Member State (whether for work purposes or not) and who are entitled to work in that Member State, fall within the scope of the new legislation. However, if the foreign national will work and stay in Belgium for fewer than 90 days, the current dual application system continues to apply. US nationals currently residing in Belgium (and whose primary stay in Belgium is not intended for work purposes) are also out of the scope.
How does this affect foreign companies?
Since 1 January 2019, the Single Permit scheme applies to any permit application by foreign employees for work purposes for more than 90 days.
The work authorizations delivered to foreign companies, and work permits delivered to foreign employees before 3 January 2019, remain fully valid until their expiry date. Their renewal, however, falls under the scope of the new Single Permit scheme.
Since the Single Permit itself is delivered in Belgium only (and not abroad, by Belgian diplomatic authorities), foreign economic migrants residing abroad are still required to apply for a visa if they are intending to stay for more than 90 days in Belgium).
What do you need do to obtain a Single Permit?
The Single Permit for highly skilled employees is valid for a defined term depending on the Regional authority which issued it (between 2 and 3 years). It is company-sponsored. Please pay attention to additional specific requirements that depend on the region of application.
Foreign companies, or their proxy holder, must lodge the application before the competent Regional authority of the place of business where the foreign employee will predominantly work in Belgium (Wallonia, Flanders or Brussels). If one cannot determine any predominant place of occupation, the company may be required to lodge the application before another Regional authority. Determining which is the competent Region is key, since some rules differ from one Region to another.
The Single Permit is granted to the highly skilled employee on the basis of an application file, including a set of documents related to skills and residence. Specific documentation requirements apply in case of temporary posting to Belgium.
Once a complete application file is lodged, Belgian authorities must reach a decision within a maximum of four months. The Regional Labour authorities first make an overall document check, process the application within 15 days, then pass the application file to the Immigration Office. Each of them decides, within their field of competence, whether to grant the work permit and residence permit.
In case of a positive decision by both authorities, the Immigration Office notifies the employee, who will get a Long Stay visa for Belgium at the relevant Belgian embassy or consulate. Once duly registered in Belgium (after a residence check), the municipality where the employee resides will grant the Single Permit.
Employers are advised to:
- start planning now and to initiate early their highly skilled international staff mobility cases due for 2019 since the process of delivering the Single Permit to the employee could take up to four months;
- be aware that requirements change depending on the regional authority (Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia);
- don't forget to look up any exemptions before you plan the deployment of your employees in Belgium;
- make the Limosa notification prior to the start of any work duties for your staff posted to Belgium;
- factor in the time the renewal process takes for your highly skilled staff, since it should be lodged at least two months ahead of the expiry date of the Single Permit granted.