Belgium – The Single Permit due to be effective in January 2019 in Belgium

Written on 6 Dec 2018

Belgium has finally implemented the Single Permit Directive 2011/98/EU. According to government officials, the single permit is scheduled to take effect in Belgian law (in all three regions) on January 1, 2019. Currently, non-EEA nationals wishing to work in Belgium must lodge their application for a work permit before the competent Regional labour authorities (Wallonia, Flanders, or Brussels as applicable). Then, they must lodge their application for a residence permit before the Foreigners Office through Belgian diplomatic or consular authorities abroad, or before their local municipality of residence if they already legally reside in Belgium. The major innovation of the single permit consists in the creation of a single procedure for granting residence and work permits to non-EEA nationals for long-term residence in Belgium for work purposes.

What is the Single Permit?

The Single Permit is an electronic card which allows a non-EEA national who intends to stay and work in Belgium for more than 90 days to 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 for economic migrants by offering them a one-stop shop in terms of residency and work permit requirements. It also reduces unequal treatment between non-EEA and EU employees by establishing a common set of rules to lawfully work in a EU Member State.

Non-EEA nationals who apply, from abroad, for residence in Belgium for work purposes for more than 90 days (the so-called “economic migrants”) and those who already reside in a EU Member State (for work purposes, or not) and who are entitled to work in said Member State, fall within the scope of the new legislation. If non-EEA nationals will work and stay in Belgium for fewer than 90 days, the current dual application system still applies. Non-EEA foreign nationals currently residing in Belgium (and whose primary stay in Belgium is not intended for work purposes) are out of scope.

How does this affect your company?

Upon its date of entry into force, the single permit scheme will immediately apply to any permit application for work purposes for more than 90 days. Companies and foreign nationals should expect delays and inconveniences associated with introducing a new one-stop shop system, given that the federal and regional governments share responsibility for granting work and residence permits.

Your company needs to factor in this additional time when planning the international deployment of its highly skilled workers.

Also, during the transition period before the single permit takes effect in Belgium, (i) work authorizations delivered to the company and work permits delivered to the employee remain fully valid until their expiry date. [Their renewal shall, however, fall under the scope of the new legal provisions.]; (ii) applications lodged before the single permit takes effect in Belgium fully remain under the scope of the current legislation.
Since the single permit will be delivered in Belgium only (and not by Belgian diplomatic authorities abroad), foreign economic migrants residing abroad are still required to apply for a visa for Belgium.

How do you obtain a Single Permit?

The single permit is company-sponsored (as foreseen under the Cooperation Agreement between the competent Federal and Regional authorities, dated February 2, 2018).

The company, or its proxy holder, must lodge the application before the competent Regional authority of the anticipated primary place of occupation of the foreign national in Belgium.

The permit is granted to the highly skilled employee on the basis of an application file, including a set of documents such as a copy of a valid passport, contract of employment and higher education degrees, etc. Specific requirements apply in case of temporary posting to Belgium.

Once a thorough application file is lodged, Belgian authorities must reach a decision within a maximum of 4 months. The Regional labour authorities process the application and then pass it to the Immigration Office. Each of them decides, within their field of competence, whether to grant the work permit and work residence.

In case of positive decision, the Immigration office notifies it to the individual, who will get a visa at the relevant Belgian Embassy or consulate. The municipality then grants the single permit.

For the time being, the single permit will be valid for one year. It might be extended in the future.

Recommended Actions

Employers are advised to:

  • start planning now and to initiate early their highly skilled international staff mobility cases due for 2019 since the granting process is expected to take up to 4 months under the Single Permit scheme;
  • prepare now work permit application files for any deployment planned for early 2019. By lodging the application before this year-end, said application (and work permit) will still fall under the scope of the current work permit scheme, which is completed in about 8 weeks;
  • factor in time the renewal process of any work permit for highly skilled workers granted in 2018 but valid until 2019, and initiate the renewal process at least 2 months ahead of the expiry date of the current work permits.