At a Glance
Work authorization validity periods for highly skilled workers in the Walloon region of Belgium increased, restrictions on labor market access were relaxed, and foreign nationals are able to submit work permit applications from within Belgium under new regional immigration policies that were adopted on June 1, 2019.
The Walloon region recently published new regional immigration policies that took effect on June 1, 2019.
A closer look
The below is a summary of the most important changes:
Work authorization. The maximum validity of work authorization for foreign highly skilled workers increased to three years, subject to a yearly audit by the government.
Impact. Employers and highly skilled foreign workers no longer need renew work and residence permits annually. Employers should be ready for an annual audit of payroll documents
Access to labor market. Locally hired workers are no longer restricted to specific employers and do not have a time limit on work authorization after four years of employment. This period can be reduced to three years for nationals of a country with an international or labor agreement with Belgium and to two if they have accompanying family members.
Impact. Employees and employers should benefit from more flexibility in the labor market once a foreign national gains unlimited access to the labor market.
In-country application submission. Qualifying foreign nationals can apply for work permits in Belgium, where previously, they had to apply from abroad.
Impact. Foreign nationals should ensure they have legal permission to be in Belgium (for example, as a tourist, business traveler, or similar) before submitting their application. Note that applicants will not be able to work while their application is pending.
Belgian trends. These policies are similar to those implemented in Flanders in January 2019, with some important differences. The policy changes are part of the regionalization process that is the first change in 30 years in Belgium aimed at modernizing and adapting local policies to address local labor market issues, particularly the lack of suitable highly skilled workers in some sectors. In 2014, legislative authority related to economic migration in Belgium shifted from the federal to regional authorities to address specific issues in regional labor markets, resulting in the ability for each of Belgium's regions to set their own individual salary thresholds and adjust its policies to address specific regional concerns.
Global trends. The changes are in line with other countries in the region and globally that have relaxed labor market requirements for highly skilled workers and introduced regional immigration policies to better reflect local needs. For example, Poland has waived labor market testing for shortage occupations, Finland has removed labor market tests for highly skilled career changers and the United Kingdom is considering removing labor market testing requirements for sponsored workers from 2021. In addition, Australia has further regionalized the immigration system this year and the United Kingdom is currently reviewing the need for regional salary thresholds.
Future federal legislation is expected to implement additional changes in all regions in Belgium, including the introduction of an Intra-Corporate Transferee (ICT) Permit. Employers can expect regional variation and some uncertainty as the new changes take effect.
Considering the shortage of skilled workers in the Belgian labor market, companies are increasingly seeking workers from beyond the Belgian and European border to sustain the country's growth. However, since the Single Permit implementation in January 2019 has made the process to hire a non-EU worker more strict and time-consuming, Belgium is likely to continue to seek ways to streamline and improve its immigration policies to attract foreign talent.
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