More flexible rules for foreign nationals to work and reside in Belgium

More flexible rules for foreign nationals to work and reside in Belgium
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Belgium is looking to tackle the chronic labour market shortage by making it easier for more non-Belgians from outside the EU who are already legally residing in the country to find work.

From now on, foreign nationals from outside the EU with a long-term stay permit will also be able to arrange work and residence permits in Belgium in one go through a new digital counter. The move comes after a decision by the Federal Government following a proposal from State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi.

"We need to get legally residing foreign nationals in our country to work as much as possible. That is not only good for our economy but also good for the foreign nationals themselves. Having a job, as well as a good education and training, has a strong integrating and emancipating effect," he said in a statement.

Previously, only foreign nationals who were not yet living in Belgium, students or people who only wanted to stay for fewer than 90 days could apply for a single permit that combines the admission to work and reside in the county.

Acute labour shortages

The new measure comes as the labour market shortage is becoming increasingly acute in Belgium and a recent survey showed that just half of the people from outside the EU are working here. Experts said that the system needed to be faster and more transparent to solve these issues.

This change mainly concerns, among others, foreigners with a temporary stay based on a humanitarian visa, family reunification with Belgians, Union citizens or with a third-country national who has the right of residence here, as well as Ukrainian refugees with the status of temporary protection, and means they wouldn't have to leave Belgium to apply for the single permit.

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According to Pieter Timmermans, CEO of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises FEB/VBO, stressed that entrepreneurs need every talent they can get today.

"By removing unnecessary barriers, opportunities are now being offered to this group to actively participate in the labour market and help fill vacancies. The Belgian labour market is on fire, and everyone agrees that much more effort should be put into the group of inactive people to help fill in the vacancies."

Flanders looking to Brussels to fill positions

While Mahdi's bill encompasses the whole of Belgium, the Flemish government is specifically looking to fill vacancies with employees from Brussels, which has a larger group of young job-seekers, especially in Vlaams-Brabant, which borders on the capital region.

"Vlaams-Brabant does not have enough interested job-seekers to fill all vacancies in certain professional fields, while Brussels in turn does not have enough jobs for all its job-seekers with a short-skilled profile," a statement from Jo Brouns, Flanders' Employment Minister, read.

However, a joint labour market analysis by VDAB and Actiris shows that various thresholds such as language skills (for vacancies in Flanders, almost 85% expect a good to very good knowledge of Dutch, while the majority of Brussels jobseekers are French-speaking), and the slow recognition of foreign diplomas is preventing many from finding a job.

To solve this issue, the government will ensure that newcomers can enter the labour market by recognising unemployed job-seekers' foreign diplomas more quickly, and will set up various language training courses that focus on combining the acquisition of language knowledge with the learning of general and professional competencies.

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