Minister forced to revise position on 'fake foreign freelancers' following dodgy data

Minister forced to revise position on 'fake foreign freelancers' following dodgy data
Federal Minister for the Self-employed, David Clarinval. Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

After previously announcing a plan to clamp down on “fake foreign freelancers", the Minister for the Self-employed David Clarinval (MR) has now been obliged to look over the plan. After being pressed on the numbers it was found that the extent of the problem had been overblown.

Last week, Clarinval explained that more resources would be given to the National Institute of Social Insurance for the Self-employed (INASTI) to fight the issue of "fake foreign freelancers". The minister claimed that the number of such cases has risen in recent years, stating that non-Belgians frequently pose as self-employed workers as a way to obtain permanent stay in Belgium.

Clarinval said that the phenomenon was highlighted by INASTI figures. Yet when pushed on the scale of the problem, The Brussels Times found that the actual figures did not match the minister's assertions.

The institute's data showed that what had actually been investigated was the number of foreign nationals who had mistakenly registered as self-employed workers despite being employees. 177 such cases were handed over to labour inspectors in 2022; the figure had been 88 in 2020.

When INASTI did investigate the number of foreigners posing as self-employed workers to gain quicker access to Belgian residency, the institute only found cause to remove the self-employed status of 29 non-Belgians in 2022. Indeed, this figure had fallen since 2020 when it stood at 203.

Overstating the issue?

When questioned by The Brussels Times why David Clarinval had devoted so much attention to a problem that concerned just 29 cases out of the 160,000 foreign self-employed workers in Belgium, the minister's spokesperson admitted that "there were some doubts" over INASTI's figures.

Clarinval and his cabinet subsequently met with INASTI to clarify that the number of foreigners posing as self-employed is declining. New figures were provided which indicated that the institute had investigated a total of 457 such cases in 2022. It plans to look into another 1,994.

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The minister's spokesperson explained that the outstanding number of unprocessed cases was due to INASTI prioritising potential fraud in the relief package offered to Belgium's freelance workers during the pandemic. The spokesperson added that these cases have taken up most of the institute's time and resources.

Following the minister's climb down the proposed measure will be refined. This will see collaboration with labour inspectors strengthened and 34 staff added to INASTI's ECL unit, which audits and verifies the status of self-employed workers. Each INASTI office will now be equipped with its own anti-fraud unit.

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