Historic drop in visa and asylum applications due to Covid-19
Share article:
Share article:

Historic drop in visa and asylum applications due to Covid-19

Office for Immigration Services. Credit: Belga

The travel restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus crisis had a major impact on visa and asylum applications in Belgium in 2020, according to figures released on Friday.

The overall number of visa applications dropped to an all-time low, according to figures made public by the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi, who released them as a way to build a barrier against fake news around migration.

“All too often, the debate on asylum and migration is conducted on the basis of gut feelings or incorrect information. Sometimes even deliberately false information is disseminated to reinforce one’s own point of view,” he said in a press release.

“In this way, I want to make sure that citizens get the right information,” he added.

The strongest decline was recorded in the number of applications for short-stay visas, which dropped to 37,128 in 2020, an 80% decrease from the 191,436 visas that were issued in 2019.

Related News


Meanwhile, the number of people seeking international protection who made a first asylum application decreased by 44% to 13,105 applications, of which 3,532 were immediately referred to have their application assessed by another EU country.

In 2019, 1,153 people applied for humanitarian visas, of whom 929 people were issued such a visa. These figures decreased to 920 and 697, respectively, last year. As in 2019, Syrians and Afghans accounted for most of such visas that were issued.

Overall, the figures showed that EU migration continues to outweigh asylum applications from third countries.

The number of EU nationals applying for residence in Belgium fell slightly, by 15%, from 71,987 in 2019 to 60,039 in 2020. The largest group of newcomers from the EU consists of Romanians, with 14,552 newcomers in 2020.

Voluntary or forceful returns

Although voluntary returns remained high – around 1,955 people returned voluntarily – just half of the number of foreign nationals living in Belgium illegally left Belgium in 2020 compared to in 2019, when 8,706 departed in a controlled way.

“The coronavirus crisis had a major impact on forced returns: travel was not possible and air traffic was severely disrupted. The aviation police had to temporarily halt the execution of removals under escort,” the press release read.

However, the removal of people who committed crimes remained a priority, and returns from prisons continued at a steady pace with 1,156 removals from prison in 2020 compared to 1,469 in 2019.

“Covid-19 or not, people who are arrested for committing offences were still removed. The administration has always gone out of its way to facilitate the removal of undocumented criminals,” Mahdi said.

One of the few figures that increased from 2019 to 2020 related to the number of single permits for labour migration that were given a positive decision, with an increase of more than 650 from 2019 to 4,887 in 2020. Most of the permits issued were received by applicants from India, Turkey and Japan.

With the improvement of the health situation, the number of applications is on the rise again, according to Mahdi.

“We are anticipating this by investing fundamentally in our services, resulting in more than 700 vacancies, ranging from security officers to migration and protection officers to return counsellors. In this way, the services are ready for the future,” he said.

The 2020 activity report of the Immigration Department will be presented in Parliament by Director-General Freddy Roosemont on 22 September.

Latest news

Brussels pharmacies report rush on rapid tests due to Covid Safe Ticket
Many pharmacists in Brussels have noticed a remarkable increase in the demand for Covid-19 tests this weekend, following the official expansion of ...
Students filmed naked on ULB campus given a warning
A group of students caught on camera mimicking sexual acts on the campus of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) have been issued an official ...
EU Digital Covid Certificate becomes an international success story
The European Commission adopted on Monday a report on the EU Digital Covid Certificate and its implementation across the EU. According to the ...
Belgian chocolatier agrees to $15 million settlement over misled consumers allegations
Internationally recognised Belgian chocolate manufacturer Godiva has reached a $15 million (€12.9 million) settlement after US consumers said they ...
‘Buying second home does not mean you are rich’: government disagrees on tax break
The Francophone liberal MR party and the Flemish socialist Vooruit party strongly disagree on the current scheme for tax benefits on people's second ...
EMA starts evaluating Pfizer vaccine for children over 5 years old
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has started evaluating an application to extend the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to children ...
Energy prices: EU’s demand and supply dilemma in importing natural gas
The European Commission adopted last week a plan on how to tackle the rise in global energy prices in the short-term while relying on the transition ...
Tram line and cycle path to connect Brussels’ outskirts to airport
Works on a tram line connecting Brussels, the NATO headquarters and Brussels Airport in Zaventem, which could attract up to 10,000 passengers a day, ...
SKYFALL: European police complete counter-drone training in Antwerp
In a joint project between Belgium’s federal police and the Brussels Capital Ixelles Policing Area, 15 European police officers visited Antwerp to ...
Offshore wind farms could help reach climate neutrality by 2050
A study carried out by the Bureau fédérale du Plan (BFP) – an independent Belgian organisation that investigates questions of environmental and ...
Will Brussels bounce back?
The lockdowns have tested the city and forced it to confront key questions about its future. Derek Blyth looks back at an extraordinary moment in our ...
STIB launches free transport for Museum Night Fever this weekend
STIB buses will run between Brussels museums for free on Saturday night as part of the Museum Night Fever celebrations taking over the capital.  ...