Pandemic drove migration in Belgium to drop in 2020

Pandemic drove migration in Belgium to drop in 2020
Office for Immigration Services. Credit: Belga

The pandemic and the international travel restrictions which resulted caused migration movements to and from Belgium to drop significantly in 2020, according to Myria, the Federal Migration Centre.

For both Belgians and foreign nationals, restrictions had an impact on both immigration to Belgium and emigration abroad, the annual report, published in thematic segments, showed.

The impact was most distinct when looking at third-country nationals, of which the number of arrivals to Belgium decreased by one-fifth (22%), and the emigrations dropped by 10%.

"For some nationalities, these differences are even greater. For example, immigration from Afghanistan fell by 31% and immigration from India and China fell by more than 40%," the report stated.

The impact of the pandemic on the mobility of EU citizens was more limited, as there were 16% fewer migrant arrivals in Belgium and 12% fewer emigrations than in 2019. Here too, there were differences among nationalities, as the number of Romanians who arrived into the country fell by 23%, but the immigration of French fell by barely 8%.

Belgians stayed put

For Belgian nationals, mobility in both directions also decreased in 2020, but much more in terms of people leaving the country (-21%) than in terms of immigration (-11%), which is the opposite of what was recorded in terms of foreign nationals.

This trend is the opposite of that for foreign nationals, as Belgians were able to return to the country more easily than foreign nationals during the periods of travel restrictions and lockdowns.

On 1 January 2021, 11.584 million people were officially residing in Belgium, including almost 1.5 million foreign nationals, which is around 13% of the population. The largest portion of these are citizens from the European Union (63%), while 6% come from a non-EU European country.

Among the main nationalities, Romania is in the lead with 17,851 migrations, accounting for 15% of all foreign migrations. This is followed by France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. Morocco, the first non-EU country, comes in seventh place (4% of all migrations).

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In total, 10% of the population have Belgian nationality but previously held another nationality. The impact of the pandemic was visible in the number of first residence permits issued in Belgium in 2020 to people born abroad and residing in Belgium, which decreased by 19%.

The main legal motives for issuing a first residence permit are remunerated activities and family reasons. For the 54,350 first residence permits issued to EU citizens, remunerated activities are the main motive for issuing (51%). For third-country nationals, family reasons are the first motive (45%).

A recent report from the European Asylum Agency (EUAA) showed that the number of asylum applications slumped compared to 2019 in the EU, however, the figure rose sharply again, as restrictions were largely lifted.


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