Ombudsmen call for 'urgent solution' over international residence permit delays

Ombudsmen call for 'urgent solution' over international residence permit delays
The Immigration Office in Brussels. Credit: Belga/ THIERRY ROGE

The Belgian Immigration Office is failing to examine international people's applications to renew their residence in time, leaving some to face serious administrative and financial difficulties.

On Thursday, the Federal Ombudsmen called for an urgent solution to be found for foreign nationals living in Belgium without a valid residence permit as their residence permits have not been renewed before the deadline.

"We are contacted every day by foreigners whose residence permits are no longer valid and are facing great difficulties. The situation is becoming inhuman," David Baele and Jérôme Aass, federal ombudsmen, said.

"As the problem is a general one affecting many people, we ask the Chamber to urgently change the legislation to solve the problems."

Unfair treatment

For years, the Federal Ombudsman has been receiving complaints from foreigners whose temporary residence permits have expired. Most often, this concerns people who were granted residence permits for humanitarian reasons or to study in the country.

This leaves them in precarious situations, as they are sometimes unable to settle their administrative matters. Others lose their jobs or are unable to pay their rent as a result of this.

Normally, people waiting for a decision on their application to renew their residence permit are given an annexe 15, but this paper document is insufficient to fully exercise their rights as citizens in the country, according to the ombudsmen.

For example, they cannot travel abroad (even if they want to attend the funeral of a family member), cannot arrange administrative matters such as their tax returns online, and face difficulties using their bank accounts or obtaining certain social benefits.

Internationals often also have to wait "far too long" for a decision on its renewal, further worsening their situation. Paradoxically, international people in Belgium who submit the application to renew their residence permit too late are punished disproportionally.

Delayed solutions

Despite the matter having been raised in the past for years now by the ombudsmen, no solution has been found. The situation threatens to become particularly bad for students at the moment, as the registration period for this academic year is almost over.

"A solution is urgently needed, especially since student visas of foreign students are only valid until 31 October, meaning the number of internationals in this difficult situation is in danger of increasing."

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The  Federal Ombudsmen have now provided the House of Representatives with a recommendation asking for a structural solution to be provided urgently, especially for students.

"We recommend that the Chamber build safeguards into the procedure so that citizens do not have to bear the consequences of administrative delays," they added.

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