New study estimates number of unregistered people in Belgium

New study estimates number of unregistered people in Belgium
Credit: Belga

As they are by definition not registered, it is not officially known how many people live in Belgium without residence documents. Now, a new study is using an innovative statistical method to gain insight into the actual population.

Knowing exactly how many people live in a country has crucial implications for governing and planning, from healthcare to housing. Officially, Belgium has a population of more than 11.6 million, but that figure only includes people who are actually registered.

In reality, there are many more people who are part of Belgian society, as researchers of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) have shown. While many of these manage to stay hidden for a very long time, they do show up in statistics when they die.

For the research project MISAFIR, Johan Surkyn, Sylvie Gadeyne and Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe developed a method estimating the total number of registered and unregistered people in Belgium by comparing the country's two systems for registering deaths: one based on the registered population and one recording all deaths within national borders.

"By matching both recording systems and subtracting the registered deaths from the total deaths, we are able to identify 'unlinked deaths'," the report read. Every year, about 500 people not on the population register die in Belgium.

"Each unlinked death represents a deceased person not included in the officially registered population, and behind each unlinked death is a far larger group of unregistered inhabitants and visitors."

Understanding 'unregistered'

Based on this calculation, it is estimated that there are approximately 489,000 unregistered residents in Belgium, most of them – contrary to popular belief – from within the European Schengen zone.

However, despite being unregistered, many of these people have a "perfectly regular status" as residents or as visitors in Belgium, as they for example hold a visa, are exempt from visa duties, have requested asylum or are visiting the country as tourists.

That leaves around 112,000 "irregular" non-EU/Schengen citizens to be exact —  as many as the population of the Walloon city of Namur — of whom about 52,000 are located in the Brussels-Capital Region.

The researchers stressed that these figures are "likely to be quite accurate," as their residence status depends on official documents such as visas, cards, and permits, for which statistics are published.

Meanwhile, researchers pointed to a larger group of unregistered Schengen citizens with an irregular status — 217,000 for Belgium, of whom only 10,000 reside in Brussels — but these may be "less accurate and underestimated," as their "regular status" depends on the duration of their stay.

Related News

These people are illegally residing in Belgium and include those staying beyond the validity of their visas, people not subject to a visa requirement who stay for a longer period than is legally allowed, or asylum seekers whose application for international protection has been rejected, for example.

The calculation leans on a lot of assumptions, especially as mortality rates are influenced by chance, meaning they are subject to error. However, as the migration of people is a fluid and ever-changing concept, there are currently few factual statistical methods that can better calculate the actual population of the country.

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.