The Belgian government yesterday offered a lifeline to British citizens who have lived in Belgium for a long time and risk losing their right to stay after Brexit.
British citizens who moved here after 1973 have had the right to residence as citizens of a member state of what was to become the European Union. That right will disappear on 1 January 2021, when the UK formally leaves the Union.
That leaves thousands of British expats in limbo. Many have taken Belgian nationality. Other may not meet the requirements in one way or another.
Yesterday the Belgian council of ministers – what the British would call the Cabinet – approved a proposal from Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), secretary of state for asylum and migration, which would put the matter to rest.
The proposal would offer the possibility to British expats to apply for the right to residence in a new way, previously unnecessary.
At any time between 1 January and 31 December 2021, British citizens resident here can apply for a new residency permit which gives them a particular status. All they require is a current identity card and details of their criminal record if any.
The Office for Foreigners, which usually deals more with refugees and asylum seekers from conflict regions, has three months to issue the new card or explain why not. In the interim, the applicants retains the residency rights they have now.
The plan is that the Office will itself get in touch with expats within a brief delay to inform them of the change. Later, the forms required will be available on the website of the Office.
In the meantime, the proposal agreed by ministers has to be scrutinised by the Council of State, and approved by parliament.
“These expats should not become the victims of Brexit,” said Mahdi’s office after the online meeting.
“With the amendment of the Aliens Act, the secretary of state wants to offer expats legal certainty. For example, the companies involved, often NGOs or international organisations, should not be afraid that their employees will be expelled from the country.”