Belgium has sent home 15,000 EU citizens over the last ten years, according to a study by the university of Liege led by Professor Jean-Michel Lafleur.
Although the EU treaties allow any citizen of a member state to live and work in any other member state, the right is not absolute. In some countries, including France and Ireland as well as Belgium, the right to residence may be removed if the person becomes a burden on social security.
“The restrictions in place in Belgium mean, for example, that European citizens who have been there for one or two years and are registered with the public social assistance centre (CPAS) have their right of residence withdrawn,” Prof Lafleur said.
The Belgian social security system is made up of two parts, the study explains. One part is based on work-related social insurance, to which the person contributes, and one part is social assistance, which is independent of contributions.
The contributory part covers sickness and maternity benefits, accident at work and occupational diseases benefits, invalidity benefits, old-age and survivors’ benefits, unemployment benefits, family benefits and annual holiday pay.
The social assistance part is financed by general taxation, and aims to provide “a minimum social protection to those who are involuntarily without income and cannot benefit from the work-based social insurance system,” the study says.
According to Eurostat, foreigners made up 14% of the Belgian population in 2017 – two out or three of whom are migrants from other EU member states, led by French, Italian and Dutch.
The question of the right to residence in Belgium arises from the conditions to receiving the guaranteed minimum income, and known as integration income, revenu d’intégration or leefloon.
EU citizens become eligible for the minimum income after living here legally for only three months, compared to five years for non-EU citizens. But those who have been legally resident for less than five years have to prove they have sufficient own resources and will not become a burden on the Belgian state.
“Reliance on minimum guaranteed income might be considered as being a burden on state funds and therefore negatively affect their right to reside or the renewal of their residence permits,” the study says.
“In the case of Belgium, we see that social policy becomes a means of selecting the type of migrants that we want,” said Prof. Lafleur. And Belgium is not alone. “Only six Member States do not explicitly provide for sanctions for foreigners who make use of social benefits.”