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One in five of Flemish unemployed has a foreign diploma

Almost one in five jobseekers in Flanders has a foreign diploma. In Brussels it’s almost one in two. Their number has risen sharply in recent years, as a result of  the fact that the legally mandated waiting time for these diplomas to be accredited is also increasingly exceeded.

Anyone with a diploma they earned outside of Flanders, who wants to work in Flanders or with a Flemish employer in Brussels needs formal recognition that this diploma is equivalent to a Flemish one. Diplomas from the French and German Community in Belgium, and certain foreign diplomas (the Netherlands and Luxembourg) are automatically recognized in Flanders.

Both the number of people who require recognition of a foreign diploma from the competent Flemish authority and the number of jobseekers with such a diploma has grown over the past several years. Because of increase in requests, the National Academic and Professional Recognition and Information Center (NARIC), an agency of the Flemish government) cannot always guarantee recognition within the legal deadlines. “In 2014 we received 3,507 applications in Flanders,” spokeswoman Viona Raymaekers said. “In 2016 that number had already risen to 4,354. The refugee crisis has played a role in the delay.”

Legally, the recognition of a foreign diploma cannot take more than 60 calendar days, if it is only a level recognition. For example, determining whether a Master’s degree in Bulgaria is equivalent to one in Flanders. If a more specific equivalency is needed – for a foreign doctor or lawyer – then the NARIC must be able to deliver it within 120 calendar days. In 2016, such a specific recognition dragged on for an average 140 calendar days. In order to speed up the procedures, a number of additional people were recruited in 2017.

Despite this increase in manpower, there is a good chance foreign job seekers will end up unemployed, while waiting for the equivalence recognition, even if they have the relevant diploma. The procedure simply takes time. The NARIC must assess every case individually, which requires a lot of research and consultation.

This has created a paradoxical situation. Employers are desperately looking for certain, often very specific types of workers, while tens of thousands of people are unemployed and cannot get started because they have a foreign diploma that is not yet recognized. “That’s right,” says VDAB (the Flemish agency responsible for employment) spokeswoman Shaireen Aftab, “but that recognition is a very complex procedure. At the same time, there is some nuance here: there are indeed many jobs that really require a diploma, but the VDAB is trying to valorise more and more people on the basis of their competences. We now ask employers to explicitly include the required competences in their vacancy.”

Thomas Pollet, spokesperson for Flemish Minister for Employment Philippe Muyters (N-VA), is surprised by the high proportion of jobseekers in the Flemish unemployment figures with a non-recognized foreign diploma. “We can only call on employers to abandon their fetish for diplomas. Often such a diploma does not appear to be a strict requirement related to the job. Having said that, a high level of professional knowledge equivalent to that in Flanders is also not an unnecessary luxury in certain sectors, such as healthcare or ICT.”

In Brussels, the situation is even more acute: 43 percent of all jobseekers registered with Actiris (the employment office responsible for the Brussels Region) have a non-recognized foreign diploma.

Arthur Rubinstein
The Brussels Times