News - Belgium

Belgium - June 2012

Belgian implementation of the Blue European Labour Card

On 2 May 2012, the Belgian Parliament accepted the implementation of the Blue European Labour Card ("the Blue Card") proposed in the Law of 15 December 1980, otherwise known as the "Foreigner’s Act". A publication in the Official Gazette will follow shortly.

The Blue Card

The Blue Card is an approved EU-wide work permit (Council Directive 2009/50/EC) allowing high-skilled non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The term Blue Card is inspired by the United States' Green Card and refers to the EU flag which is blue with twelve gold stars.

Background

The Blue Card Directive (Directive 2009/50/EC) ("the Directive") was adopted on 25 May 2009 and Member States had until 19 June 2011 to transpose its provisions into national law. All EU Member States except Denmark, the UK and Ireland are bound by the Directive.

The Blue Card scheme aims to attract highly qualified migrants to Europe, supporting the efforts of Member States and EU companies to fill gaps in their respective labour markets that cannot be filled by their own nationals, other EU nationals or legally resident non-EU nationals. The scheme provides a common and simplified procedure applicable in the EU Member States in accordance with the Directive and ensures a unified system.

The Directive does not prevent Member States from having their own system of national residence permits for highly skilled migrants, but such national permits cannot grant the right of residence in other EU Member States that is guaranteed under the Directive.

Implementation under Belgian national law

Chapter VIII, articles 61/26 and 61/27 of the Title II of the Foreigner’s Act 1980 set out the provisions regarding the Blue Card.

Conditions and application procedure

In order to apply for the Blue Card the highly qualified migrants need to submit confirmation that they hold a higher education diploma (requiring at least 3 years of studying ) as well as an employment contract for either an indefinite period of time or a minimum period of 1 year. The gross annual remuneration needs to exceed EUR 49.995.

The application is filed with the Immigration Service. The office has 3 months to make their decision, however this period can be extended by 1 month. Failure to make a decision within this period will result in the Blue Card being deemed to be granted.

The Directive allows for Member States to limit the number of highly qualified migrants to apply for the Blue Card. However, Belgium has not limited the number of applicaants.

Advantages

Once a Member State grants a Blue Card to a migrant, that person can then benefit from free access to highly qualified employment in that Member State and can also move to another EU Member State where their skills may be needed.

Coupled with preferential rules for acquiring long term resident status and for family reunification, the Blue Card scheme presents an attractive package to potential highly qualified migrants.

In Belgium, the Blue Card holder working for a period exceeding 5 years within the European territory may acquire the status of "long inhabitant". This status allows these migrants to move freely within Europe. The application procedure needs be filed within 2 years preceding the 5th year of presence within the European territory.

A further advantage is that Blue Card holders do not lose their status if they are not present in Belgium for a year. By acquiring the status of "long inhabitant", these migrants are allowed to be outside of the European Union for a maximum period of 2 years and outside of Belgium for a maximum period of 6 years.

Commentary

This implementation of the European Blue Card is to be seen as another step towards a unified system of EU migration policy, not only having a goal of filling the gap in the national labour market but also to be seen as a system which may help to address demographic challenges.

Resources

The internet site of the Belgian Parliament here (official publication in the Official Gazette yet to follow)

For further information or to discuss any of the issues raised, please contact Jean-Louis Davain or Soubiha Ouamari on +32 2 743 43 45.