BELGIUM – Integration Law Published [UPDATED]
Effective 18 February 2017, a new law requires certain residence permit applicants to submit a signed “newcomers statement” in support of their application and to provide evidence of their integration efforts in order to maintain or renew their residency status.
[UPDATE] The “Integration Act” was originally published on 16 January 2017, and was due to take effect ten days later, on 26 January 2017. However, it was republished on 8 February 2017, and will therefore take effect on 18 February 2017. The “newcomers statement” is not likely to come into effect on that date, however, as the text has not yet been finalised.
It remains unclear whether the new obligations will apply to first residence applications (“newcomers”) only, or also to renewals (foreign nationals already residing in Belgium). Guidelines from the authorities will have to clarify how the new rules will be applied in practice.
Who is Affected?
The new rules apply to third country (non-EU/EEA) foreign national workers, as well as their family members who apply for residence on the basis of family reunification.
Several categories of foreign national residence applicant are exempt, including:
- Recognised refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and their family members;
- EU (European Union)/EEA (European Economic Area) citizens and their family members;Students;
- Victims of human trafficking;
- Long-term residents (Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003);
- The seriously ill.
The integration obligation affects residence applications pending as of 18 February 2017, and new applications from that date onwards.
The “newcomers statement” has not yet taken effect: the Belgian federal authorities must first agree on the text of the statement with the French-speaking, Flemish and German-speaking communities (communities are regional authorities, competent for integration);
The authorities will assess integration efforts by taking into account the following criteria, listed in the new Act:
- Attend an integration course, organised by the authority competent for the foreigner’s main residence;
- Work in Belgium as employee, civil servant, or self-employed;
- Degree, study certificate or evidence of enrolment in a recognised or subsidised educational establishment;
- Attend a vocational training, recognised by a competent authority;
- Knowledge of the official language of the place, where the foreigner is registered;
- No criminal record;
- Active participation in community life.This list does not seem to be limitative: the authorities have discretionary decision power. If the authorities consider a decision to terminate the right to reside, they must take into account:
- The nature and the strength of the family ties of the foreigner;
- The duration of residence in Belgium;
- The existence of family ties or cultural/social connections with the country of origin.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
The obligations and its consequences in the event of non-compliance can be summarised as follows:
- A refusal to sign the “newcomers statement” will result in an inadmissible residence application;
- A foreigner who holds a residence permit for a limited term must prove his or her willingness to integrate. This proof must be submitted within the first limited residence term; failure could be a ground for refusal to renew the residence permit;
- Furthermore, the Minister for Asylum and Migration, or the Foreigners' Office (federal department in charge of immigration) can terminate the right to reside if the authorities find that the foreigner has not made a "reasonable effort" to integrate. The authorities can ask the foreigner to submit information/evidence. The right to reside can be terminated during the four years following the end of the first year after the issuance of the limited or unlimited authorisation to reside, or following the end of the first year after the authorisation to reside in Belgium.
Labour migrants will probably be able to prove their integration efforts because of their work in Belgium.
Things could be more complicated for their family members: however, a decision to terminate residence must take into account the nature and the strength of the family ties of the foreigner, the duration of residence in Belgium, and the existence of family ties or cultural/social connections with the country of origin.
Guidelines from the authorities will have to clarify how the new rules will be applied in practice.
- Foreign nationals resident in Belgium, or planning to apply for residency, should maintain evidence of their integration efforts as required by the new law.