IMPACT – Medium

What is the change? A proposed law will shift power from the federal government to the three regions of Belgium to control and regulate their own work permit processes.

What does it mean? The three regions – Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia – will have legislative powers over their work permit procedures, how they regulate work permits, and over inspection and compliance of companies holding work permits.

  • Implementation timeframe: The current version of the bill is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2014. However, the bill must go through final passage before it takes effect and its language could change before it passes.
  • Visas/permits affected: Types A and B work permits, professional cards, and some exemptions.
  • Who is affected: Non-EEA nationals in the above categories, such as highly-skilled and executive-level personnel, and self-employed people.
  • Impact on processing times: It is too early to tell what kind of impact the change will have on processing times. If the law passes in its current form, local rules will govern and there could be differences in processing times and procedures from region to region.
  • Business impact: Businesses may have to juggle different regulations for different regions, and this could impact assigning an employee in Belgium and choosing among the three regions. It will be crucial to see whether and to what extent rules will differ among the regions and whether they will recognize each other’s permits.

Background: The Belgian Parliament is currently considering the bill which would transfer some legislative powers over work permits from the federal government into the hands of regional governments.

Currently, federal laws control immigration matters such as foreign residence permits, work permits for employees, and professional cards for the self-employed. The three regions of Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia only have the authority to issue work permits.

The draft law will give power to regional authorities to legislate Type A and Type B work permits, as well as professional cards. This would include the power to carve out activity-based exemptions from work permits and professional cards. The federal government would maintain legislative authority over Type C work permits (those are issued based on the employee’s specific residence), including the power over residence-based exemptions from work permits and professional cards.

A version of the draft law was approved by the Senate on Nov. 28. A commission within the Chamber of Representatives approved the bill in its current form on Dec. 16. The Chamber of Representatives must still approve the draft law.

BAL Analysis: If it passes as is, the law could create a patchwork of work permit rules based on regional regulations. It is also unclear how the new European Union single permit for work and residence will be processed, if power is split between the federal government (which controls residence permits) and regional authorities (which will control work permits under the new law).

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