EU Blue Card finally implemented in Belgium

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Executive summary

As highlighted in our previous alerts (July 2009, August 2011 and January 2012), on 25 May 2009 a European Directive was adopted with the aim of harmonizing the conditions of admission into the EU labor market for non-EU employees (i.e. the so called “Blue Card Directive” 2009/50/EC).

This new “unique” residence permit exempts certain highly-skilled, non-EEA employees from the obligation to have a work permit in order to work in Belgium.

Implementation of the Directive should have occurred by 19 June 2011. However, in Belgium, it was not until 31 August 2012 that the legislation in respect of the implementation of the EU Blue Card was published. It subsequently came into effect from Monday 10 September 2012.

Application process

In order to obtain the EU Blue Card a two-step process has to be followed.

Firstly a preliminary employment authorization has to be applied for, and secondly an application has to be filed – either via the Belgian Consular authorities or the appropriate Belgian town hall.

The preliminary employment authorization can be obtained if the following conditions are met:

  • The individual must be on a local employment contract of at least one year in duration. This implies that employees seconded to Belgium are excluded from the Blue Card process.
  • The individual’s annual gross salary must be at least 49,995 EUR (amount to be reviewed annually).
  • The individual must be in possession of a diploma of higher education, with such education having lasted at least three years. This must be demonstrated by a translated copy of the degree.

There is no requirement for the individual to have a medical certificate in order to obtain this preliminary employment authorization.

Once the application has been made, the authorities must make a decision within a maximum period of 30 days.

If granted, the authorization is provided to the employer and a copy is provided to the Foreigners’ department of the Federal Public Service Internal Affairs. The employer must then forward this document to the employee in order for the next step of the application process to be undertaken.

The second step in the process involves making an application to the Belgian Consular authorities or the appropriate Belgian town hall. This is similar to the current application process for a visa D, which involves registration with the town hall to obtain the Belgian electronic ID card.

Validity of the Blue Card

The initial EU Blue Card will be valid for 13 months. After 13 months the card needs to be renewed by once again applying for a preliminary authorization to employ. The second Blue Card will again be valid for 13 months. Once the second Blue Card has expired, a Blue Card valid for three years will be issued, without the need for applying for a further preliminary authorization to employ. Following this, once an individual has been in Belgium for a period of five years, a status of “long term third country national” can be applied for.

During the first two years of employment within the EU Blue Card, the employer is obliged to inform the work permit authorities in the event of a termination or a substantial change to the employment contract. If the employment ends, or no longer falls within the scope of the legislation, the work permit authorities must inform the Federal Public Service of Internal Affairs who will cancel the EU Blue Card.

Next steps

Whilst the European Blue Card looks very promising on first sight, it is worthwhile to note that the “old” work permit B for managerial or highly qualified workers, and the additional residence permit continue to exist.

The practical usage of the new permit may in practice be limited since the yearly income threshold is considerably higher than the threshold under the criteria for obtaining the traditional work permit B for highly qualified personnel.

Employers should therefore consider the option of using the Blue Card work permit when bringing employees into Belgium from outside of the EU, but they should also consider whether an application for work permit B may still be the more appropriate option.