In 2019, Belgium received 113 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), 3.7% more than in 2018. This figure comprises 60.9% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 4.5% labour migrants, 28.5% family members (including accompanying family) and 5.9% humanitarian migrants. Around 8 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 1 400 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 218 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2019, an increase of 39% compared to 2018. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

Romania, France and the Netherlands were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2019. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Afghanistan registered the strongest increase (1 600) and Syria the largest decrease (-800) in flows to Belgium compared to the previous year.

In 2020, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by -44.1%, to reach around 13 000. The majority of applicants came from Afghanistan (2 300), Syria (1 300) and Eritrea (800). The largest increase since 2019 concerned nationals of Brazil (400) and the largest decrease nationals of West Bank and Gaza Strip (-1 900). Of the 16 000 decisions taken in 2020, 34.9% were positive.

The government of the Brussels-Capital Region introduced some changes to ease the recruitment of highly skilled third-country immigrants that took effect in July 2020. The recruitment is no longer limited to workers from origin countries who signed an employment agreement with Belgium.

In April 2021, Flanders updated its 2019 shortage occupation list for medium skilled occupations. A similar shortage occupation list exists in Wallonia, which is reviewed every year.

In December 2020, the Council of Ministers approved the creation of an Interministerial Conference on Migration and Integration to help ensure coherent policies across levels of government.

In February 2021, in preparation for transposition of the Students and Researchers Directive 2016/801/EU, a draft law on the mobility of third-country students was submitted to the Council of Ministers. The main change concerns the possibility to extend their stay for up to 12 months to find work or create a business, after completing their studies. In 2020 the EU Seasonal Workers Directive was enacted into national law.

In May 2021, Belgium launched a Single Electronic Platform ‘Working in Belgium’. It will allow employers to electronically file and monitor the status of applications for Single Permits, EU Blue Cards and EU Intracompany Transfer permits. The scope of applications should be gradually extended by 2022 to all work permits, professional cards and single permits for indefinite duration. The purpose of this platform is to streamline immigration processes across regions, which can develop their own labour migration policies since the State Reform of 2014. The platform also aims to reduce administrative workload; facilitate information sharing and data exchange between the three regions, the Federal immigration office, municipalities, and the national social security office; and ultimately reduce processing time for applications. In March 2021, Flanders made some changes in its posted workers legislation. Among other provisions, temporary workers are now excluded from a labour card if they comply with certain conditions.

EUR 50 million were reallocated to asylum and migration policy in April 2021 and changes in recruitment policy are foreseen to limit turnover in asylum services.

The appointment system of asylum seekers prior to arrival introduced in April 2020 in order to respect health measures in the context of COVID-19 has been abandoned.

In October 2020, a set of measures entered into force to increase the effectiveness of the Dublin procedure and improve information sharing with reception centres. A new instruction includes the possibility of house arrest and to limit reception of applicants in a Dublin procedure in case of lack of co-operation.

In reaction to the mobilisation of civil society, the Council of State suspended the possibility to detain families with children in irregular stay in special return units close to Brussels Airport.

During the COVID-19 crisis, applications for visas and permits were still accepted and processed despite organisational challenges. Regional employment authorities do not require compliance with the immigration salary threshold in case of suspension of the employment contract during the pandemic.

In April 2021, following a request from the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, a survey was organised in reception centres by Fedasil. Around 200 asylum seekers, graduated or with some experience in the field of health or care, have been identified and should be granted a work authorisation to support health professionals during the pandemic.

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