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Foreign-born population – 2018

1.9 million, 51% of women

17% of the population

Evolution since 2007: +40%

Main countries of birth:

Morocco (11%), France (10%), Netherlands (7%)

In 2017, Belgium received 108 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), 1.4% more than in 2016. This figure comprises 55.9% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 4.6% labour migrants, 26.6% family members (including accompanying family) and 12.8% humanitarian migrants.

Around 6 200 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 400 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants and trainees (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 167 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2017, a decrease of 6.2% compared to 2016. These posted workers were generally on short-term contracts.

Romania, France and the Netherlands were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2017. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Romania registered the biggest increase (1 300) and Portugal the largest decrease (-200) in flows to Belgium compared to the previous year.

In 2018, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 29.2%, to reach around 18 000. The majority of applicants come from Syria (2 800), the West Bank and Gaza Strip (2 400) and Afghanistan (1 000). The largest increase since 2017 concerned nationals of West Bank and Gaza Strip (1 600) and the largest decrease, nationals of Albania (-200). Of the 19 000 decisions taken in 2018, 50.8% were positive.

Emigration of Belgians to OECD countries increased by 4.3%, to 24 000. More than one in four (27.3%) migrated to France, 15.8% to Spain and 14.5% to the Netherlands.

Since February 2017, a new law authorises the Belgian authority to expel foreign nationals born, or strongly integrated, in Belgium in case of suspicions of having committed acts against public order or national security.

Since 2018, a parent requesting to bring a foreign-born child to Belgium as a refugee is treated as a family reunification request if the child had been recognised as a refugee before reaching the age of 18 at the time of entrance in the country. In such cases, parents are also exempt from the payment of the existing fee for family reunification procedures. The application for family reunification must be made within a reasonable time, i.e. three months from the day the refugee status was granted to the minor.

A reform of the asylum law was adopted in November 2017 legalising verification of the applicants’ credentials by screening their presence on social networks or by examining their electronic devices (mobile phone, tablet, etc.).

In March 2018, the Council of Ministers approved a new plan to reduce the number of reception places for applicants for international protection from 23 800 to 16 600 places in 2019 (of which 10 000 are collective places and 6 600 are individual). This plan would bring the reception network back to its “structural” capacity, that is, its pre-2015/16 level.

Belgium transposed the European Single Permit Directive (2011/98/EU) four years after the transposition deadline. Since January 2019, foreigners entering Belgium for employment or work activities for a duration of over 90 days must apply for a Single Permit. The Single Permit combines work and residence authorisation. A single process is in place for applicants to submit both employment and residence authorisation documents; the same process applies to renewals. In addition, in December 2018 the Flemish Government adopted regional legislation overhauling the conditions of third-country nationals’ admission to the labour market in Flanders. Nationals of any country (not only nationals of countries with employment agreements with Belgium) can now be issued an authorisation to work. The new Flemish legislation also includes labour market test exemptions for occupations in short supply, with special attention to medium-skilled workers.

Following the transposition of Directive 2003/109/CE, in November 2017, the spouse and children of a non-EU national who has acquired long-term residence status in another European Union member state are exempt from the obligation to obtain a work permit.

A new law, passed in April 2018, introduced changes with regard to extending or ending the stay of international students. In particular, it details in which cases an order to leave the territory can be issued to a student when they wish to prolong their studies, based on academic performance. The amendment also takes into consideration the current more flexible education system foreseen by the different Belgian communities, as well as the university structure and system of credits existing in the European Union, and allows denial of extension for master’s degrees, for example, when performance in the bachelor programme does not meet standards.

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Key figures on immigration and emigration - Belgium
Key figures on immigration and emigration - Belgium

Notes and sources are at the end of the chapter.


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