Brussels, 21/01/2017. While Brexit is making headlines for journalists all round the world, few of those actually writing the headlines have had time to give consideration to their own likely status after Brexit. This brief note is therefore an attempt to provide some helpful information for members of NUJ Brussels.
The information is aimed predominantly at freelance members (although some of the information will be relevant to staffers as well), since they are the people with the least protection from employers or business contractual relationships.
While both the EU and the UK government have stated that they wish to protect the status of those already living and working in other EU countries, the fact is that until we see the agreement in black and white, and in a way that is clearly and easily enforceable by ourselves as individuals in a national court, then we have to work with the present rules in Belgium.
Some members have already taken steps to ensure their future right of residence in Belgium, e.g. taking up Belgian or Irish nationality. However at a lively branch meeting on the 17th January 2017, it was clear that many members do not know half of the regulations that apply to them. Here, therefore, is an attempt to redress the balance.
It is not a complete guide. So if individual members have experience or comments to add, please feel free to add to the knowledge base, either by comments here or by writing to the branch (see the branch Contact Details web-page), or the author at email@example.com/.
Notes on rights of residence in Belgium
The longer you’ve been here the better
First, it should be noted that the longer you have been in Belgium, the better your chance of retaining permanent residence.
- 10 years – if you have been resident for 10 or more continous years, and can show an involvement in Belgian society during that time (which can include Sports Clubs), then this period entitles you to Belgian nationality.
- 5 years – if you have more than 5 years of continuous payment into the Belgian social security system (the Mutuels), then you are also entitled to Belgian nationality, without having to demonstrate any language proficiency beforehand.
- Check your existing Belgian ID card. If it is labelled with the mark ‘ E+ ‘, then you have already established your rights under the 5-year rule.
That said however, experience of Belgian bureaucracy demonstrates that rules are often interpreted and implemented differently at different communes. Individuals considering taking out Belgian nationality therefore should lose no time in establishing their files and ensuring that all their paperwork is in order.
Some members have been here a very long time; 25 or 30 years plus (you may well argue that this makes them practically Belgian anyway)! With such lengthy work records, then entitlement to stay on one basis or another should not be an issue.
Dual nationality is possible
Assuming that you have existing British nationality (the majority of our members), then you can apply for Belgian nationality while retaining your British nationality (dual nationality).
A business owner or manager
One member has observed that if, like a fortunate few, you are a director of a Belgian company, then you have established commercial rights in the country on the basis of how long you have employed people in-country (even if only yourself). Few communes would be prepared to argue against the right of residence of an employer.
If you are the director of UK limited company that has done business in Belgium or with the EU institutions, e.g. supplied writing services, it may well be that the company has seconded you to Belgium to manage its work here. In which case, your rights of residence fall under a specific commercial law which has existed in Belgium for some time.
NB. The law was originally aimed to encourage business investment into Belgium, however it brings certain residence rights in its wake.
Freelancers – keep records of your Social Security payments
Many freelancers have precarious incomes that can vary enormously; a contract may only last for one year or less. Finances running out can force a move to another country and another tax regime. Which means the importance of keeping records of your Social Security contributions wherever you live is greater than ever.
In Belgium, 5 years proof of social security contributions gives you a right to Belgian nationality (and hence right of residence). Your Commune will ask you for an ‘Attestation’ from your social-insurance provider confirming that you have paid your contributions for the past 5 years. Stay for longer, and your contributions give rights to a Belgian state pension (27 years or more gives a meaningful result).
Irish nationality is good
If at least one of your grandparents was born on the island of Ireland (North or South), then you are entitled to apply for Irish nationality. Ireland of course is remaining part of the EU, so Irish citizens will retain all EU rights of residence/mobility.
Did you grow up in Belgium?
It is worth noting that if you grew up in Belgium, to the point of being declared a Belgian national as sometimes happens when you turn 18 in the country, then that declaration may have a bearing later on. Even if it was an error and only on record briefly until it was corrected, this previous status can be important.
Also, once a child turns 12 (the age at which Belgians get their first ID cards), the Belgian authorities may write and ask whether the child wishes to take up Belgian nationality. However if they do not take up the offer and leave the country for more than two years (e.g. to study at University elsewhere), then they lose that automatic right of citizenship.
Once again, your local Commune is the organisation to involve here.
Language proficiency a factor?
Theoretically you should be able to function in one of the three official languages – Dutch, French or German – in order to obtain Belgian nationality. If you have only been here a short time (less than 5 years), your Commune could decide that you need to pass a language proficiency test in order to gain entitlement to citizenship.
If that is the case then you really need to start studying the language now. Belgian communes all have lists of the officially recognised language-teaching institutions. Some communes are making clear that they will test language skills, whereas others seem to base it on a quick chat.
Becoming a Belgian national – which language?
Also worth remembering is the fact that, as one member put it, “there is no such thing as an uncomplicated Belgian”. If you become a Belgian national, you have to decide which is your (official) mother-tongue – you can choose from Dutch, French or German. If you select no preference, then the Commune will probably select it for you, so it is worth thinking which is your preferred language for understanding official documents.
The Town Hall is your key point-of-call
Contrary to what you might think, the officials in your local Commune or Gemeente are often on your side, and can be very helpful. Anecdotal evidence from some members suggests that some Brussels Communes can be very friendly in helping you work out your situation. – both Etterbeek and Schaerbeek have been praised.
Nevertheless, the process of applying for Belgian nationality is involved. Your local Commune may be helpful, and may even approve your entitlement. But after that your application still has to be vetted and approved at Federal level, and the Federal officials may not always agree with the local decision. If you apply under the 5-year or 10-year rules, then your status should be clear. However until the overall decision is made, your future is in the hands of local and Federal officialdom.
Yes, there is ‘Life after Brexit’ in Belgium
So there you have it. Perhaps you already know more than this already. In which case two points: 1) good for you, and 2) give the information to us also, so that other members can benefit.
But hopefully the information in this article will help you plan for your personal and professional future in Belgium post-Brexit. The info was garnered from NUJ Brussels members, several of whom have already begun the steps to make sure that their right of residence in Belgium remains after Brexit, no matter what is decided at inter-government level.
At least two members are taking out Belgian nationality, because of family commitments as well as work. And one member is taking up Irish nationality, something that he had not considered until Brexit loomed on the horizon.
Whatever your decision, “Bon Chance!” And, of course, keep us informed .
You know better? Let us know
The information in this article is drawn from the knowledge and experience of several active members. However none of us are infallible, so if you know better or have experienced a different procedure, please let us know.
In particular, if (as an NUJ member) you have been working in Belgium as a journalist and resident for less than 5 years, and you wish to stay on post-Brexit, then we would like to know your experience and how you are approaching the issue. Bear in mind that we still have a two-year window minimum before any legislative changes take effect.
Reply either by email to the author via firstname.lastname@example.org, or by commenting in the Comment boxes below. As we gain information we will try to add it to the existing data (though this could take time). In this way this page can be become a useful knowledge-sharing source for members.