Download MIPEX III Belgium in French and Dutch (pdf)


Net migration is below the EU average. Most foreigners are EU citizens, while few non-EU workers are allowed in. Case-by-case regularisations started in 2009. Job opportunities for immigrants and their descendants, although unequal, were less affected by the crisis than elsewhere. The OECD finds that the 2000 Nationality Law helps settled migrants to become Belgian and better integrate economically, especially in the public sector.

Without a government for long periods, many changes were blocked (e.g. family reunion and naturalisation). Both language communities are now developing some sort of introductory programmes. Political and linguistic divisions persist on immigration and citizenship policy, with some (mostly Flemish) politicians seeking restrictions and regional autonomy.

Newcomers still benefit from integration policies that are some of the best in Europe and getting better (+4 points, now outranking NO, IT, UK). More coherent anti-discrimination laws benefit potential victims. EU law was implemented to give immigrants clearer access to long-term residence, while government does not intend a new housing condition to undermine family reunion. Belgium still restricts basic access to the labour market, especially compared to countries attracting labour migration.

Timeline - What's Changed

+15 25 April 2007
Long-term residence
Transposition of the EC Directive on longterm residence
+5 May 2007
General Antidiscrimination Federal Act, monitoring of Equality Acts every 5 years.
-2 June 2007
Political participation
Head of the Consultative Council for Antwerp resigns
+17 2008
fields of application Flemish and French Decrees prohibit discrimination on all grounds.
0 2008
Flemish Decree – Discrimination by association and on basis of assumed characteristics made explicit
+25 July 2008
Long-term residence–conditions
Procedure for long term residence lasts 5 months. If delayed, status is given.
+15 17 July 2008
European Court of Justice(C-303/06) – Discrimination by association implicitly forbidden under federal law.
0 April 2009

Integration in Flanders, Wallonia
Integration decrees proposed.

0 October 2009
Family reunion
nationality Government announces Bills on family reunion and naturalisation.
-2 February 2010
Family reunion
Council of State: housing for family reunion must be proven, but by any legal means

Key Findings

  • Belgium encourages labour market mobility less than other established immigration countries. 
  • Non-EU residents excluded from large number of jobs. 
  • Discrimination protections and equality policies across Belgium continue to improve. 
  • Clearer and more secure status for long-term residents. 
  • Naturalisation, promoting integration since 2000, now being undermined by inefficient Parliamentary Committee. 
  • Dutch and French-speaking committees better see and target migrant children needs than most, but still problems related to social class and lack of school diversity. 
  • Family reunion procedures provide largely favourable starting point for integration, despite some weaknesses and problems with implementation throughout. 
  • New requirements to fight slumlords and precarious living should not undermine family reunion.  
  • Political opportunities still limited. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Importance of labour market integration

    Belgium is one of only 6 countries in total (e.g. AT, IE) where non-EU workers and their families cannot immediately access all areas of employment. They can in the Nordics, NL and countries attracting labour migrants (e.g. CA, ES, PT, US). These countries also tend to guarantee equal access to study grants (9) and social security (14), unlike in parts of Belgium and half the MIPEX countries (mostly Central Europe). Better targeted measures are developing in neighbouring FR, DE, and NL or CA and SE.

    The greatest weakness across the country’s integration policies is promoting newcomers’ labour market mobility. Non-EU workers and families can use general job support and some targeted measures to become better skilled and qualified. However, they may be legally excluded from the very careers that they are qualified for, because of delayed and unequal access to a large part of all jobs in Belgium (see box). Only after years of residence and paperwork do they have the same job mobility as Belgian or EU citizens. Until they naturalise, they cannot hold permanent public sector jobs, and several temporary ones. These restrictions may delay or discourage non-EU newcomers from investing in skills and careers over the long term. 

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    Families in public life

    Most countries facilitating family reunion also promote labour market mobility. However, Belgium still limits family members’ access to employment. While they can participate in programmes to improve their skills and education, bureaucratic obstacles may make them dependent on their sponsor in their first years. In addition to opening access, other countries (e.g. DE, SE) adopt better targeted job measures for migrant women and youths. In countries like FI, NL, NO, immigrant bodies funded and consulted by government work to be representative of migrant women and younger generations.


    Integration abroad?

    Pre-departure requirements exist nowhere in North America and in just 4 European countries (2 more proposed). Flemish plans to ‘start integration earlier’ with voluntary free courses abroad would be favourable only if spouses could participate as easily in their home country as they do in Belgium. Since 2008, France has done slightly well at offering free courses across the world. DE and NL programmes are less cost effective abroad than they are in the country. They are more costly for the State and families, while few learn anything meaningful.

    Most non-EU families should be able to live together as their starting point for integration, according to Belgian law. Their chances for a secure family life in Belgium are slightly favourable, reflecting EU law, but not much better than in the average European country or the US. Neighbouring countries (FR, DE, NL) may be delaying or discouraging families’ integration through new conditions (e.g. income, language), sometimes proposed in Belgium.

    With dimension scores between 65 and 75, Belgium’s complicated laws contain some weaknesses and many strengths, even if implementation is complicated. Non-EU newcomers can immediately apply for their family, largely based on Belgium’s inclusive definition of the family. However, only citizens can sponsor their dependent parents or grandparents, unlike in 19 countries. Since 2006, non-EU couples meeting while the sponsor is already living in Belgium are separated until age 21. Additional age limits, optional under EU law, are imposed in just 7 other EU countries.

    Since implementation of EU law (2003/86/EC), sponsors must also provide health insurance (as in half EU Member States) and housing (as in most) for their families. During parliamentary debate, government stated that goals to fight precarious living situations and slumlords should not create new problems or longer separations for families in practice. Belgium’s MIPEX score only dropped 2 points because sponsors can use any legal means to prove ‘sufficient’ housing. PT and SE have also tried to guarantee that new conditions facilitate, rather than undermine, family life. If Belgian authorities respect these legal conditions, families should only be rejected in genuine cases of fraud, family break-up or serious security and health threats. If they do not, families learn why and can appeal, as in 24 other countries. Family members could participate quicker and more effectively with full access to the labour market (see box). Current integration programmes are already favourable and in high demand because the free courses help all participants to succeed (see box). They are required in the Dutch-speaking community (as in FR and NO) and are voluntary and needs-based in Wallonia (like SE and FI). Other countries (e.g. AT, NL) provide less favourable learning environments. 

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    Similar policies, different terms

    French-speaking schools (scoring 55 overall) focus on social disadvantage, with some specific support (e.g. FR, SE) for refugees and newcomers from developing countries. Dutchspeaking schools (76) also give socially disadvantaged pupils with migrant backgrounds (‘allochtoon’) extra support, specifically on language (e.g. DE, NL). Dutch and French-speaking schools score similarly on access (71, 64) and interculturalism (67, 58). On needs (80, 60) and opportunities (88, 38), Dutch speaking schools have more translated information and migrant parent outreach (e.g. Minderhedenforum projects), data on migrant pupils and school mixing projects.

    The Dutch and French-speaking communities are becoming aware of the different challenges facing diverse students and starting to work on them. All pupils can learn about some immigrant languages and cultures. All newcomers should receive targeted orientation and quality language support, while schools get some extra training, funding, and guidance. Data could be systematically monitored and evaluated to improve implementation. Although all have equal educational opportunities in law, economically disadvantaged pupils may not receive enough support and end up in underperforming schools, only with students from the same class and background and with fewer immigrant teachers. Both communities need evidencebased diversity policies for enrolment, recruitment, and parental involvement (e.g. Nordics, DE, UK). 

  • Show Political Participation

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    Consultative bodies: independence, political will

    More established consultative bodies tend to treat immigrants as serious, equal partners. These bodies are often more representative, democratic and autonomous – but not in Belgium, where long-standing Brussels and national bodies are among the weakest in Europe. Dependent on government’s goodwill, many die out like Antwerp’s in 2007. The exception is the Minderhedenforum, an independent and immigrant-led ‘participation organization’, representing 17 federations and 1500 grassroots associations. Funded by the Flemish community, it reports and recommends on ethnic minority needs in Flanders and Brussels.

    Non-EU residents enjoy only limited political opportunities, a weakness in Belgium as across Europe but a strength in neighbouring LU and NL. In Belgium, they voted for the first time in the 2006 municipal elections. Conditions are still restricted (5 years, registration), as in other countries recently opening electoral rights (e.g. EE, HU, LT, SI). So far, they cannot stand as candidates (as in 13 MIPEX countries) or vote in regional elections (as in 7). Participation in 2012 elections would improve if they were actively informed of their rights. As in most of Western Europe, immigrants are given equal political liberties and some public funding for their political associations, but are weakly consulted (see box). 

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    A major asset for integration in Belgium – and Europe on average – is securing residence and rights for non-EU residents after 5 years. Belgium (like PT, ES) turned implementing EU law into an opportunity to make the status clearer and accessible. Applicants are certain about when they can apply, how long they can leave the country for, and how long the procedure lasts, giving Belgium the biggest improvement (like PT) and highest score (alongside SE and ES). While only limited groups can apply, the simple, short procedure is based on the facts and rule of law. In parliamentary debate, government presented EC long-term residence as a ‘warranty’ document to work and move freely throughout the EU.

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    Inefficient procedure, options for reform

    Only DK and some CH cantons still require parliamentarians for naturalisation. In Belgium, when there’s no government, there may be no Committee and no naturalised citizens. A 2010 bill would have added more discretionary rejection/withdrawal grounds about residence, language, and ‘integration’. Until 2000, integration was assessed subjectively by police, sometimes in applicants’ homes. Other countries have basic (US), professional (CA), well-supported (DE, NO) citizenship programmes, including ceremonies (7). Reforms in DE, GR, and LU made procedures less discretionary for all meeting clear agreed conditions.

    The recent path to citizenship, which was improving newcomers’ civic and economic integration, is being undermined by an inefficient Naturalisation Committee (see box). 2000’s law made naturalisation conditions simpler, shorter and free. But the Committee must approve every applicant and changes their criteria behind closed doors. For instance, ‘3 years of uninterrupted legal stay’ may mean 3, 5, or 8 years, or 365 days, without a day’s gap in administrative records. The Committee’s backlog is minimum 2 years. Two thirds of candidates, many of whom may have succeeded before, are rejected today. They cannot learn why or appeal, unlike in 23 countries. At that point, they may as well apply for nationality by declaration after 7 years. 

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    Co-ordinating equality policies

    The public has seen Belgium’s various governments taking greater responsibility for equality by monitoring and implementing acts in nearly all parts of the country: specifically the May 2007 General Anti-discrimination Federal Act (Article 52); 2008 Flemish Decree (Article 49); 2008 French Community Decree (Article 61); and the 2008 Walloon Region Decree (Article 35). Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities and Fight against Racism, established in 1993, now can better co-ordinate implementation across the country, including 13 local contact bureaus in Flanders, similar to FR, NL and SE.

    All residents, regardless of their background, enjoy consistently better opportunities to participate in society when countries worked on equality, with Belgium in the lead (like Nordics, FR, UK, CA, and US). Victims can use robust procedures to enforce their rights, with NGO support, wide sanctions, legal aid and situation testing. There could be more clarity in definitions on multiple discrimination (e.g. CA, US) and racial profiling (also FR, NL, UK). Enforcement could improve through class actions or actio popularis (14 MIPEX countries) and alternative dispute procedures (19). Since 2007, minor modifications improved the law; e.g. discrimination by association (European Court of Justice) and discrimination protections in education. Equality policies are now stronger and better co-ordinated (see box).