Belgium is working on implementation of the European Union (EU) Blue Card directive; there is an increasing focus on compliance; and a potential future change relates to the transfer of legislative power regarding work permits from the federal level to the regions.

The Belgian work permit system is a very business-friendly model in practice. The "regular" work permit, with a resident labor test, has become very rare in the corporate immigration context. "Fast-track" work permits, without a resident labor test, can be obtained quite fast, within two to three weeks after the date of filing of the application.  

The economic recession has not led to drastic changes to the Belgian work permit system. However, one protective measure, regarding Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, should be mentioned:

  • In principle, European Union (EU) nationals may work in Belgium without work permits, on the basis of the right of free movement of workers.
  • For Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU on January 1, 2007, restrictions on this right of free movement of workers were maintained during an initial transition term until the end of 2008. That was prolonged for another three years, until December 31, 2011. The Belgian government has decided to continue the restrictions until December 31, 2013. As a rationale for this decision, the government explicitly referred to the expected economic recession in 2012/2013 as well as to similar decisions of neighboring countries to maintain the restrictions.

In other developments, the Belgian Parliament and the Minister of Employment are currently working on implementation of the EU Blue Card Directive.

The available texts indicate that the Blue Card will exist alongside the current fast-track work permit B for highly skilled employees. The salary threshold for a Blue Card in 2012 will probably be €49,995, which is higher than the current threshold for a highly skilled work permit B (€37,721 for 2012).

The Belgian authorities will probably choose not to take professional experience into account to prove "higher professional qualifications," but a higher education will be required, on condition that the studies needed to acquire it lasted at least three years. Belgium will probably not apply numerical limits.