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In what circumstances is a visa required for business visitors?
A visa is required for business visitors not holding a passport issued by one of the countries referred to in Article 1(2) of Council Regulation 539/2001.
What restrictions are imposed on business visitors in terms of the work that they may undertake and their period of stay in your jurisdiction?
Business visitors may not work but may attend conferences, specialised seminars and business meetings. The authorised period of stay is 20 consecutive calendar days and a maximum of 60 days per calendar year. It must be distinguished between the short stay visa validity and the right to stay for business purposes (ie, carry out business activities).
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) concluded by the European Union and Canada provides for more favourable conditions (ie, 90 days in any six-month period). The CETA also introduced the new category of business visitors for investment purposes (for which the maximum period of stay is also 90 days in any six-month period).
Annex 10D of the CETA sets out the short-term business visitor activities which are permitted under the agreement.
The CETA entered into force provisionally on 21 September 2017, pending the completion of the necessary ratification procedures. A genuine provisional implementation and further ratification by EU member states is pending the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ’s) ruling on a request referred to it by Belgium.
The proposal for a new EU blue card directive provides for the concept of short-term mobility (ie, entry and stay for the purpose of carrying out a business activity in one or several member states for up to 90 days in any 180-day period). It also provides for a ‘business activity’ to be autonomously defined as follows:
A temporary activity related to the business interests of the employer, such as attending internal and external business meetings, attending conferences and seminars, negotiating business deals, undertaking sales or marketing activities, performing internal or client audits, exploring business opportunities, or attending and receiving training.
However, the negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council on the proposal for a new directive, which started in September 2017, are currently blocked.
Application and entry
How are business visitor visas obtained and what is the typical turnaround time?
The application must be lodged at the Belgium diplomatic mission (or mission having jurisdiction to receive such applications) in the country of residence or the country of nationality. The typical turnaround time is 15 days from the date of application.
Notably, an application for a short-stay visa is not merely a simple formality.
In a recent judgment (C‑403/16), the ECJ upheld the rights determined by EU law in the context of short-stay visa applications.
The case at issue concerned a Schengen visa application that was lodged in Morocco and rejected by the Polish consul due to the lack of certainty that the applicant would leave Poland before the visa’s expiry date.
The judgment has confirmed that the competent authorities of EU member states cannot refuse to issue a uniform visa by relying on a ground not provided for by the Visa Code. The ECJ ruled in favour of the right to an appeal procedure against decisions refusing visas, granting a judicial appeal at a certain stage of the proceedings.
However, the ECJ upheld that “in examining a visa application the national authorities have a broad discretion as regards the conditions for applying the grounds of refusal laid down by the Visa Code and the evaluation of the relevant facts”. This is a more nuanced position than that expressed by Advocate General Bobek, who clearly suggested that “there is no right to a visa under EU law”.
In light of ECJ case law and EU member states’ jurisprudence and policy, the following rights are granted to applicants for short-stay uniform visas:
- the right to have an application fairly processed, exclusively relying on the grounds provided in the Visa Code; and
- in case of visa refusal, the right to appeal under the procedural rules provided in the national legislation of each EU member state in accordance with the principles of equivalence and effectiveness. A judicial appeal must be granted.
The mere right to a visa under EU law cannot be invoked.
Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?
Belgium is bound by the EU common visa policy for:
- transit through the country;
- intended stays of a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period; and
- transit through the international transit areas of airports located in the country.
The list of visa waiver countries is set out in Council Regulation 539/2001 as amended.
Visa facilitation agreements concluded by the European Union are binding on Belgium.
Fast-track and free-of-charge visas are issued to third-country nationals who are family members of EU nationals, to accompany or join the latter.
What rules and procedures apply for visitors seeking to undertake short-term training in your jurisdiction?
Currently, business visitors are not authorised to undertake training in Belgium.
In what circumstances is a transit visa required to pass through your jurisdiction? How is it obtained?
Nationals of the third countries listed in Annex IV of EU Regulation 810/2009 must hold an airport transit visa when passing through the international transit areas of airports situated on Belgian territory.
The categories of persons exempt from this requirement are provided in Article 3.5 of the regulation.
Airport transit visas are issued pursuant to Article 26 of the regulation.
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