Access to the labour market

Belgium

Author

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen

Employment

The framework legislation on employment conditions falls under the competency of the federal government. The implementation of this law is to a large extent part of the competence of the regional authorities, which includes among others the granting of work permits to third-country nationals.  Conditions to be allowed to work are determined by the federal legislator in the Law of 30 April 1999 on the Employment of Foreign Workers and its implementing Royal Decrees. Depending on the type of work permit that is applied for, the place of residence of the employer or of the employee will be decisive to determining which regional authority (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels-Capital or the German-speaking community) is competent for granting the permit.

In January 2014, the Federal Parliament adopted the so-called Sixth State Reform Special Law, transferring a range of competences from the level of the federal legislator to the communities and the regions, among which also the competence to legislate (and not only implement legislation) on work permits for foreigners was transferred to the regions, with the exception of the temporary work permit C for foreigners with a right to stay on another legal basis.1 Only once new regional parliaments execute this competence will the old federal law cease to be applicable.

Asylum seekers who have not yet received a first instance decision on their asylum case within 4 months following the registration of their asylum application are allowed to work with a permit card C. By Royal Decree of 29 October 2015, the federal government brought this period to from 6 to 4 months.2 These asylum seekers can work until a decision is taken by the CGRS, or in case of an appeal, until a negative decision has been notified by the CALL. Such a permit cannot be applied for anymore during the appeal procedure before the CALL if the procedure at the CGRS did not last for longer than 4 months, however.3

The work permit C allows the asylum seeker to do whatever job in paid employment for whatever employer, and is valid for 12 months and renewable.4 The asylum seeker has to apply for the permit with the competent regional authority. The permit automatically ceases to be valid once the asylum procedure has ended with a final negative decision by the CGRS or the CALL. In principle the employer is supposed to check on the residence status of his or her employees, but in practice employment is tolerated by the social inspection authorities until the date of validity mentioned on the working permit has expired. 

Adult asylum seekers who have access to the labour market can register as job-seekers at the regional Offices for Employment and are then entitled to a free assistance programme and vocational training. In practice, however, finding a job is very difficult while in the asylum procedure because of the provisional and precarious residence status, the mostly very limited knowledge of the national languages, the fact that many foreign diplomas are not considered equivalent to national diplomas, and high discrimination in the labour market.

If an asylum seeker resides in a reception facility (LRI or collective) and is employed, he or she has an obligation to contribute with a percentage of his or her income to the reception facility and is excluded from any material reception conditions if his or her income is higher than the social welfare benefit amounts mentioned above and the working contract is sufficiently stable.5 Read more in the section on Reduction or Withdrawal of Reception Conditions.

 

Self-employment

Asylum seekers are also eligible for self-employed labour under the condition that they apply for a professional card. Only small-scale and risk-free projects will be admitted in practice.

 

Volunteering

Since the adoption of the law of 22 May 2014, that changes the law of 3 July 2005, asylum seekers are allowed to do voluntary work during their asylum procedure and for as long as they have a right to reception.

 

Community services

Asylum seekers are also entitled to perform certain community services (maintenance, cleaning) within their reception centre as a way of increasing their pocket money.6

  • 1. Article 22 Special Law of 6 January 2014 relating to the Sixth Reform of the State.
  • 2. Royal Decree of 29 October 2015 modifying Article 17 of the Royal Decree on Foreign Workers (published in the Belgian State Monitor of 9 November 2015), available at: http://bit.ly/1MAdXxY.
  • 3. Article 17 Royal Decree on Foreign Workers.
  • 4. Article 3 Royal Decree on Foreign Workers.
  • 5. Articles 35/1 Reception Act and Royal Decree, 12 January 2011, on Material Assistance to Asylum Seekers residing in reception facilities and who are employed (original amounts without indexation).
  • 6. Article 34 Reception Act.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti