The Immigration Office is the authority responsible for the registration of asylum applications.
The registration process
The law foresees a three-stage registration process:
- The asylum seeker “makes” (présente) his or her application to the Immigration Office within 8 working days after arrival on the territory. An application at the border is made with the Border Police Section of the Federal Police immediately when the person is apprehended at the border and asked about his or her motives for entering Belgium or with the prison director in penitentiary institutions. These authorities refer the application immediately to the Immigration Office. Other applicants make their application directly at the Immigration Office (previously at the arrival centre ‘Petit Château/Klein Kasteeltje’, since August 2022 at the building of the Immigration Office, Pachecolaan 44, 1000 Brussel – Cube). The asylum seeker receives a “certificate of declaration” (attestation de declaration/bewijs van aanmelding) as soon as the application is made.
Under the law, failure to apply for a residence permit after irregularly entering the country or to apply for international protection within the 8-day deadline constitutes a criterion for determining a “risk of absconding”. The CGRS can also consider non-compliance with this deadline as one of the elements in assessing the credibility of the asylum claim. It is not clear if or to what extent these provisions are currently being applied.
- The Immigration Office registers the application within 3 working days of “notification”. This can be prolonged up to 10 working days when a large number of asylum seekers arrive at the same time, rendering it difficult in practice to register applications within the 3 working days deadline.
- The asylum seeker “lodges” (introduit) his or her application either immediately when it is made, or as soon as possible after the “notification” but no later than 30 days after the application has been made. This period may exceptionally be prolonged by way of Royal Decree, which has not occurred so far. When the application is lodged, the asylum seeker receives a “proof of asylum application” certifying his or her status as a first-time applicant (“Annex 26”) or a subsequent applicant (“Annex 26 quinquies”). The Immigration Office informs the CGRS of the lodging of the application.
In the context of the COVID-19 sanitary measures, the three-phase system was changed and applicants now immediately lodge their application at the registration centre when they make the application. They instantly receive the Annex 26. The aim is to avoid unnecessary movements of applicants between the different services and to respect the 3-day time limit of article 50(2) of the Aliens Act even if confinement is necessary. This system is currently still being applied. Consequently, asylum applications are now being made, registered and lodged on the same day.
Limitations of the right to apply for asylum
On 22 November 2018 a maximum quota per day on the number of people who could make their asylum application was introduced. This measure was suspended by the Council of State on 20 December 2018. In the course of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, some isolated incidents concerning access to the asylum procedure were reported.
Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Immigration Office closed its doors to the public on 17 March 2020. As a result, applicants were unable to apply for international protection during this closure. On 3 April 2020 the Immigration Office re-opened its doors and launched a new online registration system for persons who wanted to apply for international protection. Applicants had to fill in their personal information in an online form, which was only accessible in Dutch or French. Once an applicant had completed the online registration, he/she received a confirmation email stating he/she would be invited at the Immigration Office to apply for international protection at a later date. After an undefined number of days/weeks, the person then received a second email with an invitation for an appointment at the Immigration Office. The applicant then had to be present at the Immigration Office on the indicated date in order to introduce his request for international protection. According to the Immigration Office, this new way of working would make it possible to resume registrations of requests for international protection while also respecting COVID-19 sanitary measures. Asylum seekers faced various obstacles in accessing the asylum procedure due to this online registration system. The Brussels court of first instance, seized by several NGOs, condemned the Belgian state, stating that completing the online registration was equal to ‘the formal lodging of a request for international protection’ and should therefore give the immediate right to reception conditions. As a result, the Immigration Office suspended the online registration system and resumed the previous system of physical, spontaneous registrations on 3 November 2020. The Immigration Office later announced it wanted to evolve towards a dual system, where applicants can choose to either register online and receive an appointment or go to the Immigration Office without registering online. At the time of writing, it is unknown when and how this system will be deployed in practice.
In the context of the reception crisis that started mid-October 2021, access to the asylum procedure was, once again, severely impacted. For several weeks, the number of persons allowed to make an application for international protection was limited to the places available on that day in the reception system. In practice, people lined up at the gates of the arrival centre “Klein Kasteeltje”/”Petit Château” every morning. Priority was given to families with minor children and unaccompanied minors. Afterwards, a different number of single men was given access to the arrival centre each day, depending on available places in the reception system. Once that number was reached, the remaining men were told to come back another day. Some men had to wait in line for days before being able to make their asylum application. Therefore, these men were not yet considered ‘asylum seekers’ and could not claim certain fundamental rights linked to this status, such as the right to reception. The Labour Court, where urgent appeal cases were introduced to demand a reception place for persons being refused access to the reception network, rejected the appeals introduced by applicants who had not been able to make their asylum application and thus did not dispose of an Annex 26 yet, by lack of their official quality of ‘asylum seeker’. Lawyers tried to remedy this issue by first sending an e-mail to the Immigration Office, signalling their clients’ intention to apply for asylum, before introducing their appeal at the Labour Court, maintaining that the practice was in contradiction with the jurisprudence of the CJEU. Regardless, the Labour Court continued to reject the appeals for this category of applicants.
On 18 November 2021, several national, Flemish and French-speaking NGOs (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, CIRÉ, Médecins sans Frontières, Médecins du Monde, NANSEN vzw, ADDE, Ligue des Droits Humains, SAAMO and the Order of French and German-speaking bar associations (OBFG)) declared the Belgian State and Fedasil in default at the Brussels Court of First Instance. In a judgment of 19 January 2022, the court condemned the Belgian State and Fedasil for not ensuring access to the asylum procedure and to reception conditions and ordered both parties to ensure the respect of these fundamental rights, imposing a €5000 penalty payment for the respective parties for each day during the following 6 months on which at least one person would not receive access to the asylum procedure (penalty for the Belgian State) or to the reception system (penalty for Fedasil). During the first period following the judgment, all applicants went back to receiving immediate access to the asylum procedure, being allowed to make their asylum application on the first day of presence at the arrival centre. However, an increase of applicants following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine led to people once more being impeded from accessing the asylum procedure. Minors, families with children and particularly vulnerable applicants were given priority. A large part of newly arrived single men was refused access to the asylum procedure and asked to come back on an unspecified later date. On some days, more than 150 men were refused access to the asylum procedure and reception conditions.
On 29 August 2022, the registration centre for applications for international protection moved from the ‘arrival centre’ (‘Petit Château’/’Klein Kasteeltje’) to the building of the Immigration Office (‘Pacheco’). This was because the situation in the neighbourhood around Petit Château became untenable due to the numerous people sleeping on the streets around the arrival centre, leading to complaints by the neighbours. After this move and throughout the second half of 2022, not all people could apply for asylum on the day they presented themselves in the second half of 2022 due to the limited registration capacity at Pacheco. The Immigration Office cannot predict the number of people they are able to register on a given day. Priority is always given to minors, families and vulnerable people. Single men who were not able to register on the same day were sometimes given a paper with an invitation to present themselves on another specific moment within 3 working days. On other days, these men did not receive any paper and they were simply refused entry, making it impossible to ensure the registration of their request within three days after their presentation at the Immigration Office.
The daily number of applicants being lower during the first three months of 2023. All applicants were able to register on the day of presentation at the registration centre.
Procedure after registration
The asylum section of the Immigration Office is responsible for:
- Receiving the asylum application;
- Registering the asylum seeker in the so-called “waiting register” (wachtregister/registre d’attente), a provisional population register for foreign nationals (this occurs at the stage of the lodging phase);
- Taking fingerprints and a photograph;
- Conducting the Dublin procedure.
After having applied for asylum, the applicant is invited at the Immigration Office on a later date for a short interview to establish their identity, nationality and travel route. If it is suspected that another country is responsible under the Dublin Regulation, the applicant is interviewed about the reasons for leaving, and what motivated them to move to Belgium. During this short interview, a lawyer cannot be present.
If Belgium is the responsible country under the Dublin Regulation, the Immigration Office and the asylum seeker, with the help of an interpreter, fill in a questionnaire for the CGRS about the reasons why he or she fled his or her country of origin, or, in case of a subsequent asylum application, which new elements are being submitted. Afterwards, the file is sent to the CGRS. The questionnaire about the reasons for the asylum application and the impossibility of returning to the country of origin is also transferred to the CGRS. The asylum section of the Immigration Office is furthermore responsible for the follow-up of the asylum seeker’s legal residence status throughout the procedure as well as the follow-up of the final decision on the asylum application. This means registration in the register for aliens in the case of a positive decision or issuing an order to leave the territory in the case of a negative decision.
Within the Immigration Office, the Closed Centre section is responsible for all the asylum applications lodged in detention centres and prisons. In contrast, the Border Inspection section is responsible for asylum applications lodged at the border. The three sections within the Immigration Office (Asylum section, Closed Centres section and Border Inspection section) follow the exact same procedure within the Immigration Office’s general competence, each for their respective ‘categories’ of asylum seekers.
There have been significant delays in the asylum procedure at the stage of the Immigration Office, due to a high influx of cases and understaffing issues at the Immigration Office. Even though the lodging takes place no later than 30 days after the application has been made following legal standards, the first interview might be conducted more than several months later in certain cases. Applications in which a Dublin hit will be prioritised to meet the time limits set out in the Dublin III regulation. Other cases, such as those from Afghan nationals and nationals from ‘safe countries’, are also prioritised.
 Article 50(1) Aliens Act.
 Article 50(2) Aliens Act.
 Articles 1(11) and 1(2)(1) Aliens Act.
 Article 50(2) Aliens Act.
 Article 50(3) Aliens Act.
 Myria, Contact meeting, 16 September 2020, available in French at: https://bit.ly/3sE592s.
 Council of State, Decision No 243.306, 20 December 2018, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2WquTQK. For further information, see the previous AIDA report Belgium 2018 update, p. 15 and 22, https://bit.ly/3SAFd64.
 For further information, see previous AIDA reports, such as AIDA Belgium 2018 update, p. 15 and 22, https://bit.ly/3SAFd64.
 For a detailed overview of the issues caused by the introduction of the online system, please consult the AIDA reports 2020 (https://bit.ly/3Y8pVqf, 28-29) and 2021 (https://bit.ly/3SA2Hbq, 29-30).
 CJEU, judgment of 25 June 2020 in case nr. C-36/20 PPU, §§ 92-94.
 However, only a week after the court decision, Fedasil again structurally refused access to reception conditions to applicants having already introduced an application for international protection or having already received an international protection status in another EU member state, in violation of the judgment of 19 January 2022 (see Right to shelter and assignment to a centre).
 Bruzz, ‘Neighbours ask to move the registration centre Petit Château’, 18 August 2022, available in Dutch on http://bit.ly/3YuTrXn; De Morgen, ‘The moving from Petit Château to the Immigration Office will not solve the reception crisis’, 24 August 2022, available in Dutch on http://bit.ly/3ZzyhJb;
 Myria, Contact meeting september 2022: Information provided by the Immigration Office in French (p. 9): « Comme expliqué précédemment, la capacité d’enregistrement ne peut être représentée par un chiffre concret. La capacité d’enregistrement de l’OE dépend d’une part du nombre de personnes qui se présentent, mais aussi du profil des personnes qui se présentent. Par exemple, l’enregistrement d’un MENA prendra beaucoup plus de temps que, par exemple, l’enregistrement d’un homme isolé. Il est donc impossible de représenter cette capacité d’enregistrement par un chiffre précis. En fait, la capacité est évaluée directement sur place et ajustée en fonction de la capacité dans la salle d’attente à ce moment-là.“, complete report available via https://bit.ly/3T1jvZ0 ; Myria, Contact meeting october 2022: Information provided by the Immigration Office in French (p. 7) : « Non, il n’y a pas eu de changement depuis la réunion de contact de septembre. Il est vrai qu’en cas d’afflux très important, tout le monde ne peut pas avoir accès au bâtiment le même jour, et tout le monde ne peut pas non plus recevoir une invitation à se représenter à une date ultérieure. En effet, le OE n’a aucune idée du nombre de familles/personnes vulnérables qui se présenteront le lendemain, ce qui rend difficile l’estimation du nombre d’hommes isolés qui pourront être enregistrés le ou les jours ouvrables suivants.De cette façon, l’OE essaie de pouvoir donner la priorité aux familles et aux personnes vulnérables à tout moment.Toutefois, l’objectif reste toujours d’enregistrer toutes les personnes qui se sont proposées dans un délai d’une semaine au plus tard le vendredi de cette même semaine ; ce qui réussit généralement. La priorité absolue est toujours accordée aux MENA, aux familles et aux personnes vulnérables. », complete report available via https://bit.ly/3ZBF6d7.
 Art. 50(2) Aliens Act.
 Articles 51/3-51/10 Aliens Act; Articles 10 and 15-17 Royal Decree on Immigration Office Procedure.