Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 01/04/21


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Recognised refugees are free to access the labour market after recognition without requiring a work permit.[1] They are equally exempt from a professional card.[2] These exemptions are based on the status as a refugee and are therefore not affected by the recent limitation of the duration of the residence permit and the subsequent change from an electronic B card to an electronic A card for the first five years. No labour market tests or sector limitation are applied. These rules apply to work as an employee or as an entrepreneur.

Up until recently beneficiaries of subsidiary protection were required a work permit C if they wanted to work as an employee during their first 5 years of limited right to residence. However, since 3 January 2019 – and following a (late) transposition of the Single Permit Directive – the procedure for obtaining working permits has changed and the work permit C has been abolished. Those who were previously eligible for a work permit C have de iure a right to work, based on their temporary residence permit. As a transitional provision, work permit C’s that have been delivered remain valid until their expiration date.

Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection need a professional card if they wish to work as an entrepreneur. Apart from possessing an electronic A card to prove the right to residence, some other conditions have to be fulfilled related to the activity the beneficiary wishes to pursue.[3] The activity has to be compatible with the reason of stay in Belgium, not in a saturated sector and may not disrupt public order. The documents required are:

  • Front Page giving an overview of all evidence attached to your application form;
  • An extract of the applicant’s criminal record (no more than 6 months old);
  • Proof of payment of the application fee of EUR 140;
  • Copy of the residence permit.

An appeal can be lodged at the Regional Minister within 30 calendar days after notification of the registered letter whereby the decision to refuse was served. The Minister seeks the advice of the Council for Economic Investigation regarding Foreigners who will hear the applicant and issue an advice within 4 months to both the Minister and the applicant. The Minister has 2 months to decide whether to follow the advice of the Council or not. In the absence of a Council advice, the Minister has 2 months to take an autonomous decision. In the absence of both a Council advice and a decision by the Minister, the application is considered rejected. After a decision of the Minister, a second appeal is possible within 60 days to the Council of State. The Council of State only checks the correctness of the proceedings and does not judge on the reasons for refusal. If an application is definitely refused, an applicant can only file a new application after 2 years of waiting unless the refusal was based on inadmissibility, new elements arose or the new application is for a new activity.

The professional card is valid for maximum 5 years, but is usually issued for 2 years. The holder of a professional card has to ask for a renewal 3 months before the expiration date of the current professional card. As soon as a beneficiary of subsidiary protection receives a right to unlimited residence, he or she is exempt from a professional card.

Asylum seekers, recognised refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection can have their diploma obtained in other countries recognised by specific authorities in Belgium: Flanders: NARIC in Flanders and Equivalences CFWB in the French community.

In both Flanders and the French community, asylum seekers, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are exempt from the payment of administrative fees.

In July 2019, the European Migration Network (EMN) published a study on the social-economic trajectories of beneficiaries of international protection in Belgium.[4] The researchers compared the cohorts of persons granted a protection status in the periods 2001-2006 and 2007-2009 with persons granted a protection status in the period 2010-2014, in order to evaluate their respective participation to the labour market. Five years after they received protection status, 37% of the persons granted international protection in 2001-2006 and 2007-2009 were effectively working, compared to only 29% for those granted protection between 2010-2014. Where this could be verified, especially for the first two categories of persons, the labour market participation continued to increase. For example: 10 years after their recognition, approximately 50% of the persons granted international protection in the period 2001-2006 were effectively employed. The proportion of persons who have worked at least once was much higher, as 81% of them worked at least during a quarter of a year. This means that the majority of them had a formal job during their stay, after their recognition, and despite the vulnerability inherent to their group. Initial and subsequent periods of employment often last less than a year, indicating short working periods and a high degree of instability. Therefore, a sustainable integration in the labour market still needs to be improved according to the study.



[1]        Article 2(5) Royal Decree of 9 June 1999 implementing the Law of 30 April 1999 on the employment of foreign nationals, 26 June 1999, 1999012496, 24162.

[2]        Article 1(4) Royal Decree on the professional card.

[3]        Article 1 Royal Decree of 2 August 1985 implementing the Law of 19 February 1965 on entrepreneurial activities of foreigners, 24 September 1985, 1985018112, 13668.

[4]       EMN, Socio-economic trajectories of beneficiaries of international protection, 4 July 2019, available at


Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation