Recognised refugees are free to access the labour market after recognition without requiring a work permit. They are equally exempt from a professional card. 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. 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. 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 and 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.
Integration process for beneficiaries of international protection
In Belgium, a civic integration trajectory is in place for newcomers. Policies relating to integration and the trajectory are designed and implemented at the regional level. Therefore, regional differences in the integration legislation exist, for example in the fee charged for the process or the target groups of integration. This section will focus on the legislation in Flanders and, although to a limited extent, on the Brussels-Capital Region. In 2021, a new Flemish decree altering the 2013 decree on Flemish integration and civic integration policy was announced and implemented. To understand the specificities of the new decree, an explanation of the current integration trajectory on a Flemish level is needed.
Civic integration is intended for foreign nationals of 18 years and older who come to settle in Flanders or in the Brussels region for the first time. All persons belonging to the civic integration target group are entitled to the programme, but for some – such as recognised refugees and persons having received subsidiary protection – it is mandatory.
The new decree stipulates that, from 1 January 2022, applicants for international protection will no longer be able to follow the trajectory until they are officially recognised a protection status. To mitigate the impact of this decision, Fedasil now tries to provide some guidance to applicants while they are waiting for the decision on their application. A limited integration process can already be initiated to ensure they are are well prepared for the life that will follow after a recognition decision. To intensify this guidance, Fedasil has set up a new ‘Future Orientation’ service, bringing together the existing services ‘Voluntary return’, ‘Resettlement’ and a new ‘Participation in in society’ cell. This should allow Fedasil to develop new counselling pathways and implement a more coherent policy, in close cooperation with other services but also with many external stakeholders, such as cities and municipalities.
The civic integration programme consists of:
- a course on social orientation, about life, work, norms and values in Belgium (in a language that the student understands)
- Dutch language courses
- individual guidance in the search for work, studies, and assistance with credential evaluation
- a network and participation trajectory
The content of the civic integration trajectory is included in a civic integration contract, which needs to be signed in order to start the process. Those who pass both the social orientation course and the Dutch language course will receive a certificate of integration. After receiving the certificate, the persons requested to take part in the trajectory are further assisted in their search for work or a diploma. In Flanders, the Flemish Agency of Integration and Civic Integration and two urban agencies, one in Antwerp (Atlas) and one in Ghent (IN-Gent), offer civic integration trajectories.
With the new decree, a third pillar has been added to the first (social orientation) and second (Dutch language courses). This third pillar entails that non-working participants of working age will be obliged to register with the VDAB/Actiris (employment services) within 60 days after signing the integration contract. This is a new provision that aims at accelerating the possibility for newcomers to access the labour market, and as such being able to contribute to public expenses. Furthermore, a fourth pillar was added through the new decree, namely: the participation in a network trajectory of 40 hours. This pillar aims at extending the newcomer´s social network, as to increase their chances of integration in the local society. This fourth pillar was implemented on the 1st of January of 2023.
Another relevant change introduced by the decree, is the fact that it will be compulsory to pay two fees to access the social orientation course, a first of 90 euros for the course, paid only once, and a fee of 90 euros for the social orientation test. The latter must be paid each time a test is taken (again). Moreover, the two certifying language tests NT2 also require a reimbursement of 90 euros each. This means that the total cost of the integration process will now amount to 360 euros per person. Exceptions are provided for people with limited resources.
Compulsory civic integration students can face an administrative fine if they fail to comply. The fine increases with each new violation, from 50 to 5,000 euros. The fine does not release the person from the obligation to integrate. In 2022, 401 people were fined for failing to complete their mandatory civic integration programme properly.
On 1 June 2022, the integration obligation for newcomers in the Brussels-Capital Region was implemented. The Brussels integration policy imposes an integration obligation on foreigners with certain residence statuses who register as “newcomers” in one of the 19 Brussels municipalities from 1 June 2022.
If the newcomer does not fulfil his obligation, he can be sanctioned. The municipality will first send a reminder. If the newcomer then still fails to fulfil his obligation within 2 months, the file will be transferred to the region’s enforcement officer. The latter can impose an administrative fine of € 100 to a maximum of € 2,500. The newcomer can lodge an appeal with the Council of State within 60 days.
It is important to note that beneficiaries of temporary protection have access to a voluntary integration trajectory that differs from the mandatory trajectory for recognised refugees and persons having received subsidiary protection. For a complete overview, see report on temporary protection.
 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.
 Article 1(4) Royal Decree on the professional card.
 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.
 EMN, Socio-economic trajectories of beneficiaries of international protection, 4 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2x8vZbI.
 Decree of 9 July 2021, amending the decree of 7 June 2013 on the Flemish integration and civic integration policy.
 For a detailed overview of the target group of the civic integration program, see in Dutch: https://bit.ly/3uyhckk.
 Fedasil, Integrated managementplan 2021-2026, 30 September 2021, available in Dutch/French at: http://bit.ly/3m7QHSG.
 Decree of the Flemish Government 7 October 2022 to determine the entry into force of the participation and networking trajectory and the fees for the training package social orientation within the framework of the integration pathway and to amend the Decree of the Flemish Government of 29 January 2016 implementing the Decree of 7 June 2013 on the Flemish integration and civic integration policy.
 Decree of 9 July 2021, amending the decree of 7 June 2013 on the Flemish integration and civic integration policy.
 Written question of MP Maaike De Vreese to Minister Bart Somers, 6 January 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GjjcDV.
 Decree of 5 May 2022 amending the Decree of 19 July 2018 of the GGC college of Brussels implementing the Ordinance of the GGC of 11 May 2017 on the integration pathway for newcomers.