Recently, a new law was published for Researchers and Trainees who come to Belgium as non-EU nationals. These categories will soon be able to obtain a Single Permit which allows them to be active in Belgium for more than 90 days.
The Single Permit covers both the residence and employment of the foreigner, and the procedure is similar like the one existing already for highly skilled workers and executives/directors.
However, an important difference is the maximum processing time for the application. For researchers, the Belgian regional authorities must take a decision within 60 days, and for trainees, this is 90 days. For highly skilled workers, this can normally take up to 120 days.
Before, trainees required a Work Permit ‘Type B’ to be able to do their internship in Belgium if it lasted more than 90 days. With the new provisions, the trainee will now have to obtain a Single Permit instead, for an internship exceeding 90 days.
The trainees need to meet certain requirements regarding their qualifications and training. They need to have a higher education degree or be enrolled in a course in a non-EU country which will result in such a degree. The trainee also needs to participate in a training program with a Belgian company in view of acquiring knowledge, practice, and experience in a professional environment.
Another important change is the age limitation. Previously, the trainee had to be younger than 30 years old to apply for a Work Permit. Age is no longer relevant. Trainees from all ages may apply.
The duration of the internship is limited to 6 months, while it used to be possible for 12 months. Only the Flemish Region still allows the internship to be extended with another 6 months. As far as the earnings concerned, this needs to be sufficient to cover the basic living needs. Specifically, the trainee must earn at least the average guaranteed monthly minimum income.
Foreign researchers currently do not need a Work Permit to carry out their research assignment in Belgium. With the new legislation, they need a Single Permit.
To be eligible, the researcher needs to have a doctoral degree, or an appropriate higher education degree that would allow access to a doctoral program. They should have been selected by a recognized research institution to carry out a project that would normally require this type of degree.
The most important document when applying for the Single Permit is the hosting agreement between researcher and institution. This document includes, among other things, the practical modalities, and the duration of the research assignment.
To encourage cross-border mobility, the new law now creates the possibility for a researcher who is already active in another EU research institution to carry out an assignment with a Belgian research institution.
The application procedure itself is different depending on the duration of the research assignment. If it is less than 180 days in a period of 360 days, the researcher does not need a Single Permit, but the Belgian research institution must notify the Belgian authorities beforehand of the assignment. If there is no objection, the researcher may proceed with the assignment. If the Belgian research assignment lasts longer than 180 days, the researcher will need a Single Permit.
In view of keeping high profile researchers in Belgium, the law provides that once the assignment in Belgium has ended, the researcher may stay in Belgium for another 12 months to look for a job.
Entry into force
The new legislation has already entered into force on 1 January 2023 for trainees and will apply as from 1 March 2023 for researchers.
It should be noted that the new provisions do not cover non-EU nationals taking up a traineeship as part of their studies in Belgium. These non-EU nationals remain subject to the existing regulations in respect to students.