Immigration to Belgium and Luxembourg in the age of Covid-19 and Brexit

What are the latest immigration changes for Belgium and Luxembourg? Massimo Maesen, partner and practice leader of Expat Management Group Belux provides an update.

Skyline of Brussels

Overview on the travel ban: Belgium and Luxembourg

On 25 June, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Council Recommendation to lift travel restriction for countries selected together by Member States. This is to be done on the basis of a set of principles and objective criteria including the health situation, the ability to apply containment measures during travel, and reciprocity considerations, taking into account data from relevant sources such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation. On 30 June, the Council adopted a Recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU. Travel restrictions should be lifted for countries listed in the recommendation. Upon revision by Member States and the Council, the list is reviewed every two weeks.Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the Recommendation, and on the updated list published by the Council on 7 August, Member States should start lifting the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Georgia
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Rwanda
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • Tunisia
  • Uruguay
  • China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity
EMG-in-text-banner1The following categories of persons should be made exempt from the temporary travel restriction to the EU+ area from the third countries which are not on the list agreed by the Member States, so the recommendation continues:
  • EU citizens and third-country nationals who enjoy rights of free movement equivalent to those of EU citizens, as well as their family members;
  • third-country nationals who are long-term residents under the Long-term Residence Directive or deriving their right to reside from other EU Directives or national law or who hold national long-term visas, as well as their respective family members
The temporary travel restrictions should also not apply to people with an essential function or need, including:
  • healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals
  • frontier workers
  • seasonal workers in agriculture
  • transport personnel
  • diplomats, staff of international organisations and people invited by international organisations whose physical presence is required for the well-functioning of these organisations, military personnel and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions;
  • passengers in transit
  • passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • seafarers
  • persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad

Luxembourg: the current immigration situation

Luxembourg has followed the recommendation of the European Council and allows entry to third country nationals who fall under the above-mentioned categories.Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ban on the entry of third-country nationals into the territory of Luxembourg is valid until 15 September 2020, but chances are high this will be extended.Furthermore, third-country nationals aged 11 or over who wish to travel by air to Luxembourg from a country not included in the above list, even if they have a temporary residence permit or a residence permit, must present the negative result of a biological test for Covid-19 before boarding. The test must have been carried out less than 48 hours before the flight.

Belgium: the current immigration situation

The travel ban in Belgium will remain in place until further notice. Anyone coming outside of the EU+ will need to go in mandatory self-quarantine of 14 days, and complete a Covid-19 test.The Belgian government however believed that in some of those countries there are still too many health problems. Some of those countries, on the other hand, do not allow Belgian nationals to enter, so the government also does not want to open the borders for their residents.

This leads to the situation that Belgium has decided that (initially) they do not distinguish between countries on the list or not. They simply added exceptions to what travel is essential.On top of that, a visa could only be issued to employees who received a positive decision to grant a single permit (Annex 46) on which the code B29 (Blue Card) is stated. When the approval states the code B34, the issuance of the visa was postponed.Ordinary highly skilled workers were by definition not covered by the new travel relaxations. Only blue-card holders with visa D (B29) could travel to the EU if they demonstrate that their employment is necessary from an economic point of view and that the work cannot be postponed or abroad executed.Although the European Council mentioned in their recommendation that "Member States should gradually lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU as from 1 July 2020 in a coordinated manner", it seems Belgium was interpreting the recommendation differently and was being more strict than its neighouring countries.Another point the Belgian authorities were very strict on was whether partners could rejoin each other when coming from outside of the EU. The Belgian authorities only allowed individuals that were married or had concluded legal cohabitation entry into Belgium. Couples that could prove they were in a durable and stable relationship were simply not allowed entry (although according to the European Council’s recommendation they should be allowed entry, not to mention that EU directives consider these individuals as family members).The problem and at the same time the argument of the Belgian federal government (as residency and entry is a federal authority) was that it was just a recommendation. And the government decided what part of the recommendation they would implement.During the National Security Council of August 20 however, it was decided that people whose approval had a code B34 can also travel to Belgium. They will of course have to comply with the Coronavirus measures and fill in a public health locator form and go into quarantine for 14 days after arrival (in principle a Covid-19 test is also mandatory).It was also decided that individual who can prove they are in a durable and stable relationship are allowed entry as of September 1st.These are first steps in returning to a normal state of affairs (Belgium being a bit more prudent and slow in opening up to third country nationals than its neighbouring countries) and hopefully there can be a fresh start at the beginning of next year.Unfortunately what the whole Covid-19 situation painfully shows is that it is very difficult to organise a coordinated response/action for the European Union as a whole, and that when it comes to national (health and) security, there is a more solitary, each for himself, approach.

Brexit – UK nationals in Belgium and Luxembourg

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, after 31 December 2020, British nationals and their family members residing in Luxembourg or Belgium are no longer considered EU citizens but retain, however, their right of residence after the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Luxembourg - Launch of the procedure for issuing residence documents to British nationals following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU

Although entitlement to residence and the associated rights of the persons concerned will remain similar to those they currently enjoy as EU citizens, they will be required to obtain a new residence document attesting that they are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, which replaces their current residence document.

To this end, the persons concerned need to submit an application for the issuance of this new document. The applications must be submitted by 30 June 2021 at the latest and can be submitted as from 1 July 2020.

Applicants must fill in and sign a residence document application form and send it by post to the Immigration Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

Belgium – Invitation letter to collect new residence permits

All beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement will receive a letter asking them to go to the municipality where they reside to apply for their new residence card. Mid-2021 at the latest all beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement will have received their new residence card. The letter with the invitation to go to the municipality to apply for the residence card will not be sent before the new residence cards are available.As of this moment, it is not yet clear when the letters will start to be sent, but we are monitoring the situation and will confirm once this is communicated.This summary was prepared using information obtained from communication from the European Union, the Belgian and Luxembourg Ministries of Interior Affairs.Click here to get in touch with Expat Management GroupDisclaimer: The above information is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any further inquiries regarding this article, or any questions regarding immigration and relocation towards Belgium and Luxembourg, please reach out to Massimo Maesen, partner and practice leader of Expat Management Group Belux.

Read more  in our dedication immigration section or visit our Coronavirus resource center

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