The major change in 2012 was the implementation of the European Union (EU) Blue Card Directive, effective September 10, 2012.
The Blue Card is atypical for Belgium, as it is both a work permit (issued by the regions) and residence permit (issued by the federal authorities). This is reflected in the processing of a Blue Card application:
- An employer who wishes to employ a highly qualified non-EU/European Economic Area foreign employee can apply for temporary work authorization with the regional authorities.
- The second step is that the foreign employee applies for a Blue Card, which is a residence permit, with the federal authorities.
- As a Blue Card holder, the foreign employee may work in Belgium without a work permit. He or she can invoke a work permit exemption.
The following conditions must be met:
- The employer and the foreign employee must have entered into an employment contract of indefinite duration or a fixed-term employment contract of a duration of at least one year.
- The foreign employee must be entitled to an annual gross salary of at least €49,995 (amount for 2013).
- The employee must have a degree from a higher education institution, awarded for an education program with a duration of at least three years.
The legal texts implementing the Blue Card are inconsistent on some points: it is not yet entirely clear how administrative authorities will interpret the rules governing the Blue Card. It is clear, however, that the Blue Card will exist alongside, without replacing, the already existing "fast-track" work permit for highly skilled personnel. Belgium does not apply numerical limits.
A potential future change relates to the transfer of the legislative power regarding work permits from the federal level to the regions. At present, the regions (Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia) process work permits on the basis of federal legislation. The coalition agreement of the federal government mentions the transfer of legislative authority regarding economic migration to the regions. Negotiations are rumored to be starting shortly, which could lead to different rules for Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia.