Author: Chris Van Olmen
The Belgian government estimates that around 200.000 Ukrainian citizens will seek refuge in Belgium over the coming weeks and months. Together with the EU, Belgium has made it less complicated for Ukrainians to enter the Belgian labour market. We have set out below, the basic conditions for Ukrainian refugees’ right to work in Belgium, which employers need to take into account when they wish to employ Ukrainian citizens.
Ukrainians have the right to a short stay (90 days) in Belgium without a visa, but with a biometric passport. This short stay can be prolonged if it is not possible to return to Ukraine. However, this almost automatic right to a short stay does not grant Ukrainian citizens the right to work in Belgium.
In order to receive such a right to work, they have to follow the temporary protection procedure. This procedure applies to:
- Ukrainian nationals and members of their families who had their main residence in Ukraine before 24 February 2022 (the start of the invasion).
- Stateless persons and nationals from third-countries other than Ukraine, who benefited from international protection or assimilated national protection in Ukraine before 24 February 2022, and members of their families who had their main residence in Ukraine before 24 February 2022.
These persons will have to report in person at the registration centre (Palace 8 of the Brussels Expo), with their Ukrainian identity documents. The identity documents will have to prove that the persons belong in the above-mentioned categories. The staff of the Belgian Alien’s office will control the documents and if they reach a positive conclusion, they will grant a certificate of temporary protection to the applicant. Next, the refugee needs to apply to the municipal authority of his main place of residence in possession of this certificate. The local authority will issue a residence permit for third-country nationals who are admitted or authorised to stay for a limited period of more than three months (the “A limited stay” card).
The A-card will be valid for one year from the date on which the temporary protection is effective (e.g. from 4 April 2022 to 4 April 2023). The validity of the A-card can be prolonged twice for six months, unless the Council of the European Union puts an end to the temporary protection (i.e. if the war ends and it is safe to return to Ukraine).
Persons authorised to reside as beneficiaries of the temporary protection are permitted to work if they are in possession of their residence permit (A-card, as mentioned above). This means that employers will have to check whether the Ukrainian national has an A-card before the person is hired. We recommend to include a clause in the employment contract, which stipulates that the employment contract will end when the Ukrainian national no longer possesses a valid authorisation to work.
This A-card is only valid for dependent work; if the Ukrainian would like to start an independent business in Belgium, he would need to apply under the standard procedure for a professional card.
Finally, Ukrainian nationals who were already temporarily working and staying in Belgium before 24 February 2022 can ask their local authority to prolong their temporary permits, as long as the war continues; this extension will usually be accepted.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
Please take into consideration that the employment of Ukrainians will probably be of a temporary nature; that their Ukrainian education (degrees) are unlikely to be automatically recognised in Belgium; and that many Ukrainian refugees will be traumatised by the war in their country. Therefore, we would certainly avoid considering the recruitment of Ukrainian nationals as a quick win to cope with the lack of opportunities or offers of employment in the Belgian labour market. Recruiting Ukrainians will likely take some additional social involvement of the employers to offer support for these refugees.