EU Directive 2011/98 on the introduction of a single permit is intended to simplify the procedure for employers to employ foreign workers of non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries. Whereas such employers were required to obtain a residence permit as well as a work permit for these foreign workers, the single permit will fuse these two procedures together.
However, the Belgian implementation of this Directive proved to be complicated, as the last reform of state (2014) transferred certain competencies to the Regions. Therefore, it is now the Federal State as well as the Flemish, Brussels and Walloon Regions and the German-speaking Community, that each have their own specific competences relating to the employment of foreign workers.
In order to solve issues of competence, coordination and to install a main procedure for the application of a single permit, the Federal State and the Regions concluded a Cooperation Agreement on 2 February 2018, which will enter into force as soon as the Federal ratification is published in the Official State Gazette. In the meanwhile, the different federal and regional authorities have prepared the introduction of the single permit with an avalanche of new legislation.
First, a new (federal) Act of 9 May 2018 lays down the right for citizens of the European Economic Area (and Switzerland) to work in Belgium without any work permit, as well as for other persons who have a specific residence situation (e.g. diplomats). A Royal Decree of 2 September 2018 clarifies what kind of work situations are equated to workers in an employment relationship, in order to fall under the scope of the Act of 9 May 2018.
Second, the competence for delivering work permits to foreign workers of non-EEA countries became a regional competence. Therefore, the Flemish, Walloon, Brussels and German-speaking Governments have each taken Executive Decisions to adapt the original Royal Decree of 9 June 1999 with their own specific rules, concerning competent administrations and procedural specifications (e.g. the documents needed for the application).
In the future, employers who want to employ non-EEA citizens (or other exceptions) will have to look at the Cooperation Agreement and to the relevant (regional) rules in the adapted Royal Decree of 9 June 1999.
As soon as the Federal ratification of the Cooperation Agreement will be published, the new rules will enter into force. Some sources think this will happen in October or November 2018, now that all Regions have published their Executive Decrees. However, it will also depend on the readiness of the regional administrations. Until the entry into force, the old federal rules remain applicable. In any case, it remains to be seen if the “simplified procedure” will actually bring along any facilitation in the complex Belgian structure of state. Other sources fear that the actual application of the new system will be delayed until early 2019.