As was announced long before the last-minute EU-UK trade deal of December 2020, Belgium had no intention to harass UK citizens who were already living and working in Belgium before the end of the transition period. However, UK citizens with no prior Belgian “experience” are treated like third country nationals and will, in principle, have to apply for a permit to stay and work in Belgium.
1- Beneficiaries of the Withdrawal agreement: UK citizens living and working in Belgium before 2021
The Act of 16 December 2020 concerning the beneficiaries of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and the Royal Decree of 24 December 2020 intend to safeguard the acquired rights of UK nationals and their family members, who have exercised their right of free movement before the end of the transition period (31 December 2020). This includes those UK citizens who lived and worked in Belgium before 31 December 2020 and cross border workers. In principle, this means a continuation of the situation before the Brexit. These UK citizens do not need to apply for a single permit (permit to stay and work in one) in order to work as an employee in Belgium, nor do they have to apply for a professional card in order to carry out an independent profession.
In principle, these persons used to have an E-card (EU-citizen) or F-card (family members of EU-citizens) or an Annex 15 (cross border worker). However, these will be replaced in 2021 by M-cards (right to stay and work) and N-cards (right to work as cross border worker) cards. The administration of the community where the UK citizens are registered are responsible for the issuance of the M and N cards. While they wait for their new cards, the community can give the UK citizens temporary documents (Annex 56 for M-cards and annex 57 for N-cards). UK citizens have until 31 December 2021 to apply for their M or N card.
Certain family members of these UK citizens can still obtain the status of beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement, even if they arrive(d) in Belgium after 31 December 2020.
Employers do not have to take any formal steps; however, it is recommended to keep a copy of the M or N card of the UK employee in order to prove their legal status, e.g., vis-à-vis the social inspection services.
2- UK Citizens who want to work in Belgium as of 2021 and who are not beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement
These UK nationals have no automatic right to work and stay in Belgium. The free movement of persons no longer applies to them. Like most other non-EU citizens (third country nationals) they will have to apply for a single permit to work and stay on the Belgian territory. This is a lengthy and cumbersome procedure, which can take up to 4 months and the outcome is not guaranteed. The Trade deal between the EU and the UK does provide some flexibility regarding service contracts (posting of workers in certain sectors), Intra Corporate transfers (ICT) and business trips.
With regards to Intra corporate transferees (transfers of employees within the same company/group), the agreement foresees three categories of employees as ICT staff:
- managerial: employee holding a management position;
- specialist: employee with specialised knowledge and a high level of qualification;
- trainee-employee: employee with a university degree who is transferred for a training course and receives salary.
These employees must have at least 1 year seniority as manager or specialist or 6 months of seniority as trainee-employee. Furthermore, they may not yet reside on the territory of the country to which the employer sends them. The duration of the ICT is limited to 3 years for managers and specialists and 1 year for trainees. And finally, the trade deal does not free these employees from having to apply for a work permit at the competent Belgian Region.
For business trips or professional visits limited to a period of maximum 90 days in a period of 6 months, no visa or work permit is necessary in case the person concerned:
- attends meetings and business meetings;
- follows a training, but not training-on-the-job;
- visits trade fairs;
- is a technician who is visiting for the installation, maintenance and repair of supplied devices.
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