COVID-19 travel restrictions

COVID-19: Belgium Lifts Border Restrictions for Foreign Workers Coming From Outside the EU

Jo Antoons, Attorney and Managing Partner & Alexander Nys, Manager, Fragomen Global LLP

Throughout the course of the past months, Belgium has kept a conservative position on the EU recommendations for border reopening, and travel from outside the EU was highly restricted. Belgium only considered EU Blue Card holders as essential highly skilled workers exempt from the travel ban.

Policy changes were held back due to the resurgence of the pandemic in Belgium. Since August 20, 2020, the Belgian Government has sought further alignment with the EU recommendations and has announced new guidelines that will formalize the broadening of the scope of workers considered as essential highly skilled workers exempt from the travel ban. Updated guidelines applicable as of September 11 provide official solutions for both short- and long-term travelers (less or more than 90 days in any 180-day period).

Long-term travelers

All foreign nationals who qualify for a Single Permit based on a work authorization category exempt from labor market testing are automatically included in the category of essential workers. This includes specialized technicians and industries with labor shortages in the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium. All foreign nationals who have been issued an Annex 46 in the procedure for obtaining a Single Permit will qualify for the Visa D (B34). Equally, EU Blue Card applicants continue to qualify for the Visa D (B29).

Short-term travelers

Belgium has also included an important exception on the travel ban for short-term travelers who can demonstrate the essential character of their activities in Belgium in the new guidelines. In order to meet these criteria, travelers must obtain an “Attestation of Essential Travel” (template available on the website of the Immigration Office) from the relevant Diplomatic Post. To obtain the attestation, you must submit the documents that prove the essential nature of the activities, such as a work permit B, documents supporting the work authorization exemption and statement(s) from the employer. We recommend that all travelers obtain this attestation to avoid queries by airline companies or Belgian border inspection services.

Finally, it is also important to mention that self-employed workers will no longer be subject to the travel ban if they can carry the relevant Visa D and/or “Attestation of Essential Travel”.

It remains important that all travelers coming from outside the EU complete the Public Health Passenger Locator Form (PLF) 48 hours prior to arriving in Belgium. Proof that the PLF has been completed will need to be given to the airline when boarding the plane. Upon arrival in Belgium, travelers need to quarantine for 14 days. Note that the quarantine can only be lifted to fulfil the essential purpose of the trip and to the extent that this activity cannot be postponed to a later date.

After months of highly restricted access options to Belgium, these adjusted guidelines bring a wind of change and allow companies to reconsider the remobilization of foreign national staff, which is crucial for business recovery and economic growth.

Opportunities for workforce planning – what companies should do

  1. Keep up to date with government measures. These measures are constantly changing and windows of opportunity for enhanced mobility can appear. It is crucial to develop broad awareness of the restrictions as well as a deep understanding of business solutions.
  2. Develop creative remobilization strategies. As there are variances among EU countries with respect to border openings, employers can use the more “relaxed” countries, such as Belgium, as entry points into the EU.
  3. Explore EU-wide permits/facilitated immigration routes. European legislation and European Court of Justice case law provide facilitated routes for non-EU nationals to work in more than one EU country. This allows companies to explore the full potential of their EU-based workforce while it remains challenging to bring employees from outside the EU.
  4. Make sure you remain compliant. The work and travel patterns of your employees may have been adjusted substantially to the current circumstances: working from home and/or client site, furlough schemes and more frequent business travel inside the EU. Employers must remain vigilant to the employment, immigration and social security legislation requirements with which they may have to comply in this new landscape.

About the authors

Jo Antoons, Attorney & Managing Partner, Fragomen Global LLP

Jo Antoons has 15+ years’ experience in the mobility and labor law field. Jo is responsible for managing corporate immigration compliance and advisory work across Europe, particularly for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. She is considered an immigration law expert in the industry and has spoken at numerous seminars and authored a range of publications related to economic migration and international social security law. Jo leads Fragomen’s Government Strategies initiatives with European institutions.

Alexander De Nys, Manager, Fragomen Global LLP

Alexander is a Manager in Fragomen’s Brussels office where he leads the Belgium inbound immigration practice. Since joining the Firm in 2011, Alexander has specialized in corporate immigration with a focus on the employment and residency of highly skilled third country nationals in Belgium. He represents large corporate clients across a variety of industries including consulting, engineering, financial services and information technology.