Global mobility coming out of a pandemic
As a result of EU coordination efforts to ease travel measures, Belgium implemented the Covidsafe application, allowing travelers to obtain a digital COVID-19 certificate. This certificate permits Belgian residents to travel to other EU countries and vice versa without being subject to COVID-19 travel restrictions. In addition, Belgium opened its borders for travel from green listed countries outside of the EU as well as to all fully vaccinated persons coming from red zone countries.
While certain travel measures have been eased, Belgium, in contrast to most EU Member States, has put in place a list of banned countries which increased from 3 to 27 countries in June (including the UK) and is subject to a weekly assessment. This has an important impact for businesses as such bans put on hold business trips and staff deployment to Belgium, including for highly skilled workers.
Spurred by the pandemic, governments’ transition to online platforms has accelerated to reduce in-person appearances and ensure faster and more secure immigration processes (see Canada and France). Belgian immigration authorities made electronic filings available in most instances for the majority of 2020. However, as the COVID-19 measures are lifted, the Immigration Office and most local authorities have returned to pre-pandemic habits requiring in-person submission of applications. Yet the Regional Employment Ministries, in charge of work permit applications, continue to accept (and even encourage) filings submitted by e-mail.
In a major step towards the digitalization of immigration filings, Belgium launched a single electronic platform, “Working in Belgium”, the product of a concerted effort between the regions and the federal levels. It allows foreign nationals and employers to file certain immigration applications online. Employers can use the platform to electronically file and monitor the status of applications for Single Permits (for work and residence over 90 days); EU Blue Cards; and EU Intracompany Transfer (ICT) permits (both main EU ICT permits and long-term intra-EU mobility permits). This platform will streamline immigration processes, facilitate the exchange of information between government agencies and reduce human error.
During the pandemic and as borders reopen, there has been renewed interest in remote working options, in particular for remote working that crosses borders and workers who use technology to perform their work from any location, sometimes combining travel and tourism with work (so-called “digital nomads”). While remote workers seek to operate internationally, in Europe and in Belgium, this category of workers is not consistently provided for. Little EU-wide guidance exists and limited options are available across Member States to compliantly conduct work as remote work is typically not permitted for foreign nationals in visitor status. Beyond the limitations, remote workers must also contend with posted worker, social security, labor law and tax compliance considerations, which is as complex and overwhelming as it sounds.
As the mobility landscape evolves, Fragomen is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on travel in Europe as well as trends and developments worldwide. Further, our EU Government Strategies Program works with EU and national authorities to advocate for business-driven policy and solutions focusing on exemptions to travel bans for economic needs. Our expert team focuses on ensuring a European coordinated approach towards remote working from an immigration, posted worker and social security perspective.
About the authors
Jo Antoons, Ana Sofia Walsh, Wout Van Doren and Pauline Chomel have been working on mobility issues at Fragomen.