- Important country of net immigration since 1950s, with an estimated 11% of the population foreign born and 8% second generation
- Belgians have maintained more favourable attitudes towards immigrants than most in Europe
- 1 in 2 foreign-born from the EU and 22% of non-EU-born from low-developed countries
- Relatively high share (45%) of non-EU-born lacking upper or post-secondary education
- Few general effects of crisis: employment rate remains around EU average (67%) and expenditure on labour market programmes remains one of highest in EU (2.9% of GDP)
- Still few non-EU workers and students allowed in, less common for family and humanitarian migrants since 2010
- Long period of grand coalitions between left, centre and liberal parties replaced in 2014 by right-of-centre VL-majority coalition
- Rank: 7 out of 38
- MIPEX Score: 67
- LABOUR MARKET MOBILITY 64
- FAMILY REUNION 72
- EDUCATION 61
- HEALTH 53
- POLITICAL PARTICIPATION 57
- PERMANENT RESIDENCE 86
- ACCESS TO NATIONALITY 69
- ANTI-DISCRIMINATION 78
Changes in context
Key Common Statistics
|Country of net migration since:||% Non-EU citizens||% Foreign-born||% Non-EU of foreign-born||% Non-EU university-educated||% from low or medium-developed (HDI) country|
|UN 2010 data in 2013||Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013||Note: Adults aged 18-64, Eurostat 2013||Eurostat 2013|
Changes in policy
Immigrants still benefit from many of BE's well-established integration policies: basic school support for immigrant pupils, accessible health entitlements and services for immigrant patients, some targeted support for political participation, a clear path to permanent residence and a rather strong anti-discrimination law and body.
Since 2010, BE politicians overcame some of their traditional political and linguistic divisions on integration. On the one hand, labour market integration became a clearer priority for the federal level and FR-community. A 1st phase of more organised and intensive integration support means that newcomers will be able to learn basic NL or FR and be oriented to the general services that help people pursue jobs and vocational training. On the other hand, the rights to family reunion and BE citizenship were restricted through new 'integration' requirements in 2011 and 2012.
Conclusions and recommendations
BE's integration policies still provide slightly favourable support for equal rights and opportunities for immigrants. These policies score 67/100 and rank 7th on MIPEX, alongside Nordic and traditional countries of immigration. Despite this high-level of legislative activity on integration, policies only improved +2 points since 2007. That's because these new changes have shifted BE's integration policies in two potentially conflicting directions.
A focus on labour market integration raises the public's and immigrants' expectations and requires programmes that work in practice. The 1st and 2nd phase support must be large and effective enough to improve the socio-economic outcomes of the large number of immigrants in need. And yet the 2nd phase of support for pursuing jobs and training is still weak compared to the programmes in other Northern European countries. Both language communities will need to develop a culture of piloting and evaluation to improve and expand this support. Improving outcomes also means removing the legal and practical obstacles for non-EU residents to work and obtain BE degrees.
On the other hand, the new requirements for socio-economic integration not only raise the expectations for the integration policy, but they punish immigrants if the policy fails. The new requirements are not based on the minimums needed and required of all people living in BE. Even some BE citizens would fail them. Moreover, they were introduced before the new integration support was fully available. Unless this new support is effective in practice, the 2011 and 2012 laws will not act as incentives for integration, but instead as disproportionate obstacles. Non-EU residents will be less likely to reunite and naturalise. More and more transnational families and non-naturalised residents will be waiting but unable to apply, creating a new backlog of unmet needs for family reunion and naturalisation. Delaying the acquisition of BE citizenship or the arrival of non-EU spouses and children also deprives these BE residents of the opportunities and the time to further invest in their integration, potentially leading BE to worse integration outcomes than before.
Policy Recommendations from GERME/DiverCity at Free University of Brussels (ULB)
- Retain high family reunion and naturalisation rates based on scientific impact evaluations of the new requirements
- Increase uptake of vocational training and employment by non-EU newcomers (specifically low-educated and women) through greater access and effective support
- Remedy the school concentration of socially disadvantaged pupils by piloting new policies on equal opportunities
- Increase awareness of politicians and practitioners of the specific needs of immigrants, particularly women, in employment, training, education, health, political participation and access to justice
- Address immigrants' language and information needs through accessible new options
- 16 of 38
- 6 of 38
- 7 of 38
- 12 of 38
- 14 of 38
- 1 of 38
- 5 of 38
- 9 of 38
Labour Market Mobility
Limited support and access for non-EU citizens to BE's rigid and sluggish labour market creates poorer outcomes and greater needs for both low- and high-educated immigrants in BE than in most European countries
How many immigrants could be employed?
BE has one of the greatest needs for more effective labour market access and support, with around 1/2 of working-age non-EU citizens not in employment, education or training, according to 2011/2 estimates. Those not in employment, education or training include nearly 3/4 of low-educated women, 1/2 of high-educated women and of low-educated men and around 1/4 of high-educated men. This high level (comparable only to FR) reflects the situation of non-EU newcomers in BE and of the few long-settled not yet naturalised as BE citizens.
Do immigrants have equal rights and opportunities to access jobs and improve their skills?
BE, like most MIPEX countries, has reinforced its labour market mobility policies since 2010, rising +7 points. BE's reforms were all focused on its weak targeted support for immigrants, as BE catches up with other Northern European countries. Better organised services should inform and orient newcomers about how to get jobs and training in BE, as the basic 1st phase of integration support was created on the FR-side in 2012 and strengthened on the VL-side in 2013. However, BE's policies still limit and delay labour market integration more than many other Northern European countries, with BE ranked 16th out of 38, alongside fellow late-comer AT. Non-EU newcomers have limited access to a large share of the jobs in BE, study grants and the most effective targeted programmes, all of which can discourage or delay them to invest in their skills and careers over the long term.
Dimension 1: Access to labour market
- Although labour market integration is now a major priority, many non-EU newcomers start with limited legal options to work in a large share of the jobs in BE, which, in the long-term, can get them or the wrong career path or out of the labour market
- Fewer delays and restrictions in most other countries than in BE (ranking 22nd out of 38 on access)
- Work and family migrants seeking jobs must wait through years and paperwork for equal access to the private job market and self-employment (granted immediately for all family migrants in 24 out of 38 MIPEX countries and for all work migrants in 5, e.g. FI, GR, IT, PT, ES)
- They must wait to become citizens for equal access to public sector jobs, both for permanent jobs and even some temporary ones (immediate equal access in 15 countries, including other countries with large public sectors e.g. CA, UK, Nordics though not FR)
Dimension 2: Access to general support
- Non-EU newcomers can access most of the general support that BE citizens use to find jobs (as in Nordics, most Western Europe, CA)
- Equal access to public employment services (PES) & vocational training (VET), as in most MIPEX countries
- Access to recognition procedures for foreign diplomas and professional skills (a.k.a. EVC, VCP, VAE)
- BE domestic degrees highly valued by employers, but non-EU citizens face restrictions for study grants to puruse them (see 10 MIPEX countries, e.g. integration benefits/vouchers for VET in Nordics)
Dimension 3: Targeted support
- New but still weak programme for labour market integration
- 1st phase of integration support provides newcomers with general information through group courses by VL- and now FR-community
- 2nd phase should orient each newcomer to labour market programmes that match their individual needs
- These programmes could expand and diversify to better address the needs of adult immigrants in various low- and high-skilled sectors (see policies in Nordics, DE, AU/CA/NZ): Specialised & diverse staff at PES could design and support individualised plans, including sector-specific language courses, bridging programmes with VET & supervised practice, work placements/apprenticeships and facilities for migrant women and teenage arrivals
- One-stop-shops can more quickly and efficiently recognise qualifications/skills (see NL, UK, Nordics, AU/NZ, recently DE)
Dimension 4: Workers' rights
- Right to equal working conditions and trade unions, as in most countries
- Gaps emerge in access to social security and benefits regulated by bilateral agreements (see www.coming2belgium.be)
In the 2nd phase of integration support, newcomers in both language communities should get more work-related support. The FR-community is setting up a 'socio-professional orientation'. The VL-community's PES (VDAB) is supposed to provide a specific path to newcomers, where they turn for occasional work-related language courses (e.g. JobClubs) and to a one-stop-shop (NARIC Flanders) for the recognition of most foreign diplomas. Across the country, newcomers can get basic information on how to recognise their foreign diplomas, for example through a 2014 website: www.mydiploma.be.
Are immigrants acquiring new skills?
Despite BE's above-average spending on active labour market programmes, very few BE, EU or non-EU citizens of working age are accessing education or training, with rates as low in BE as in the average EU country. In 2011/2, around 16% of non-EU working-age citizens reported recent enrolment in education or training compared to around 12% of BE citizens. This figure only rose to 22% for high-educated non-EU men and women and fell to 11% for the low-educated. Ultimately, few non-EU-born immigrants end up obtaining a BE domestic degree. In contrast, lifelong learning rates were higher and more equitable for men/women and high/low-educated in the Nordics and, at least until recently, NL & UK. At least a slight majority of unemployed non-EU citizens (59%) are able to use unemployment benefits while looking for a new job. Still, that means 40% of unemployed non-EU citizens could not count on the support of unemployment benefits. These rates are similar to other longstanding destinations with mostly long-settled immigrants (AT, FR, CH).
What other factors explain whether immigrants find skilled and well-paid jobs?
- Slightly below-average employment rate for EU and very low GDP growth
- Some of the most rigid employment protection legislation in developed world
- Public sector (regional, local, federal) accounts for larger share of jobs in BE (around 20%) than in most developed countries
- BE lets in few non-EU newcomers for work or study compared to other EU countries
- Majority of non-EU-born are long-settled as former guest workers and their family
- Larger numbers come to BE with some exposure to one of the national languages (FR) compared to most EU countries
Are immigrants employed in qualified and well-paid jobs?
The long-settled non-EU-born (10+ years' stay) are on average 25% less likely to have a job in BE than non-immigrants with the same gender and level of education, according to 2011/2 estimates. The employment gaps are nearly the same for high- and low-educated non-EU immigrants and higher in BE than in most European labour markets (the highest for the high-educated and high for low-educated, alongside DK, NL, SE). The gaps are high for women, especially high-educated women, in BE and other labour markets in Northwest Europe.
Moreover, long-settled non-EU immigrants are often in worse jobs than non-immigrants. High-educated men and women around 2x as likely to be over-qualified for their jobs in BE as in most Western European countries. Whereas low-educated male and female non-EU workers are much more likely to be living in poverty in BE than in other European countries. These indications of brain waste and in-work poverty suggest that simply getting immigrants into jobs is not the right answer for integration in the current BE labour market. Immigrants would need to get similar quality jobs and benefits as BE citizens with similar circumstances and education levels. New general and targeted policies would need to focus on greater labour market access, vocational training and facilitating domestic or recognised foreign degrees.
Non-EU citizens less likely to reunite with family since BE 2011 law imported requirements from restrictive EU countries
How many immigrants are potentially living in transnational couples?
Transnational couples are one of the main potential beneficiaries for family reunion, but they are rarely identified through statistics and assisted to reunite. According to 2011/2 estimates, an estimated 13% of non-EU citizen adults in BE were not living with their spouse or partner, a much higher level of "living apart together" than for BE citizens. These non-EU citizens are likely living in internationally separated couples and thus potential sponsors for family reunion. This rate is relatively high compared to 16 other European countries (on average 5-7% are potentially transnational couples).
How easily can immigrants reunite with family?
The procedure for non-EU citizens to reunite with family is increasingly changing and complicated. Before 2011, BE's rather favourable law allowed transnational families to reunite when they could meet the minimums needed and required for all families in BE: a legal minimum income, standard housing and paying a normal fee. Since 2011, both non-EU and BE citizens face much more restrictive requirements (-7 points overall and -29 points on conditions) that BE imported from other restrictive EU countries (e.g. AT and FR). BE has started to drop the benchmark of equal treatment and expect from transnational families to live up to standards that many of its own national families could not. The only clearly effective change from government in recent years was the guarantee of free A2-level courses for family migrants in both the FR- and VL-community since 2012/3. Transnational families are likely to face an uncertain future in BE, so long as these and future restrictions/fees are not overturned by courts in BE (e.g. 21-year-age limit in 2013) or at European level (e.g. 2008 Chakroun case +10 points on security of status). In the meantime, only time will tell whether these requirements are actually clear, proportionate and objective in practice.
Still 6th! alongside IT though slightly below SE, ES, PT, SI, CA.
Most non-EU families should be able to live together as their starting point for integration, according to Belgian law. Their chances for a secure family life in Belgium are slightly favourable, reflecting EU law, but not much better than in the average European country or the US. Neighbouring countries (FR, DE, NL) may be delaying or discouraging families’ integration through new conditions (e.g. income, language), sometimes proposed in Belgium.
With dimension scores between 65 and 75, Belgium’s complicated laws contain some weaknesses and many strengths, even if implementation is complicated.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- Since 2011, non-EU newcomers can no longer apply immediately for family reunion in BE (as is allowed in 14 MIPEX countries), but only with 1 year's stay/permit (as in 10 countries)
- 21-year age limit introduced in 2006 but overturned in 2013 as disproportionate by Constitutional Court (same in UK, now only 7 EU countries remaining)
- Just like non-EU citizen adults before, BE citizens cannot bring their dependent parents/grandparents to BE under the 2011 law (greater options for parents in 18 MIPEX countries, including full entitlements in 10, e.g. LU, NO/SE, Southern Europe)
Dimension 2: Conditions
- Sponsors must secure housing that meet the general health and safety standards in BE, as in most MIPEX countries
- 2011 law excludes low-income groups with legal income <120% of minimum 'social integration' income level (e.g. part-time workers, family/social benefit recipients)
- Such restrictive income requirement in only 7 other EU countries applying EU law (e.g. AT, FR, GR, LU)
- As of 2014, fees for family reunion still proportionate by BE standards (also low & equitable in LU & ES)
- Since 2012, voluntary and free 'Starter Kit' by VL-community for those interested & able to prepare abroad
Dimension 3: Security of status
- Following the EU Chakroun case, 2011 law requires procedure to be short and individually assess the family's needs and circumstances, with the conditions used as reference points and not as fixed levels
- 2011 law also widens the vague grounds for rejection and the period of possible withdrawal, with a greater suspicion of fraud
- In cases of rejection or withdrawal, families should be able to learn enough about the reasons why and to mount a legal challenge, as in 28 other MIPEX countries.
Dimension 4: Rights associated
- Family members enjoy equal socio-economic rights as their sponsor, though BE still discourages and delays their labour market integration (on par with only Central European countries, IE, CY, JP, KR, MT, TU, unlike 25 MIPEX countries, including all BE's neighbours)
- Free and in-demand courses orient newcomer families to life & services in BE and teach them basic A2-level FR or NL since 2012/3
- Other countries also provide high-quality distance/online curriculum (e.g. AU/CA/NZ, DK, NL) and targeted support/mentoring programmes for migrant women (e.g. DE, KR, Nordics)
- Family members' stay depends on the will of their sponsor for 3 (up from 2) years and perhaps soon up to 5 years, copying the long and complicated path to autonomous residence in most EU countries (see instead facilitated path in 10 other countries)
- Vulnerable groups' access to autonomous residence may depend on the discretion of authorities (see clearer entitlements in AU/CA/NZ, NO, ES)
The July 2011 law required that a sponsor's economic resources be sufficient and stable enough to guarantee that their family will not require state support. That's the equivalent at 120% of the Minimum Income of Social Integration. This calculation cannot take into account the sponsor's receipt of this minimum income, family benefits, welfare benefits, financial social aid, waiting or transition benefits as well as unemployment benefits unless the sponsor is actively looking for work.
Are families reuniting?
Popular stereotypes about family reunion are often far from the realities of the new families making Belgium their home. Family migrants make up large numbers – but not the majority – of newcomers every year, with relatively few joining a non-EU sponsor. The vast majority joining EU and non-EU citizens are children, not spouses, with hardly any parents of non-EU citizens accepted. Newcomer families are very diverse, coming from all over the globe (e.g. only 25% from MA & TU). Women make up the vast majority under the categoriy of reuniting spouses both for non-EU sponsors (≈85%) and BE citizens (2/3).
The restrictive effects of the 2011 law were immediate and significant, especially for BE citizens. The number of family members reuniting with a non-EU sponsor has slightly fallen from 14,944 in 2011 to 14,041 in 2012 and 12,576 in 2013. The overall numbers (including BE citizens) dropped more remarkably from 30,438 in 2011 to 25,060 in 2012 and 22,266 in 2013. The procedure has become longer and more likely to result in rejection. Immediately after the 2011 law, the numbers of applications rejected by the Office for Foreigners rose from 3 out of 10 to 6 out of 10. The higher numbers of rejections in 2012 and 2013 were mostly attributed to the higher income requirement. Numbers decreased the most for spouses of non-EU and especially BE citizens as well as especially for the parents of BE citizens. The largest nationalities have been disproportionately affected by the new law (MA & TU).
What other factors explain whether immigrants reunite with family?
- Sizeable share of long-settled migrants and BE citizens likely to remain in the country
- 75% from low-to-medium developing countries and thus less likely to reunite
- Poor labour market and lower incomes/wages for non-EU citizens
How often do immigrants reunite with family?
Non-EU family reunion is relatively rare in the EU. Out of every 100 non-EU residents in the average Western European country in 2013, only 3.1 are newly arrived non-EU family members. Since 2011, this rate has dropped in BE as well as the UK. This drop seemed to apply across most nationalities. As a result, now non-EU citizens are slightly less likely to reunite in BE than in the average Western European country (2.8 in 2013). Non-EU citizens were much more likely to reunite with family in SE, NL, NO, FI and LU, while rates were similarly slightly below average in DK, IT, UK. While a family's choice to reunite is also driven by other individual and contextual factors, restrictive requirements can quickly function as obstacles to the right to family reunion, with disproportionate effects on the most vulnerable groups.
Current general and targeted education policies not enough to guarantee equal opportunities for immigrant pupils concentrated in socially disadvantaged schools
How many pupils have immigrant parents?
Foreign-born children (i.e. first generation) made up 7.3% of all 15-year-old pupils in BE, according to the 2012 OECD test. These shares are similar to most other Northern European countries. The number of second generation pupils (8% of all pupils) is also comparable to other Northern European countries.
Is the education system responsive to the needs of the children of immigrants?
The school systems in the VL- and FR-community have been very slowly adapting to the learning needs and opportunities of its many immigrant pupils. These targeted policies only score 61/100 on average (see box on VL & FR-communities). Schools retain wide discretion about how to target these needs and opportunities and how to teach all pupils to live together in a diverse society. This talk about diversity may seem rather remote from the reality of immigrant and non-immigrant pupils, since they may rarely learn together in the same classrooms or schools. Neither community has implemented systematic solutions to remedy the persistently high levels of socio-economic segregation in the BE education system and the related problems for pupils in disadvantaged schools, who have fewer chances to develop their human and social capital.
Dimension 1: Access
- In BE, newcomer parents choose the school, which then must have the in-house expertise to assess and place the pupil; Outside experts may better assess newcomer pupils and orient parents to choose the right school (see FR & LU)
- All pupils regardless of legal status can access pre-primary and compulsory education, but not all higher education (see greater access in FR, NL, ES)
- Pupils from disadvantaged schools, especially late-comer immigrant pupils, face greater problems of access and dropout for vocational and higher education (see initiatives in Nordic countries)
Dimension 2: Targeting needs
- All newcomers should receive targeted orientation and quality language support, while schools get some extra training, funding and guidance (see box for differences between VL- and FR-community)
- Data could be systematically monitored and evaluated to improve implementation
- Newcomer pupils & parents could receive more information and support through intercultural mediators & partnerships with community initiatives (e.g. AU, CA, LU, PT)
Dimension 3: New opportunities
- All pupils can learn something about a few immigrant languages and cultures, though much left up to schools
- Since September 2014, choice of 4th language in VL schools opened up to TU, AR or JP
- Although all have equal educational opportunities in law, economically disadvantaged pupils may not receive enough support and end up in underperforming schools, only with students from the same class and background
- No systematic solutions to this socio-economic concentration or related problems of high teacher turnover in disadvantaged schools, few initiatives with immigrant parents/communities and the under-representaiton of diversity in the teaching force in general
- Both communities need evidence-based diversity policies for enrolment, recruitment, and parental involvement (e.g. Nordics, DE, English-speaking countries)
Dimension 4: Intercultural education
- Strong initiatives in BE schools and civil society to promote intercultural understanding (similar to AU/CA/NZ/UK, LU, NO, NL, PT)
- Teachers supposed to be trained and schools required to teach diversity and citizenship education in several subjects, though much left up to schools
- Promotion of cultural diversity in society by Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and VL Integraiton and Welcoming Policy
Targeted education policies are slightly stronger in the VL-community (72/100) than the FR-community (50/100). FR-speaking schools focus on social disadvantage, with some specific support (see also FR & SE) for refugees and newcomers from developing countries. NL-speaking schools also give extra support to socially disadvantaged pupils with migrant backgrounds, with a specifically on language (see laso DE & NL). NL and FR-speaking schools score similarly on their accessibility and approach to intercultural education. NL-speaking schools better address the needs and opportunities of a diverse classroom with more translated information and migrant parent outreach (e.g. Minderhedenforum projects), data on migrant pupils and a few school mixing projects.
Are pupils with limited literacy getting remedial courses?
Low-literacy 15-year-old pupils are slightly likely to benefit from extra out-of-school literacy courses in BE than in the average developed country. Around 1/3 of non-immigrant pupils with limited literacy were enrolled in such courses in BE and DE, compared to 37% in FR,LU, NL and on average in the OECD (higher in Nordics, PT). In BE, The numbers for foreign-born low-literacy pupils are slightly higher for the 1st generation (46%) and 2nd generation (42%) in BE as well as in FR & LU. These rates were slightly higher in the average OECD country (50%) such as DE and NL and highest (>2/3) in DK/FI/SE, PT, US. This indicator suggests that targeted support may not be reaching many low-literacy pupils in need, such as many 1st and 2nd generation pupils.
What other factors explain whether the children of immigrants excel at school?
- 50% of 1st/2nd generation speak official language at home (similar to CA, NL, UK, OECD average)
- Large % of GDP spent on education, low student-teacher ratios and relatively long duration of compulsory education
- Vast majority of immigrant pupils with low-educated mothers are concentrated in disadvantaged schools, much more than non-immigrants with low-educated mothers
- Around 1/4 of foreign-born pupils arrive after age 12
How well are the children of immigrants achieving at school?
In BE, foreign-born pupils with low-educated mothers are 2x as likely to be math low-achievers (51%) than non-immigrants with low-educated mothers (25%). This gap is cut in half from one generation to the next (38% for 2nd generation with low-educated mothers). Still, important gaps remain between 2nd generation & non-immigrant pupils in BE/LU/NL, German-speaking education systems, DK/FI/NO and Southern Europe. The greatest progress to reach equity between immigrant and non-immigrant pupils with low-educated mothers was achieved in English-speaking countries, FR and SE. These differences can be explained by the general structure of the education system, the composition of schools and the composition of the immigrant population. Robust impact evaluations need to determine whether targeted education policies are sufficiently known, used and resourced to help close these gaps.
All migrant patients have favourable entitlements and access, but few services and policies are responding to their specific health needs
Is the health system responsive to immigrants' needs?
Health is a slight area of weakness for integration policies in BE and in most Western European countries. While migrants in most cases are equally covered and helped to access care, the healthcare system and policies are only beginning to respond to their specific health needs. This situation of equal access to poorly adapted services is roughly similar in neighbouring FR, LU and NL, with the UK as inspiration for more responsive services and policies.
Dimension 1: Entitlements
- Migrants and BE citizens enjoy relatively equal entitlements to healthcare under certain conditions, as in many Western European countries (e.g. FR, LU, NL)
- Legal migrants in BE have the same coverage under the same conditions
- Coverage differs for asylum-seekers living inside or outside reception centres and for undocumented migrants depending on their financial situation
- These differences in coverage create problems of administrative discretion for both groups, plus documentation problems for the undocumented
Dimension 2: Access policies
- Policies slightly facilitate access for migrants in BE, as in most Western European countries
- Migrants get information about their entitlements and health education/promotion in many methods and languages through integration programmes and state-funded NGOs (e.g. MedImmigrant, Cultures&Santé)
- Patients can use intercultural mediators in over 50 hospitals, thanks to federal funding (see box)
- Problematically, reporting undocumented migrants is not explicitly forbidden in professional codes of conduct, while serving them is still subject to an individual internal decision in some public hospitals (instead, see DK, FR, NO, CH)
Dimension 3: Responsive services
- Healthcare services are slightly less responsive to migrants' specific needs than in other Western European countries
- Since all patients are entitled to information in clear language for their informed consent, health providers regularly use various forms of interpretation (see box)
- A few hospitals are piloting equity standards and diversity recruitment goals. However most have not undertaken these activities, trainings for staff or explicit measures to involve migrant patients (see English-speaking countries and 'migrant-friendly hospitals' in EU).
Dimension 4: Mechanisms for change
- Despite the available data and substantial research, BE authorities have taken less action than in most European countries
- Besides ad hoc cooperation with experts (ETHEALTH), authorities have not developed specific plans in their health, integration and social policies to make services more responsive to migrants' specific health needs (see English-speaking countries and NO)
Intercultural mediators are available in over 50 general and psychiatric hospitals and, in recent years, through free video-conferences for all hospitals, several primary care centres, FEDASIL sites and, soon, outpatient care. Public service and community interpreters are used by health professionals not as an obligation, but at their discretion in order to guarantee patients' rights. Still, ad hoc interpreting by untrained interpreters remains common in Belgian health care.
Most non-EU citizens enfranchised through facilitated naturalisation and basic voting rights; Immigrants' high levels of political participation could be better used to inform and improve policies through stronger consultative bodies & voting rights
Who are disenfranchised from voting?
Only an estimated 38% of non-EU citizen adults (approximately 140,000 with <5 years' stay in BE) are disenfranchised in local elections, according to 2011/2 survey data. This only represents around 1% of BE's total adult population (aged 15+).
Do immigrants have comparable rights and opportunities to participate in political life?
BE, like the average Western European country, allows and supports non-EU immigrants to become civically and politically active, though its voting rights and consultative bodies are weaker than on average. The national, local and other regional governments can follow the lead of the VL government to improve their policies through consultation and partnership with immigrant civil society organisations, which can be found across the country. For these efforts, governments will need to continue and better organise their funding and information campaigns. Reform of BE's limited voting rights provisions may become more important if fewer long-settled non-EU citizens are able to naturalise under the 2012 Citizenship Law.
Dimension 1: Electoral rights
- Non-EU citizens only had the 2nd chance to vote in local elections in 2012 (1st in 2006)
- These new voting rights are more restricted (5 years, registration) than in Nordics, LU, NL, also IE, KR, NZ
- Non-EU ciitzens cannot vote in Brussels, Flemish or Walloon regional elections (unlike in 9 MIPEX countries e.g. Nordics) or stand as candidates in local elections (unlike in 14, e.g. LU, NL)
Dimension 2: Political liberties
- Non-EU citizens are guaranteed the same basic political liberties to join or form associations and political parties, as in all Western European countries
Dimension 3: Consultative bodies
- Other Northern European countries tend to treat immigrants as serious, equal partners, with consultative bodies that are more representative, democratic and autonomous – but not in BE, where the Brussels and national bodies (e.g. Summit for Interculturalism) are the structurally weakest in Europe
- Dependent on government’s goodwill, bodies across Europe can lose their official structure status, as in Antwerp in 2007, or do not secure one, as currently with the FR-community's SHARE Platform
- The Minderhedenforum provides a national – and international – model for a well-functioning, independent and immigrant-led body (see box)
Dimension 4: Implementation policies
- Information/registration campaigns are still ad hoc and limited to the periods before local elections
- As in most Western European countries, BE local, regional and national governments provide some public funding for immigrants' associations to represent their interests
The Minderhedenforum is a ‘participation organisation’, representing 19 federations and 1700 grassroots associations. Funded by the VL community, the Forum builds capacity of its members, sends representatives to the mainstream advisory bodies and reports and recommends on ethnic minority needs in Flanders and Brussels (for more, see www.minderhedenforum.be).
How many non-EU immigrants are eligible to vote?
Access to BE nationality was the most effective path to enfranchise immigrants in elections from 2000-2012. According to 2011/2 estimates, 58% of the non-EU-born have become BE citizens, with the obligation to vote in elections. Among the remaining 42% of non-EU citizens, around 60% have 5+ years' residence and thus the option to register to vote in local elections. Relatively few use this option, according to official national data. The numbers registered were low in the 2006 local elections (17,065 or 15.7% of non-EU citizens with 5+ years' legal stay) and the 2012 local elections (20,571 or 14%). For comparison, around 165,000 non-EU citizens were naturalised between 2006-2011. Most non-EU immigrants have become voters through citizenship, with non-EU local voting rights less necessary and used by newcomers and the minority unable or uninterested to naturalise.
What other factors explain whether immigrants become politically active?
- Relatively few are coming with higher education or from highly developed countries with similar levels of political participation as in BE
- Obligation to vote in BE, but also generally high levels of civic and political engagement
- Most naturalised or long-settled
- Sizeable number of humanitarian migrants likely to become civically active in long-term
Are immigrants participating in political life?
Long-settled non-EU-born adults (10+ years' stay) seem just as likely to participate politically as adults born in BE. Data collected over the 2000s suggest that around half of the non-EU and BE-born participate in some way through political parties, associations, petitions, demonstrations or contracting politicians. This level rose to around 60% for high-educated non-EU and BE-born. Only low-educated non-EU-born adults were slightly less likely to participate politically (28% overall) than their fellow BE-born residents (35% for low-educated). Political participation was also generally equitable in the Nordics, Benelux, FR and UK.
BE cleared path to long-term residence, following EU law; non-EU citizens must wait 5 years to gain the secure residence and equal socio-economic rights that can improve their integration outcomes
Who can become long-term residents?
Nearly 2/3 of non-EU citizen men and women have lived in BE the 5+ required years to become long-term residents. This number is similar to other European countries with many newcomers (e.g. DE, IE, LU, UK).
How easily can immigrants become long-term residents?
Thanks to EU law, most non-EU citizens have the same clear path to become long-term residents as EU citizens do, which is a major asset for their socio-economic integration in BE, Nordics and PT/ES. BE (like PT, ES) turned implementing EU law into an opportunity to secure the status for most non-EU citizens legally admitted to BE. In particular, EU long-term residents have a secure status to work and settle in other EU countries under certain conditions.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- Guided by EU law, BE cleared the path for most non-EU citizens to become EU long-term residents starting in 2007
- Non-EU citizens can choose between applying for national or EU long-term residents, following EU Singh case
- After 5 years' legal and uninterrupted stay, temporary residents can apply and also count half their time in education or professional training
- Beneficiaries of international protection are eligible to apply as of 2014
Dimension 2: Conditions
- The favourable conditions treat non-EU and EU citizens equally and simply require that they have a basic legal income
- Non-EU citizens also pay a normal fee by BE standards comparable to fees paid by BE and EU citizens
- For comparison, conditions for permanent residence is also relatively clear for eligible immigrants in FI/SE, HU, LU, ES and US
Dimension 3: Security of status
- Long-term residents are generally secure in their status in BE, with similar policies in several Western European countries
- The relatively simple, short procedure is based on the facts and rule of law
- Their status is automatically renewed every 5 years, except for limited grounds for withdrawal with strong protections for minors and very long-settled residents
- The time allowed outside the EU is still relatively short, as in most EU countries
Dimension 4: Rights Associated
Long-term residents can work, study and live in the country with generally the same social and economic rights as national citizens, as in 29 other MIPEX countries
How many immigrants are long-term residents?
95,768 EU and national permanent residents lived in BE in 2013. 98% were national permanent residents, with only 1,787 as EU long-term residents. The number of EU long-term residents was also comparatively small in a few other countries with clear paths to national long-term residence (HU, ES, SE), while EU long-term residence is much more common in LU.
What other factors explain whether immigrants become long-term residents?
- Relatively few residents with ineligible permits
- Regular arrival of newcomers over recent decade
- Mostly humanitarian or family migrants likely to settle
- Most were also eligible for facilitated naturalisation and dual nationality from 2000-2012
How often do immigrants become long-term residents?
While an estimated 2/3 of non-EU citizens are potentially eligible to become long-term residents, only a reported 21% were national or EU long-term residents in 2013, according to data reported to Eurostat. Several explanations are possible for this gap. Most importantly, long-term and temporary residents could easily naturalise as BE citizens from 2000-2012. This lowers the numbers who acquire and remain long-term residents. Indeed, the number of long-term residents in BE decreased by 25% (or 30,233) from 2010 to 2013. A similar trend is observed in other countries facilitating permanent residence and naturalisation (LU, PT, SE). An additional possible reason is that the opportunities for long-term residence in BE may not be clear or known by temporary residents (e.g. family members with dependent or independent status, former international students, workers). In particular, information may be limited among temporary residents recently made eligible for these statuses (e.g. beneficiaries of international protection). For example, nationals from major refugee-producing countries (e.g. AF, GN, IQ, SY) are under-represented among national/EU long-term residents in BE.
Access to Nationality
Naturalisation improves integration outcomes; 2012 Citizenship Reform is likely to delay naturalisation and not improve outcomes, unless all potential applicants get more effective language and vocational training
Who can become a citizen?
According to 2011/2 data, nearly two-thirds of non-EU citizens have lived in BE long enough to be eligible for naturalisation.
How easily can immigrants become citizens?
Since the 4 December 2012 Nationality reform, immigrants are entitled to become citizens through a rights-based procedure, but with comparatively restrictive conditions that fail to offer many the support they need to succeed. Immigrants will find it much harder than the previous 7-year-procedure (scoring 77 on MIPEX) under the 2000 law, which made naturalisation simple, short and free. But the reform is a slight improvement compared to the previous 3-year-procedure (scoring 62 on MIPEX) through the discretionary, backlogged and anachronistic Naturalisation Committee.
Dimension 1: Eligibility
- Under 2012's slightly stricter eligibility rules, immigrants must first become long-term residents and wait longer to apply (5 or 10 years instead of 3 or 7)
- Spouses of BE citizens cannot apply any earlier. 5 years is the most common period required in MIPEX countries, while 10 years is the longest and the maximum under European law. Spouses in most MIPEX countries can apply after 3 years
Dimension 2: Conditions
- The conditions to become a BE citizen are more restrictive than in most countries and slightly unfavourable for integration
- 2012 reform maintained the strict good character requirements and added a relatively average fee
- Unlike in half the MIPEX countries, immigrants' chances of becoming citizens in BE now depend on passing an employment requirement, which is one of the most demanding in Europe
- New language and social integration conditions are likely to be only slightly favourable for improving integration outcomes (see box)
Dimension 3: Security of status
- Immigrants who can meet these rather restrictive conditions are entitled to citizenship
- As in other recent reformers (e.g. DE, LU, PL), Belgium's 'declaration' procedure is rights-based, short (4 months), and subject to judicial review, although municipalities' role can lead to misinterpretation and unequal treatment
- Nowadays, the Naturalisation Committee only has to deal with exceptional cases and pre-2012 applications
Dimension 4: Dual nationality
- Like most MIPEX countries, BE fully tolerates dual nationality for naturalising immigrants and, since 2008, for all BE citizens naturalising abroad.
The 2011 grand coalition agreed to a "migration-neutral" naturalisation reform under the slogan that "residence and integration should lead to the acquisition of nationality and not the reserve," meaning that applicants should already be long-term residents as well as linguistically, socially and economically integrated. The conditions are certainly more objective than the pre-2000 vague 'integration' assessments. Immigrants can take free standardised courses and tests to reach A2-level fluency, which is the most common international standard for naturalisation. Success will ultimately depend on offering all immigrants enough language, integration and vocational training to pass. Offering A2-level Dutch courses was only agreed in 2013 and language/integration courses in French only in 2014. Official e-learning options and public materials are also lacking.
How many immigrants are becoming citizens?
30,000-40,000 people have been naturalising every year over the past decade. These numbers rose before passage of the reform (38,612 in 2012) and fell afterwards by one third (33,969 in 2013 down to 25,738 in 2014).
What other factors explain why non-EU immigrants become citizens?
- Most non-EU citizens from less developed countries
- Mostly family or humanitarian migrants likely to settle permanently
- Most long-settled in BE
- Most from countries allowing dual nationality
- General problems with requirements: Weak labour market & support for non-EU citizens and few with BE degrees or training
How often do immigrants become citizens?
BE's citizenship policies are the major factor determining whether or not immigrants become citizens. Non-EU immigrant men and women are much more likely to naturalise in countries with inclusive citizenship policies, such as PT, UK and, at least before the 2012 law, BE. Overall, 58% of non-EU-born adults in BE had naturalised by 2011/2, a relatively high level similar to FR and UK. Naturalisation rates were also comparatively equitable in BE for men and women, the elderly, minors and immigrants of different nationalities. The effect of the 2012 law on naturalisation rates is delayed by the backlog of old applications, still numbering 30,000 as of January 2015. One indication of the future effect is that the number of applicants has dropped by 2/3 under the new law, from 48,385 in 2012 to 15,899 in 2013.
Rather strong anti-discrimination laws and equality body informing the public and helping a growing number of potential victims to take the first steps in the long path to justice; government could take a greater lead to promote equality through public sector jobs and contracts
Who said they experienced racial/ethnic or religious discrimination last year?
According to the latest comparable data (2012), 7.7% of people in BE felt that last year they had been discriminated against or harassed based on their ethnic origin (5%) and/or religion/beliefs (3.6%). Similarly high levels (≈6-7%) in AT, CY, HU, LU and UK, while the EU average was around 4.2% for ethnic and/or religious discrimination.
Is everyone effectively protected from racial/ethnic, religious, and nationality discrimination in all areas of life?
Victims of discrimination are slightly well-protected and supported under BE's laws and policies, scoring 78/100 and ranked 9th out of the 38 MIPEX countries. These laws and policies are slightly weaker than in PT, SE, and UK in Western Europe or than in CA and US. BE continues to make minor improvements to its legislation and the coordination of support to victims (important legislation from 1981, 1993, 2003, 2007, see box).
Dimension 1: Definitions
- Definitions of discrimination are rather comprehensive in BE (as in FI and SE), though with a few gaps compared to CA, UK and US
- Wide range of actors in society cannot discriminate against a person on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion or nationality
- Recent minor modifications improved the law; e.g. discrimination by association and discrimination protections in education
- No explicit probitions of multiple discrimination (unlike in 8 MIPEX countries, e.g. AT, CA, DE, UK, US) or racial profiling by police (see studies by BE's Comité P, laws/practices in FR, IE, UK, US, recently DE)
Dimension 2: Fields of application
- Everyone is protected against ethnic, racial, religious and nationality discrimination in all areas of life in BE and 15 other MIPEX countries
- 2007 minor modifications also improved the discrimination protections in education
Dimension 3: Enforcement mechanisms
- Victims can use robust procedures to enforce their rights, with NGO support, wide sanctions, legal aid and free interpreters
- Situation testing and statistics are strong but under-used tools as potential evidence in court (see e.g. FR, SE, UK)
- Support NGOs would have much stronger mechanisms to enforce the law through class actions and/or actio popularis
- One or both allowed in 21 MIPEX countries: class actions allowed in NL, NZ, Nordics, now discussed in FR; Actio popularis in LU and Southern Europe; Both in AU/CA/US
Dimension 4: Equality policies
- Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities has rather strong powers to advise and support potential victims of discrimination; bodies in other countries can also start proceedings in their own name and make decisions as a quasi-judicial body (e.g. CA, IE, NL, NZ, SE)
- State equality policies are weak, behind leading English-speaking and Western European countries
- While BE authorities provide leadership on equality and support positive actions, they are not obliged to lead public/social dialogue on discrimination and guarantee that their staff and service-providers are promoting equality through their work (see instead FI, FR, NO, SE, UK)
The public has seen BE's various governments taking greater responsibility for equality by monitoring and implementing acts in nearly all parts of the country. The Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities, established in 1993, has been able to start co-ordinating support to inform and advise potential victims across the country in 24 cities/towns through its main office in Brussels and its 13 local contact points in Flanders (meldpunten) and 10 in Wallonia (Espaces Wallonie), with similar local offices established in FR, NL and SE.
How many racial/ethnic and religious discrimination complaints were made to equality bodies?
In 2013, BE's Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities received 1,891 complaints for racial/ethnic discrimination (1,270) and for religious discrimination (621). For the 3,713 total discrimination complaints, the Centre opened 1,406 dossiers (an increase compared to 2012) and initiated lawsuits in 14 cases. Around a dozen dossiers were closed through negotiated solutions. Other discrimination cases are not registered in statistics by national courts.
What other factors explain whether potential victims report discrimination cases
- Around 40% of public in BE say that they know their rights as discrimination victims (50-70% in UK, Nordics)
- Generally high levels of trust in police and justice system
- Majority of non-EU-born are long-settled and naturalised and thus more likely to report discrimination incidents
How many complaints were made last year for every person who said they experienced racial/ethnic and religious discrimination?
Few complaints are made compared to the large number of people reportly experiencing incidents of racial/ethnic or religious discrimination. Complaints seem to be more common in the countries with stronger, longstanding and well-resourced anti-discrimination laws and bodies; 1 complaint is received for approximately every 150-400 people experiencing ethnic or religious discrimination in BE, FR, NL, IE and SE. What is clear is that most countries need to do more to enforce and resource their anti-discrimination laws in order to guarantee the same access to justice for potential discrimination victims as they do for victims of other crimes and illegal acts.
Belgium RELATED NEWS
Jul 3, 2015
Do you want to know what your country scores? Have a look at the 2015 Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) launched by Migration Policy Group.
Jun 30, 2015
According to the new Integration Policies: Who Benefits?
May 7, 2015
Une enquête européenne menée par le Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) place la Belgique 7e sur 38 pays en termes d’intégration des ressortissants étrangers.
May 6, 2015
DiverCity/GERME is a partner of the project “Integration policies: Who benefits?