So far, Belgian community and federal authorities have maintained their comprehensive approach to integration. Belgium ranks towards the bottom of the international MIPEX ‘Top Ten’, scoring 69 points on the MIPEX 100-point scale. For those countries in the Top Ten, integration works as a two-way process, as citizens and newcomers generally enjoy equal rights, opportunities and security. However, compared to the other Top 10 countries, Belgium only goes halfway to encourage immigrants to settle and invest long-term in their new home country. As a result, Belgian policies encourage the public to see immigrants as their equals and their neighbours, but not necessarily as their fellow citizens. If Belgian authorities continue down this track, they risk abandoning their comprehensive policies for a more ‘temporary approach’ to integration, as in neighbouring France, Germany and The Netherlands.
Belgium’s policies are slightly more advanced than the average Western European/OECD country. Its areas of strength and weakness are most comparable to those of Ireland and Luxembourg; countries with a similarly comprehensive approach and large number of both EU and non-EU citizens. To make improvements in its areas of weakness, Belgium can take inspiration from policies in countries that are more inclusive, such as Canada, New Zealand, the Nordics and Portugal.
Integration policy matters because the way in which a government treats migrants strongly influences how well migrants and the public interact. Drawing on 130 independent scientific studies using MIPEX, integration policy emerges as one of the most significant factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with migrants, but also migrants’ own attitudes, sense of belonging, participation and even health in their new home country.
The levels of public acceptance and immigrant participation in public life in Belgium reflect the strengths and weaknesses in the approaches to integration at community and federal level. The main areas of weakness are labour market mobility and family reunification, while the main area of strength is anti-discrimination. Other areas—education, health, political participation, permanent residence and nationality—involve several strengths but also a few underlying weaknesses in Belgian approaches. Any differences in approaches in the Flemish and Francophone community were noted in the comments of each indicator and reflected in the final average score for Belgium.
- Labour market mobility: Halfway favourable: Belgium’s rigid labour market, combined with delayed access and limited targeted support, leads to poorer employment rates, quality and access to training for both low- and high-educated non-EU citizens in Belgium than in most European countries. While non-EU newcomers can access public employment services, vocational training and recognition procedures, they face greater delays and restrictions to actually access private, public and self-employment and social security in Belgium than most countries. Targeted support for all newcomers has been limited to language courses, information and orientation to these general support services. In response to the 2015/6 large-scale arrivals, targeted training measures were expanded, for example under the Flemish Horizonal Integration Policy Plan 2016-2019.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: Separated non-EU families are halfway insecure about their future in Belgium. Belgium’s procedures are no longer favourable for family reunification and integration, following restrictions in 2011 and 2013. Demanding economic resource and accommodation requirements have made the process longer and more discretionary. Since 2016, families must demonstrate ‘reasonable efforts to integrate’ and remain dependent on their sponsor for their permit for 5 years (instead of 3). Scientific studies using MIPEX suggest that facilitating family reunification can have a major impact on whether families reunite, settle down in the country, find jobs, secure a better place to live and age with dignity.
- Education: Slightly favourable: All pupils, regardless of legal status, can complete pre-primary and compulsory education. The Flemish and, to a lesser extent, French-speaking schools receive information, funding and resources to address school segregation, language needs, teacher training and the appreciation of diversity. There are, however, no systematic measures to help immigrant pupils get into more academic tracks, higher education or the teaching profession. More inclusive general and targeted education policies can serve not only to close achievement gaps for vulnerable groups on different education tracks, but also to encourage a common sense of pride, safety and belonging at school.
- Health: Slightly favourable: Belgian and non-Belgian citizens enjoy relatively equal entitlements to healthcare, although administrative obstacles can emerge, especially for the undocumented. While migrant patients can benefit from regular health and healthcare information and migrant health research, the Flemish and Francophone community lack comprehensive policies that reach all health providers and systematically involve migrants in these services.
- Political participation: Slightly favourable: Belgium, 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. Non-EU citizens are supported in different ways and informed of their rights on an ad hoc basis. In the Flemish community, independent immigrant-led organisations, most notably the Minderhedenforum, have traditionally been systematically consulted and supported. Belgium’s policies would be fully favourable for political participation if all three regions provided regular funding, consultation as well as quasi-automatic voter registration for local elections, which is the case in Nordic countries.
- Permanent residence: Slightly favourable: After 5 years' legal and uninterrupted stay, temporary residents in Belgium can become long-term residents. Favourable conditions treat non-EU and EU citizens equally, only requiring proof of a basic legal income. Long-term residents are generally secure in their status in Belgium, with policies similar to those in several Western European countries. A long-term resident can lose their status if they are absent for 12 consecutive months.
- Access to nationality: Slightly favourable: After 5 years of residence, first-generation immigrants are entitled to become dual nationals through a rights-based procedure, but under comparatively restrictive conditions that may fail to offer many the support they need to succeed. The 2012 Nationality reform maintained the strict good character requirement and introduced a fee, language, integration and economic resource requirement. In contrast, half of the MIPEX countries do not impose an integration or economic resource requirement. Based on the extensive international research on nationality policies and outcomes, Belgium’s facilitated naturalisation policy from 2000-2011 was likely a major factor that explains Belgium’s traditionally high levels of naturalisation rates, immigrant political participation and common sense of belonging.
- Anti-discrimination: Favourable: Ranked first alongside several other countries, Belgium’s anti-discrimination policies are raising discrimination awareness and reporting. Victims seeking justice can benefit from relatively strong legal protections, enforcement mechanisms, equality body and state measures. Based on over 30 MIPEX studies, the slow expansion of anti-discrimination policies across most MIPEX countries appears to have had a long-term impact on reshaping public attitudes, discrimination awareness, reporting and trust in institutions, society and democracy. For example, the EU-MIDIS 2016 survey found that discriminated immigrants in Belgium were more likely to know their rights than discriminated immigrants in most other EU countries.