Belgium attracts international talent thanks to efficient migration policy

Deloitte immigration study confirms contrast between Belgian success and failed European policy

The results of the 2013-2014 comparative immigration study shows that Belgium is one of the most attractive countries for highly skilled foreigners thanks to the speed, low cost and accessible conditions for obtaining a work permit.

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Diegem, 19 November 2013 – Today Deloitte announces the results of its 2013-2014 comparative immigration study. It shows that Belgium is one of the most attractive countries for highly skilled foreigners thanks to the speed, low cost and accessible conditions for obtaining a work permit. In view of the growing importance of the knowledge-based economy it is essential for countries to attract highly skilled people. Every two years, the study compares the migration formalities for third-country nationals in 26 European countries. Previous editions of Deloitte’s comparative immigration study showed that Belgium scored the best in Europe. Along with the Scandinavian countries, Belgium is in the leading group of nations pursuing an efficient and accessible policy.

  • Belgium is exceptionally attractive to highly skilled immigrants thanks to speed, cost and conditions
  • Knowledge immigration is of essential and increasing importance to the European economy
  • European policy falls short because the Blue Card only makes it possible to work in one country

Growing importance of the knowledge-based economy
Attracting knowledge workers is important because they mean significant added value to economic development over the long term. After all, international knowledge workers are a promising answer to the future demographic challenges which are confronting both Belgium and the EU. The presence of knowledge workers is also vital for keeping Europe competitive. Clear and unambiguous systems, allowing international knowledge workers to have easy access to the Belgian and European labour market, are therefore of the utmost importance. In addition, the employment of international workers has become an obvious necessity for international companies in a globalised world.

Speed - a deciding factor
The study shows that the Belgian migration process is one of the fastest: on average, a work permit is issued within two to three weeks. Only Finland and Portugal are faster, while in Austria, Spain and Italy, the procedure can take up to four months. The regional differences formerly characteristic of Belgium have disappeared in the meantime. This means that today, a work permit for a highly skilled international worker is issued about as quickly in Flanders as it is in Brussels or Wallonia. As for other conditions for knowledge workers, such as minimum salary and level of education, Belgium is cited as being very accessible. This is all the more apparent in comparison with other western European countries because there, knowledge workers must meet stricter conditions to enter into the labour market. It remains to be seen what the impact of the regionalisation of the labour market will be on these conditions. 

Until now, these matters have been nationally regulated; therefore, it cannot be ruled out that the result of regionalisation may be that other rules/conditions for joining the labour market may apply, depending on the region of employment. This regionalisation was stipulated in the coalition agreement, but so far, its practical implementation has not been put into effect.

Impact on national legislation
For the first time, the comparative study includes information on the impact of Europe on national legislation in the area of knowledge migration. Since last year, the Blue Card has been introduced in most European countries following the implementation of a European directive. The impact of this card has proven to be very limited. “The European Blue Card, launched as an answer to the American Green Card, has had no success with international companies. It usually takes longer to acquire a Blue Card, and an employee can only work in one country with it, even if the name suggests otherwise,” says Erwin Vandervelde, a partner at Deloitte, and Matthias Lommers, Senior Manager at Deloitte. “Nevertheless, along with the directives on Single Permits and Intra-Corporate Transferees, the Blue Card is a step towards a more harmonised European migration policy.”

Awaiting a coordinated immigration policy
So far, a comprehensive immigration policy on a coordinated European level has been absent. Countries such as Australia and Canada have flexible, fast immigration systems which are attractive to international knowledge workers from the BRIC countries. Europe is losing the fight for these highly educated job seekers partly because each country has its own migration laws. “A Japanese citizen who is allowed to work in Belgium, for example, cannot simply find work in the Netherlands or France,” says Erwin Vandervelde. “For someone coming from Japan or the US, it is, to say the least, surprising to be faced with so many different rules and procedures within a radius of only a few hundred kilometres. We have seen in the meantime that the rules have not been made simpler.”

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