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Belgium attracts international talent thanks to efficient migration policy for highly skilled workers 

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

Diegem, 7 June 2016 – Today Deloitte announces the results of its 2016 global immigration study. It shows that Belgium is one of the most attractive countries for highly skilled third country nationals 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 the European Union. Previous editions of Deloitte’s global 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. For the first time, this survey now also compares the European immigration regimes for highly skilled foreigners with the regimes of some major countries around the globe. 

  • Knowledge immigration is of essential and increasing importance to the European economy 
  • Belgium remains attractive to highly skilled immigrants thanks to speed, cost and conditions, even when comparing ourselves with large countries outside of the EU 
  • European policy is not very successful because the measures taken have little harmonising impact and tend to complicate local immigration rules 
  •  We see that countries like the US and Australia also struggle to maintain quick and flexible immigration regimes 

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, cost and conditions - deciding factors 

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. More than half of the countries participating to this survey take more than 1 month to process a work permit or work visa. Furthermore, contrary to common belief, the European immigration regimes are generally equally attractive as the ones in e.g the USA, Canada and Australia 

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. So far, the regionalisation of the labour market did not yet have an impact on these conditions. 

Other interesting and attractive aspects of the Belgian immigration landscape for highly skilled foreigners are the low salary levels these knowledge workers must earn (EUR 39.824 EUR gross on a yearly basis) and the rather low administrative burden for introducing a work permit application: the medical certificate is the only original document required. 

Impact of EU harmonization policy on national legislation 

For the second time, the comparative study includes information on the impact of Europe on national legislation in the area of knowledge migration. The impact of some European initiatives, such as the Blue Card, the Single Permit and the Intra-Corporate Transferee Directive, are measured. The impact of these measures 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. Only a few are issued each year in Belgium, it takes quite a while to get one, and an employee can only work in one country with it, even if the name suggests otherwise,” says Matthias Lommers, Director at Deloitte. “Along with the directives on Single Permits and Intra-Corporate Transferees, the Blue Card is a small step towards a more harmonised European migration policy. We see though that these measures tend to make the local immigration schemes, which continue to exist, even more complex”. 

Large countries outside of the EU also struggle 

So far, the measures taken on a European level have not made an impact. Europe will not be able to attract 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 start working in Germany or France,” says Matthias Lommers. “For a US national assigned to the European Headquarter of a multinational company in Brussels, 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 over the years that the rules have not been made simpler. On the other hand, we now see that countries such as the USA and Canada, who claimed to have flexible, fast immigration systems, are also struggling to attract international knowledge workers from abroad. 


Nathalie Vanderbeken

Tel: +32 2 600 60 83
Mobile: +32 479 90 57 71



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