Perspectives

Immigration and social security

COVID-19 Workforce measures and insights

Restrictive measures taken due to COVID-19 have a considerable impact on the immigration and social security procedures. An overview of recent measures taken by the Belgian government can be found below.

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Immigration

Travel restrictions to Belgium

The European recommendation on the reopening of external borders was formally approved on 30 June 2020. The goal is for Member States to gradually reopen their external borders from 1 July 2020 to travelers from 14 different countries, namely Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay + to travelers from China on condition of reciprocity.

However, as of July 8 this recommendation has not yet been accepted by the Belgian government. Currently, only travelers with an essential function or need who are allowed to travel despite the restrictions can be allowed entry to Belgium. Therefore, third-country nationals (non-EU and non-EEA nationals) are still not allowed to enter Belgium when traveling from outside the Schengen zone unless they fall into an exempt category.

  • Exemptions apply to long-term residents (e.g. single permit holders) and holders of a visa D.
  • Exemptions also apply to foreigners with an essential function, such as medical staff and health researchers, as well as foreigners with an essential need to enter the country, such as urgent family reasons. The following categories are also included:
    • EU citizens, citizens of Schengen associated countries and third-country nationals legally staying in the EU, as well as their respective family members*, whether they return home or not;
    • Third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of study;
    • Highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad (currently limited to EU Blue Card holders);
    • Diplomats
    • Frontier workers

Crisis Centre communication (Dutch | French)

 

Visa procedures

  • New Visa applications are being accepted on a case by case basis. Most consular authorities are working in a limited capacity.
  • Processing times for pending visa applications can be delayed.

 

Belgian work and/or residence authorisations (initial and renewals applications)

  • Applications for work/single permits are accepted by e-mail in all regions.
  • Pending (renewal) applications are processed, albeit with possible delays.
  • Renewal of residence cards have resumed but are subject to delays and changing processes due to the implementation of new health measures at the local town halls.

 

Foreigners on short-term visits to Belgium who cannot leave the territory:

  • Visa C holders who cannot return to their country of residence must request an extension of their stay based on ‘force majeure’ (e.g. cancellation of flights or quarantine).
  • If assignees have to work in Belgium due to a longer stay, an application for a work authorisation or extension of their existing work authorisation is required.

Social Security

Social security contributions on face masks made available by employers

The National Social Security office (“NSSO”) confirmed that no social security contributions are due when an employer provides face masks to employees. Social security contributions will remain applicable on so-called “mask allowances”.

Unfortunately, the Belgian tax authorities have yet to take a formal position regarding this matter.

 

Social security exemption for lump sum teleworking allowance

A social security exempt lump sum teleworking allowance of up to 129,48 EUR/month can be granted to employees working from home. More info: Dutch | French.

Companies can also file a ruling request to obtain legal certainty regarding the tax treatment of the lump sum teleworking allowance. More info can be found on our Domestic personal income tax page.

 

Additional indemnity during economic unemployment

Companies placing their employees on an economic unemployment regime, whereby they remain entitled to approximately 70% of their average income (but capped at + 1.920 EUR/month), may grant an additional indemnity to their employees on top of the economic unemployment benefits received from the government, in order to mitigate (part of) the income loss of their employees.

These indemnities are exempt from the regular employer and employee social security contributions, insofar as they are seen as an addition to a benefit of the legal social security system. As such, the sum of the unemployment benefits and indemnity may not be more than the employee’s regular remuneration.

Circular Letter 2020/C/57 was published by the tax authorities in a Frequently Asked Question format to recap the general principles regarding personal income tax treatment of unemployment benefits and supplementary allowances thereof (Dutch | French).

 

11 June 2020 | Social security authorities announce validity period extension of vouchers:

  • Gift vouchers: 6 months extention for vouchers expiring in the months of March, April, May and June 2020
  • Meal vouchers: 6 months extension for vouchers expiring in the months of March, April, May and June 2020
  • Sport and culture vouchers: those expiring on 30 September 2020 are extended to 31 December 2020
  • Eco vouchers: 6 months extension for vouchers expiring in the months of March, April, May and June 2020

 

9 June 2020 | New law postponing payment date of annual contribution for self-employed persons' social status

The Law of 29 May 2020 has been published, amending Chapter II of Title III of the Law of 30 December 1992 on social and miscellaneous provisions, regarding the introduction of an annual contribution at the expense of companies, intended for the social status of self-employed persons. The law postpones the payment date of said contribution to 31 October in 2020.

 

Deferred payment of social security contributions

The deferred payment of social security contributions is one of the measures taken by the Government as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. The deferred payment applies to all contributions collected by the NSSO (employer's contributions, employee contributions and special contributions, including the contributions Bestaanszekerheid) from 20 March 2020 to 15 December 2020.

Please note that the obligation to submit the NSSO declaration within the set deadlines remains in force.

There is an automatic  payment deferral for the catering, leisure, culture and sports industry and all undertakings affected by compulsory closure in accordance with the provisions of the Ministerial Decrees of 13 March, 18 March, 23 March and 24 March 2020.

The payment deferral is also possible for companies that are completely closed because they are unable to comply with the sanitary measures or because they have decided to close down completely themselves. The NSSO clarifies that "complete closure" means that production and sales have stopped, but that this does not prevent a limited number of employees to remain active within the company for security, administration, necessary maintenance, etc.

If the employer wishes to apply this measure, they must use the available 'declaration on honour' form on the Social Security portal to declare that they fulfil the criteria to be entitled to the postponement. It is important to know that the NSSO will carry out checks on these declarations.

It concerns:

  • Contributions that still need to be paid;
  • Monthly instalments of current repayment plans;
  • Third advance payment for the 1st quarter (to be paid on 05/04/2020);
  • Balance of the 1st quarter (to be paid on 30/04/2020);
  • Debit message annual leave sent to employers from 01/04/2020 and to be paid before 30/04/2020;
  • Advances for the 2nd quarter (to be paid on 05/05, 05/06 and 05/07/2020);
  • Balance of the 2nd quarter (to be paid on 31/07/2020).

Companies not affected by a complete closure but see their economic activity severely reduced for the 2nd quarter of 2020 can submit an electronic declaration on honour form to obtain a payment deferral, due to COVID-19 causing the company:

  • a reduction of at least 65% in turnover resulting from transactions to be included in the periodic VAT returns with respect to the 2nd quarter of 2020, compared to the turnover resulting from the same transactions with respect to the 2nd quarter of 2019 or the 1st quarter of 2020;

and/or

  • a reduction of at least 65% in the wage mass declared to the National Social Security Office for the 2nd quarter of 2020 compared to the 2nd quarter of 2019 or the 1st quarter of 2020.

It concerns:

  • balance of the 1st quarter;
  • debit message annual leave;
  • advances for the 2nd quarter;
  • balance of the 2nd quarter;
  • contributions that still need to be paid;
  • monthly instalments of current repayment plans.

 

Repayment plan

Companies with difficulties paying their social security contributions because of COVID-19 can also apply to the NSSO for a repayment plan for the first and second quarter of 2020.

Within the repayment plan, the company can make monthly payments for a maximum of 24 months. If all social security contributions are paid correctly, the NSSO may exempt the employer from contribution surcharges, lump-sum reimbursements and/or interest.

In order to obtain a repayment plan, the employer must complete an online application form addressed to the NSSO. The application must also explain how the company is affected by COVID-19.

 

The Belgian social security authorities have confirmed the following exceptional measures

  • Increased use of teleworking due to COVID-19 in Belgium will not impact the determination of applicable social security legislation.
  • For employees with a changed working situation in the EU, due to COVID-19 (e.g. home teleworking or end-of-assignment without possibility of return trip), A1 forms remain valid and no action is required from employers or employees. The Belgian authorities recommend to have these exceptional changes to the working pattern formalised between employer and employee in a written agreement or in detailed instructions via e-mail.
  • For cross-border employment related to countries with which Belgium has a bilateral social security treaty, the Belgian social security authorities need to be informed and every case will be treated individually.
  • In cases where home teleworking in Belgium is permitted for employees normally working in another EEA country or Switzerland, no Limosa should be reported. If a notification has already been made, but the place of employment does not correspond to the telework location, the notification should not be adjusted.
  • The above decisions by the Belgian social security authorities are only valid for situations spanning the official timeframe of COVID-19 restrictions (13 March 2020 until at least 5 April 2020).

Rules are rapidly changing. Deloitte will therefore update on any important changes from an immigration & social security point of view.

Link: Dutch | French

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