Expats cry foul over residency
Unlike Belgian nationals, foreigners living in Belgium are compelled to renew their official papers every five years. But, as Martin Banks reports, some have branded the rules as discriminatory.
Father-of-three and UK national Philip Newman moved to Belgium 22 years ago to work for a multi-national company. He has since raised a family and made the country his own.
The situation compares with native Belgians who are required to update their identity papers only once every 10 years.
"Equal rights in the EU? I don't think so," Newman says.
"Why should I — someone who has lived here nearly half my life, is married to a Belgian and has three Belgian-born children — have to go through the indignity and administrative nightmare of renewing my papers every five years when Belgian nationals do not?
"The last time I had to renew my paper work, it took me the best part of two days because of long queues at my local town hall."
Newman, who lives near Waterloo, is not alone in feeling aggrieved at the current situation.
His comments are echoed by Italian-born engineer Enrico Coppo, 46, who has lived in Belgium for 12 years.
"Renewing your papers in this country is not as straightforward as it should be. It can often involve long delays and is very, very time-consuming," Coppo says.
"On the last occasion, I had to wait several days for my permit and — in the intervening period — was asked to produce a valid residency card. As I did not have one — my renewal was being 'processed' by the authorities — I endured no end of problems.
"It just seems downright unfair that I have to renew my residency permit every five years, compared with 10 years for Belgian nationals. It does make you feel a bit like a second class citizen.
"Having settled in Belgium and lived here so long, I do not see why the same residency rights cannot be extended to people like me as they are to people born in the country."
However, a senior official at the Belgian Interior Ministry strongly denies that the rules were discriminatory.
"There is nothing discriminatory about them. Under current legislation, a foreigner living in Belgium who is issued with a residency card is merely required to renew it every five years," Christine Belfren says.
"This is quite normal and is not a particularly difficult procedure.
"Foreigners, generally, tend to move more often and this is the main reason why non-Belgians are asked to renew their papers more frequently than Belgians.
"The rules apply to both EU and non-EU citizens."
Most, though not all, EU member states require foreigners to renew residency documentation.
In Germany, as long as you have got a valid passport, you can stay for up to three months without documentation. If you plan to stay longer than that you should get a residence permit, eine Aufenthaltsgenehmigung.
Once granted this is valid for up to five years when it must be renewed.
A residence permit, or carte de sejour, is required under French law and costs EUR 22.8 and must be renewed, while in Italy, applying for and renewing a residency permit, or un Permesso di Soggiorno, can involve a lengthy procedure.
Anyone who has lived in Finland for four years can be issued with a permanent residence card, but they do not have to apply for it because registration, which costs EUR 40, is deemed adequate.
In the Netherlands, EU nationals, technically, do not have to apply for any kind of Dutch residence document, but most are advised to apply for proof of lawful residence because it can be useful when dealing with local government, banks and suchlike.
Proof of lawful residence is quite easy to obtain, the costs are low and it is a regarded as a valid ID card, which all residents in the Netherlands are obliged to carry.
In Belgium, while EU citizens have to renew