How to secure Belgian nationality
A helpful guide to obtaining citizenship in Belgium, and the conditions required to apply for Belgian citizenship.[Contributed by Fragomen Worldwide]
A recently published Eurostat study has shown that the EU member states granted citizenship to around 889,100 people in 2014. According to recent Belgian statistics, 1,945 foreign nationals already obtained Belgian nationality between January 2016 and May 2016. These numbers show that many foreign nationals in the EU choose to request another citizenship that offers them additional benefits and allows them to stop worrying about their immigration status.
It is clear that having an EU citizenship offers significant advantages. As an EU citizen, you are entitled to free movement within the territory of the Union and you can take-up residency in the member state of your choice. Your children can easily register and attend one of the many European Universities. In addition, you can take up employment in any other member state or set-up a business without going through lengthy immigration proceedings or you can benefit from other member states’ public services, such as healthcare, when abroad.
Within the framework of Brexit, it is also important to note that the advantages that are currently also enjoyed by British citizens across the EU might be endangered as the UK exits the European Union. As such, acquiring another EU citizenship could provide certainty for British citizens and lead to securing their rights as citizens of the European Union. Given the fact that the leave vote triggers a two-year notice period after which the UK ultimately ceases to be an EU member state, there is plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements regarding a second EU nationality.
This article explains the basics of obtaining Belgian nationality. It will briefly discuss the applicable nationality procedures as well as the eligibility criteria for acquiring Belgian nationality.
Ways of obtaining Belgian nationality
There are three types of procedures that could lead to Belgian nationality:
- the automatic ascription of Belgian nationality to minors,
- the standard process of the ‘nationality declaration’ or
- the exceptional procedure of naturalisation.
The standard process is to request Belgian nationality through a 'nationality declaration'. This process entails that a foreign national is entitled to Belgian nationality if he fulfils the criteria that are stipulated in the nationality legislation. The acquisition of Belgian nationality is a right once you meet the conditions. The application is filed at the town hall of your place of residence in Belgium. There is also a fixed processing time of 4 months from the moment of filing the application. In case of a refusal, the applicant has the possibility to appeal before the Court of First Instance.
There is also the option of filing a naturalisation request. This is an exceptional procedure that allows foreign nationals to request Belgian nationality if they do not fulfil the criteria that apply to the standard declaration procedure. The decision on a naturalisation request is entirely at the discretion of the authorities. Within the framework of the naturalisation procedure, Belgian citizenship is a privilege that is granted by the members of Parliament. There are no legally set processing times and no possibility to appeal in case of a refusal.
In our experience, the declaration procedure is the preferred option as it offers more certainty to the applicant. The legislation clearly mentions the applicable criteria and gives an outline of the documents that are needed to support the file. In addition to the short processing times, this creates a procedure that allows you to request nationality and have a very clear view of the outcome of the process. In contrary, the naturalisation process is less transparent and the members of Parliament take a decision on a completely discretionary basis.
Please note that the declaration must be filed at your local town hall. We have already experienced several situations in which the town hall did not accept a file, even though the applicant was legally seen as eligible for nationality. In these situations it is required to negotiate with your local authorities, as they have no authority to review the merits of your case.
General eligibility criteria for the nationality declaration
To qualify for Belgian nationality on the basis of a nationality declaration, the applicant must fulfil the eligibility conditions that are stipulated in the legislation. As such, the applicant must have resided continuously in Belgium during a reference period of 5 years and must provide evidence of social and economic integration and of language knowledge.
1. Legal residence
The first condition to be met is legal residency on the Belgian territory. More specifically, the applicant must have resided legally and continuously in Belgium during the 5-year period immediately preceding the nationality application. During this reference period, the applicant must have had his main place of residence in Belgium and cannot have left the Belgian territory for a total period exceeding 1 year (in the 5-year reference period) or for more than 6 continuous months. In addition, the applicant must be entitled to permanent residency at the moment of filing the application. In this regard, you must be in possession of any of the following residence permits: residence card B, C, D, E, E, E+, F, F+.
Because Brussels acts as the capital of Europe and many international institutions have establishments in Belgium, it is important to note that those foreign nationals who are in possession of a special ID card (as diplomatic staff or staff of an international organisation) do not meet the condition on legal stay within the framework of nationality. The residency that is built up on the basis of a special ID card does not count towards Belgian nationality. In general, these foreign nationals will have to rely on a status-change prior to filing any nationality application.
2. Social Integration
The nationality legislation foresees a set list of documents that are accepted as proof of social integration for the purpose of a nationality application. As such, a degree or certificate from an institution of higher education, a certificate of completion of a professional training, a certificate of completion of an integration course are accepted. For those individuals that have worked continuously in Belgium during the 5-year reference period, employment history acts as proof of social integration.
3. Economic Integration
As an employee, you must have worked at least 468 days in the past 5 years to show your economic participation. As a self-employed individual, you must provide evidence of at least 6 months of social security payments in the past 5 years. Please note that the time spent on studies and specific types of training during the 5-year period can be assimilated to days of employment under certain conditions.
4. Language knowledge
The applicant must show that he has sufficient knowledge of one of the Belgian languages (Dutch, French, German). The level that has to be shown is an A2 level. All the documents mentioned as proof of social integration will also act as proof of sufficient language skills. It is also possible to take a language test at a language institution that is recognised by the Belgian authorities.
It is important to note that the Belgian nationality legislation foresees a number of situations in which slightly different eligibility criteria apply. I have shortlisted them below.
If you are married to a Belgian national or you are the parent of a child with Belgian nationality, you are exempt from showing evidence of economic participation.
There is also a specific provision for non-Belgian nationals who have resided legally in Belgium during 5 years and who have reached the age of 65 years. These individuals qualify for Belgian nationality on the basis of their residency history and their age.
If you have resided in Belgium for at least 10 years, you can qualify for nationality if you can provide evidence on your language skills and if you have actively participated in the community life of the host country.
General eligibility criteria for naturalisation
When filing a naturalisation application, the eligibility criteria are less clear. You must have your main place of residence in Belgium and must be in legal stay at the moment of filing the application. It has to be explained why you cannot qualify for the standard declaration procedure. In addition, you must show that you provided exceptional services to Belgium in the field of sports, scientific research or socio-cultural development. In practice, the naturalisation procedure aims to issue Belgian nationality to top-athletes, musicians, PhD holders, etc.
It is important to note that Belgium allows dual nationality. This entails that you could acquire Belgian nationality without having to renounce your current nationality (if this is also accepted by your country of origin). As such, one could potentially enjoy the best of two worlds.
The information above contains a general overview of your options if you want to acquire Belgian nationality. We want to point out that the information in the article is applicable to a standard case and in practice several deviations from the standard rules are possible. When preparing your file, you must also be aware that the authorities are very particular about the type of documents that are required and gathering these can be complicated.
If you are interested in knowing more about Belgian nationality, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evelyne Van Der Elst | Associate – Attorney at law
Worldwide Private Client Practice
Contributed by Fragomen
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