Visa options for students in Belgium
Non-EU citizens wishing to study in Belgium have some visa and residency options available to them. Read this helpful guide to determine how to stay in Belgium before and after graduation.
If you are a non-EU citizen and you want to study in Belgium, you will need to acquire a student visa. Immigration expert Fragomen Worldwide outlines the residency options for students in Belgium before and after graduation.
The student visa is a long stay visa type D that allows you to enter Belgium for the purpose of residence for the duration of your studies. The residency rights granted to students are temporary and must be renewed each year.
On arrival in Belgium, foreign students receive a residence card type A, which is valid for one year, ending on 31 October of each academic year. Foreign students must reapply for this residence permit each year and show that they still meet all eligibility criteria.
The visa application has to be filed at the competent Belgian diplomatic post in the applicant’s country of residence. The diplomatic post forwards the application to the Federal Immigration Office, which reviews the file and issues a decision.
Precise processing times for these visa applications are not guaranteed and are not set in law. The school year in Belgium begins in September, so it is advisable to file your application a few months prior to the anticipated start of your studies, due to the heightened workload of the Immigration Office around this period.
Requirements for qualification
To qualify for the student visa, the applicant must fulfil these eligibility conditions: the foreign student must register for higher education, must attend a full curriculum and be registered as a full-time student and must attend an officially recognised educational institution. In addition, you must be able to provide evidence of sufficient financial resources and not be a danger to public health and public security.
Registration for higher education
To qualify for the student visa, the student must register for higher education, which entails studying at a university or college in Belgium. Students enrolled in primary and secondary education do not qualify for a student visa. However, student visas can be obtained for foreign students registered for a preparatory year, during which they engage in language classes to prepare for future studies in Belgium.
Registration for a full curriculum
Foreign students must participate in a full curriculum consisting of at least 54 credits and 15 contact hours per week. Under certain conditions, the authorities can deviate from this standard rule (for example, during the preparatory year), but it is always required that the studies are the applicant’s main activity in Belgium.
Studies at a recognised educational institution
The foreign student must be enrolled at an institution of higher education that is recognized by the state. If you are planning to attend a private college or university, there is the option to obtain a long stay visa for Belgium, but the procedure will have a different legal basis even though similar conditions apply.
Proof of sufficient resources
The foreign student must provide evidence of sufficient resources. As of 2016, the applicant must show that he has at least EUR 631 per month.
Working during your studies
As a foreign student, you are entitled to a work permit type C, which allows you to work for a maximum of 20 hours per week. During school holidays, the foreign student is entitled to work without a work permit.
What happens upon completion of your studies
Upon completion of the studies and expiry of the student’s residence card, the student must return to his or her country of origin. However, many foreign students look for a way to extend their Belgian adventure beyond their studies.
Contrary to some other countries (the Netherlands for example), the Belgian authorities do not allow students to remain in the country to look for a job after the expiry of their residence card. As such, foreign students in Belgium must prepare for future residency prior to the termination of their studies. As Belgium has no facilitated immigration scheme for recent graduates, students must follow the standard immigration process.
The most straightforward option for recent graduates wishing to stay in Belgium is to secure residency on the basis of employment. This entails that the foreign national must qualify for one of the existing work permit types, which also grant residency rights.
Types of work permit
The most straightforward type of work permit is the work permit type B, which is granted to highly skilled foreign employees. However, in practice, recent graduates struggle to obtain the salary that is requested for highly skilled employees (approximately EUR 40,000 gross per year).
Therefore, it is advisable to explore the option of a traineeship. If a foreign national has a higher education degree and engages in an internship that allows him or her to develop the skills gained from his studies, they might qualify for a work permit as a trainee.
To qualify, the trainee must be 30 years or younger, and the internship must be full time. In addition, the intern cannot engage in any other financially gainful activity and the internship agreement must comprise a training programme and mention the number of working hours and the applicable salary. This salary cannot be lower than the legally guaranteed minimum income in Belgium.
The downside is that the internship (and coinciding residence rights) are limited to a maximum duration of one year. However, the additional work experience that is gained by the trainee often helps to secure a highly skilled position afterwards.
Please note that all other existing work permit types can also be used (such as work permits for doctorate students).
Foreign students may also engage in specific business activities during or after their studies. They may set up a business and register as self-employed. In such cases, foreign nationals must apply for what is called a professional card to support their work activities in Belgium.
If a foreign national enters a relationship with a Belgian resident during their studies, residency in Belgium might be secured on the basis of the relationship, but very strict criteria apply.
Note on permanent residency in Belgium
Foreign students often inquire about their entitlement to permanent residency. In principle, it is required to have five years of legal stay in the Belgian territory to qualify for permanent residency (among other criteria). However, periods spent in Belgium on the basis of a student visa are only partially taken into account (50 percent) when calculating this five-year period.
This article is a general overview of your residence options in Belgiumduring and after your studies. Please note that the information in this article is applicable to a typical case, and in practice several deviations from the standard rules can occur. When preparing your application, be aware that the authorities are very particular about the types of documents that are required and gathering these can be complicated.
Evelyne Van Der Elst / Associate Attorney at Law / Worldwide Private Client Practice
Fragomen Worldwide / Expatica
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