United Kingdom - October 13, 2015

Several developments have been announced.

New Immigration Bill Provides Further Measures on Illegal Migration

On September 17, 2015, the United Kingdom (UK) government published its latest immigration bill, which contains several provisions to tackle illegal migration.

The three main themes include:

  • new measures cracking down on the exploitation of low-skilled workers, increasing the punishments for employing migrants who are in the UK illegally, and strengthening sanctions for working without authorization;
  • building on the Immigration Act 2014 to ensure that only people living lawfully in the UK can have access to UK bank accounts, driving licenses, and rental accommodation; and
  • increasing powers to make it easier to remove people without authorization to be in the UK

Employing unauthorized migrants. The maximum criminal sanction for employing migrants who are in the UK without authorization has increased from two to five years. Such migrants are now subject to a maximum sentence of up to 51 weeks, a fine, or both.

Bank accounts. New measures relating to bank accounts require banks to carry out immigration checks in relation to current accounts. This follows provisions introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 that prohibit banks from opening accounts for unauthorized migrants. The frequency of the checks will be prescribed in regulations. Banks will be required to notify the Secretary of State if checks confirm that the account holder no longer has permission to remain in the UK. Enforcement action will include freezing accounts and/or ultimately closing them.

These provisions will potentially have devastating consequences for those who are not able to produce satisfactory evidence of their right to remain in the UK. Data held by the Home Office and other bodies are not always up to date.

Residential tenancies. Following provisions in the Immigration Act 2014 requiring landlords and/or their agents to check the immigration status of tenants, this bill now introduces criminal sanctions of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine, or both, for non-compliance.

Driving in the UK. A new criminal sanction has been introduced for driving while an unauthorized migrant, which carries a sentence of up to 51 weeks of imprisonment, a fine, or both. In practice, this new offense is expected to be used mainly by the police who, in the course of their work, may encounter such migrants driving on UK roads. Vehicles driven by such migrants may be impounded pending a decision by the court on forfeiture. The police already hold similar powers with respect to vehicles that are uninsured or driven by unlicensed drivers. The police have also been given new powers to seize driving licenses when investigating illegal migration.

Immigration skills charge. The bill provides for regulations to allow the Secretary of State to impose a charge on sponsors of Tier 2 migrants. This immigration skills charge is one of the areas being considered in the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC) consultation on the review of Tier 2. (See below for more about the consultation.) The MAC will advise the government on whether this charge should be introduced and, if so, the amount of the charge. Until the MAC has concluded the consultation and advised the government fully, we will not know the extent of any skills charge, but it seems clear that this will be introduced in some form.

Home Office Changes Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship Application Process

The Home Office announced on September 4, 2015, that it will change the operation of the Tier 2 (General) limit to maximize the number of places that can be allocated each month, within the overall annual limit of 20,700.

If the limit is oversubscribed, as it has been in each of the past three months, applications for Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (RCoS) are prioritized according to a points table. The available RCoS are allocated based on the highest number of points scored. Points are awarded based on whether the job is in a shortage occupation or a PhD-level occupation, and the salary offered.

Some of the points bands in the table are too wide. For example, jobs paying £32,000 to £45,999.99 all score 15 points for salary. Several immigration firms raised this issue with the Home Office at a meeting held in June, following the alarmingly high refusal rate of RCoS from the June allocation. They suggested narrowing the salary bands to increase the chance of an applicant who earns a lower salary to obtain an RCoS. They also raised the issue with the MAC, which is working with the Home Office to achieve this change. The Home Office will increase the number of salary bands in the points table. The revised (provisional) table is shown below:
Revised (Provisional) Points Table

Revised (Provisional) Points Table

This change would have meant, for example, that in June the Home Office would have been able to allocate RCoS to all non-shortage occupations with a salary of £34,000 or more, rather than £46,000 using the existing table. The prioritization given to shortage occupations and PhD-level occupations will remain unchanged.

The new table is provisional until the necessary changes to the immigration rules have been set before Parliament, but the Home Office said it intends to apply the new bands to the RCoS allocation meeting on October 12, 2015, applications for which opened on September 6. The September 11 allocation meeting used the existing points table.

The Home Office also said it intends to make one further change relating to the limit. Under the existing rules, RCoS must be assigned by sponsors within three months or they will expire. The change will enable the Home Office to return any such unused places to the limit, increasing the number of available RCoS. The Home Office did this informally for the August allocation by writing to sponsors to request the return of unused certificates, which amounted to an additional 648 certificates. This enabled those applicants earning a salary of £24,000 or above to qualify for an RCoS from the August allocation. The reallocation process will now be formalized and any RCoS unallocated after three months will be automatically returned to the pot.

This is welcome news and will significantly benefit those sponsors recruiting recent graduates from overseas.

Tier 2 Cap/Salary Preliminary Report

On August 13, 2015, the MAC published its report following a consultation on Tier 2 minimum salary thresholds. The report was a result of the United Kingdom's government commissioning the MAC to consult on increasing the minimum thresholds. The commission was split into two parts: the early advice on Tier 2 salary thresholds published now, and a wider review that will be delivered to the government at the end of the year. The MAC is not making any formal recommendations now, pending analysis of the results from the wider Tier 2 Review consultation, but has concluded that there is a good case for increasing the overall minimum threshold for Tier 2 (General).

The main points from the report are:

  • The government should be cautious in making any significant changes to salary thresholds at this stage;
  • Salary thresholds should be considered in conjunction with the wider Tier 2 Review findings and in particular the impact of introducing a skills levy on employers;
  • The MAC's preference is for occupation-specific salary thresholds rather than overall minimum salary thresholds for each of the Tier 2 categories;
  • At this stage, there is a case for increasing the overall minimum threshold for Tier 2 (General)-currently set at £20,800-because this figure was calculated in 2009 when the skill level requirement for migrant workers was much lower than it is now;
  • The minimum salary threshold for the intra-company transfer long-term category of £41,500 still appears appropriate;
  • There is little evidence to suggest that there is widespread undercutting of UK resident workers by Tier 2 migrants occurring under the current salary thresholds, but this is subject to further analysis;
  • The MAC will continue to assess evidence on variations in regional pay but takes the view that there are no major regional variations requiring urgent attention;
  • Further work is needed to consider the impact of the Tier 2 (General) monthly limit being reached in June and July, particularly for those lower-paying occupations not on the Shortage Occupation List that are at greater risk of being refused; and
  • The UK government should consider looking at health care roles/graduate recruitment schemes separately from the Tier 2 limit to address the issue of refusals for these categories in the short-term.

A summary news release from the MAC is available here. The full report is available here. A related survey can be found here.

- October 13, 2015

The Dutch government introduced the Startup Visa in 2015; requirements and early experiences are discussed.

On January 1, 2015, the Dutch government introduced a residence permit scheme for start-up companies. What are the requirements and what are the first experiences with this new permit scheme?


The Dutch government is interested in enhancing the ecosystem for startup companies with the goal of becoming a top-three startup hub within Europe. One of the instruments is a facilitated residence permit scheme for the owners of startup companies.

The general scheme for entrepreneurs has proven inadequate to accommodate the visa and residence needs of this category of businesses, mainly because of too-severe requirements in terms of capital demands and (forecasted) financial results. For startup companies, these demands often are hard to meet. A specific visa has been introduced where these demands don't apply. The "startup visa" can be issued to the owners of startup companies that have been selected by, and have signed a contract with, a Dutch facilitator; i.e., a company that offers professional support for setting up and growing startup businesses.


To sponsor a startup visa application, the facilitator must prove its expertise and reliability. In each case, this is assessed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA) upon request of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND). The main requirements are a proven track record of accompanying startups for at least two years, and a solid financial position.

The applying startup entrepreneur must substantiate that the product or service that is being developed is innovative, and that s/he will likely qualify for a permit based on the general points system within one year. This aspect is also assessed by MEA. The startup must provide a detailed milestone plan that includes:

  • the role the applicant fulfils in the startup;
  • the concept of the service or product the startup will deliver;
  • the innovativeness of the service or product; and
  • the milestones that need to be reached throughout the first year to take the startup from a mere concept to an actual undertaking.

The contract between the startup and the facilitator must describe:

  • the nature of the accompaniment and advice from the facilitator;
  • the conditions under which the accompaniment is offered; and
  • the stake that the facilitator has in the startup, if any.

Other Aspects

The startup visa is granted for one year and cannot be renewed. All persons participating in the startup company (e.g., as shareholders) are eligible for startup visas.

The anticipated total processing time is approximately four weeks. The first application was made on January 1, 2015, and was granted within five weeks. During that time, first the facilitator's track record was approved, and subsequently the innovativeness of the startup was assessed. In essence, both the MEA and the IND proved to be able to move very fast under this scheme.

Results So Far

Since the introduction of the scheme, about 10 permits have been granted, and about 50 applications are still pending or have been denied. Although this could relate to "startup" problems and is not necessarily a reflection on the new scheme, the government's special envoy for the improvement of the startup ecosystem, Neelie Kroes, has reportedly said that the number of visas granted should have been much higher by now, and that the new scheme is "a failure."

The EU Blue Card is Compared With the Knowledge Migrant Scheme; Several New Pieces of Legislation are Summarized - Jul 19, 2011

EU Blue Card and Dutch Migrant Scheme

The European Union (EU) Blue Card is a residence and work permit for highly skilled non-EU/EER nationals, so-called third-country nationals. The EU Blue Card does not provide full access to the EU labor market as such, but only to the labor market of the EU Member State that has issued the EU Blue Card. The implementation date of the European Directive on the EU Blue Card (2009/50/EG) was June 19, 2011. The Netherlands has implemented the EU Blue Card in the Dutch Immigration regulations.

What are the characteristics of the EU Blue Card? There are two main requirements: a salary threshold and a diploma of a post-secondary higher education program that lasted at least three years. The salay threshold is 1.5 times the average gross annual salary in the concerned EU member state. In the Netherlands the threshold is EUR 60,000. Before an application can be submitted, first the diploma must be recognised by a Dutch organization called International Credential Evaluation (, which specializes in validating diplomas. A decision on an EU Blue Card application may take up to 90 days.
The Dutch highly skilled migrant program, the Knowledge Migrant Scheme (KMR), will coexist beside the EU Blue Card. Compared to the KMR Scheme, the EU Blue Card procedure is laborious and slow. The KMR Scheme involves a salary threshold only, no skills or education test. The current salary thresholds are EUR 50,619 gross per annum for those aged 30 or over, and EUR 37,121 for those under the age of 30. The processing time for the visa is 2 weeks and for the residence card is 4 weeks.

The EU Blue Card, on the other hand, offers the advantage of some kind of intra-EU mobility after 18 months. The EU Blue Card holder may move, after this period, to another EU Member State for the purpose of employment under the conditions as set out by the EU Blue Card, without first having to request a visa.

Another advantage of the EU Blue Card is that absence of the EU Blue Card holder from the territory of the EU, for a period shorter than 12 consecutive months and up to a total of 18 months, will not interrupt the cumulations of 5 years of legal and continuous residence, after which a long-term (permanent) residence permit may be applied for.

New Netherlands Legislation
The Employment of Foreigners Act (EFA) demands work authorization for any type of work by a foreign national (non-EU/EEA/Swiss) for companies or individuals in The Netherlands. Non-compliance may result in administrative fines. The applicable amounts are:

  • € 8,000 per employee for employment without adequate work authorization
  • € 1,500 per employee if no copy of the original ID is stored in the company's records
  • 150% of these amounts per employee for a repeated offense

There is no maximum amount; the fine is calculated mathematically on the basis of the number of employees in violation, regardless of how many hours they have worked or what their position in the company was. The EFA prescribes that every violation will be fined, without previous warning.

In case of secondment, both the seconding company and the client that actually employs the foreign worker will be fined; they are both separately liable and payment by one company does not liberate the other. In case of contracted work, even multiple companies can be fined; every company in the chain of contracts, from the principal to the last subcontractor, is liable for the same offense and will be fined the same amount.
The Modern Migration Policy Act, expected to enter into force some time in 2011, introduces another set of administrative financial penalties in addition to the ones noted above. Under this new law, companies will have a duty to inform the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service about all relevant changes; must commit to careful recruitment of highly skilled migrants; and must keep any relevant piece of information with respect to the foreign worker on record for a period of 5 years after the employment has ended.

Violations may result in the following administrative sanctions, to be imposed on the company:

  • a warning for a first offense
  • € 3,000 per employee for a second offense
  • € 4,500 per employee for a repeated offense

• offenses of a very serious nature may result in blacklisting of the company and a temporary or even permanent ban from using the KMS

France's Ministry of Interior Has Instructed Labor Agencies to Apply Regulations in a Restrictive Manner - Jul 19, 2011

The Ministry of Interior has instructed labor agencies to apply regulations in a restrictive manner and to apply greater scrutiny to applications in order to reduce the number of foreigners legally working in France.

A circular issued May 31, 2011, by France's Ministry of Interior instructs labor authorities that issue work permits to apply the regulations in a restrictive manner and to apply greater scrutiny to applications to reduce the number of foreigners legally working in France. Intracompany transfers and secondment categories are not affected. However, processing times may increase for all categories.

The government previously made public statements of its restrictive policy, including immigration on professional grounds. In its May 31 circular, the Ministry of Interior has now taken concrete action. The circular provides detailed instructions for the labor authorities to implement the regulations more strictly and deepen their scrutiny of work permit applications.

Greater Scrutiny of Employers
The labor authorities are to deepen their scrutiny to verify the existence of the employer and its past and present compliance with labor, social security, and immigration regulations. Any violations may be sufficient grounds to deny a work permit application.

Greater Scrutiny of the Employment Offered
Labor market tests are to be applied strictly and an application is to be denied if market analysis reveals insufficiently high unemployment for the position sought to be filled or the possibility of filling the position by offering a training program in the near future. Any advertisement seeking candidates for a position must be displayed for a reasonable period of time. The Ministry of Interior now asks the labor authorities to consider "two or three months" as being reasonable, whereas in the past the labor authorities considered two or three weeks as reasonable.

Further, the labor authorities are being asked to evaluate whether the foreign worker is under- or overqualified for the employment offered. If he or she is underqualified, the application must be denied. If he or she is overqualified, the advertisement must be modified and published again. The authorities are being asked to verify that:

  • the compensation meets the appropriate thresholds, as determined by the collective bargaining agreements, market, and minimum compensation laws;
  • the candidate has adequate knowledge of the French language;

• the candidate is being provided adequate housing.

Greater Scrutiny of Change-of-Status Applications
The labor authorities are being urged to examine any change-of-status application very carefully, especially when such applications are made by foreign students. The circular states that the foreign student is supposed to return to his or her home country after the end of schooling. The circular seems to reverse the trend set earlier by the government favoring change-of-status applications made by foreign students who had earned a master's degree and sought employment in France in line with their qualifications.

Intracompany Transfers and Secondments Not Included
These restrictive measures are not being applied to work permit categories that receive preferential processing, such as intracompany transfers, secondments, and seasonal workers.

Increase in Processing Time
Because stricter scrutiny takes time, processing times may increase, including with respect to the preferred categories, such as intracompany transfers, secondments, and seasonal workers.

Change in the Business Visitors' Regime; the Belgian Chamber of Representatives Passed a Proposal to Tighten the Rules on Family Reunification that has not yet been Passed by the Belgian Senate; New Code on Labour and Social Security Criminal Law - Jul 19, 2011

In principle, any employment of a foreigner in Belgium requires a work permit, even if this employment is only for one day. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; for several activities no work permit is required. Two of these work permit exemptions, often invoked by business visitors, have been adapted recently.

1. Several short-term work permit exemptions have been in effect since October 8, 2007. Two exemptions are often invoked by foreign business visitors employed by a foreign employer.
a. Participation in meetings "in closed circle"
The Belgian work permit legislation does not further explain or interpret the wording "in closed circle." In comments regarding the LIMOSA (see #2 below) legislation, which uses the same wording, reference is made to "various types of meetings, mostly in the form of a so-called business trip: negotiations with a customer concerning contracts, conducting evaluation interviews with subordinates, strategy meetings in multinationals, etc." In practice, the authorities interpret "in closed circle" in a broad sense: almost any meeting will be in closed circle.
The stay in Belgium required for such a meeting cannot exceed 5 days per calendar month.
b. Attending scientific congresses
Foreign employees who attend scientific congresses in Belgium do not need a work permit, provided that their stay as required for attending the congress does not exceed 5 days per calendar month.

2. The two exemptions noted above have also been in effect since April 1, 2007, with regard to the LIMOSA obligation (this is the obligation to notify the posting of a foreign national to the Belgian social security authorities; the notification can be done online), albeit with an important difference: the duration of the allowable activities.
a. Participation in meetings "in closed circle"
The LIMOSA exemption extends to meetings lasting up to 60 days per calendar year and up to 20 consecutive calendar days per meeting.
b. Attending scientific congresses
There is no time limitation for the LIMOSA exemption: the exemption applies for the entire duration of the congress.

3. The "time discrepancy" between the work permit and the LIMOSA exemptions has been remedied recently by a Royal Decree of March 13, 2011, published in the State Gazette on March 29, 2011. The current situation for business visitors is as follows:
a. Participation in meetings "in closed circle"
The work permit and LIMOSA exemptions extend to meetings lasting up to 60 days per calendar year and up to 20 consecutive calendar days per meeting.
b. Attending scientific congresses
There is no time limitation for the work permit and LIMOSA exemptions: the exemption applies for the entire duration of the congress.

Family Reunification: Proposal for More Restrictive Rules
On May 26, 2011, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives passed a proposal to tighten the rules on family reunification. The proposal has not yet been passed by the Belgian Senate. The proposal has provoked a lot of reaction. Family reunification with a Belgian citizen will be subject to other, and more restrictive, rules than family reunification with a European Union citizen.

Compliance: New Code on Labour and Social Security Criminal Law
A new Code on Labour and Social Security Criminal Law took effect on July 1, 2011. It codifies existing compliance rules with regard to employment and social security related matters, and will also have an impact on compliance with business immigration laws. For example, for employment without a work permit of a foreigner, who is not entitled to residence in Belgium for more than 3 months, the maximum imprisonment term for the employer will increase but the maximum criminal fine will decrease.

UK Limits Migrants - Sep 21, 2010

The United Kingdom (UK) announced on June 28, 2010, that it will introduce limits on the numbers of non-European Union (EU) migrants coming to the UK under both the highly skilled and the sponsored routes of the Points Based System (PBS). The new Coalition Government's main immigration policy will mark the first-ever numerical limits on employment-related migration, which historically has been market-driven. The limits are a response to the levels of net migration to the UK, which have increased significantly since 2004 with the enlargement of the EU.

On July 19, 2010, the Government also introduced an interim limit, in effect until April 2011, aimed at reducing the number of certificates of sponsorship that each employer may assign to migrant workers under Tier 2 (General) and reducing the number of visas issued under the Tier 1 highly skilled category. Many employers, who had been allocated these certificates when they registered as licensed sponsors under the scheme, have had their allocation reduced significantly (in some cases to zero) and must now make requests for additional allocations of certificates, which the UK Border Agency states will be approved only "in exceptional circumstances."

The interim cap is already the subject of a legal challenge. With those extending their status in the UK given priority within the limits, employers who have paid to be licensed sponsors and have taken on significant compliance duties are now left with uncertainty about whether they can sponsor new hires from outside the EU.

Permanent limits will be introduced in April 2011. The UK government is undertaking a consultation process on how the limits should be imposed and, in particular, whether this should be on a first-come, first-served basis and whether intracompany transferees and family members should be included in the overall limit. For the points-based highly skilled route, a system of pooling, under which the highest-scoring applicants are picked from the pool each month, is also being considered.
There are significant concerns among major UK business groups and companies that the limits will damage the UK's reputation as a place to do business and its competitiveness in the global economy.

Germany Immigration Update - Jun 01, 2010

German residence and work permit regulations are a genuinely complex matter. Therefore, regulations have to be carefully observed when conducting international transfers. Even if the German labor market is basically still affected by the so-called ban on recruitment (i.e., the categorical ban on the recruitment of foreign employees), in practice foreign workers can be employed under certain circumstances.

In particular, the employment of highly qualified staff is facilitated in numerous ways. Nevertheless, there is a considerable accumulated need against the background of intensified global competition for the most qualified labor. Therefore, for example, the earnings level for executives and the highly skilled, which has been 86.400 € per year (until December 31, 2008) and presently amounts to 66.000 € per year (as of January 1, 2010), should be reduced further to enable medium-sized companies to employ such labor to a larger extent. There is also hope because of the intended omission of the examination of the labor market for engineers from the new EU member states.

Because Germany had elections in September 2009 resulting in a new coalition government between the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), further reforms or amendments of the existing laws on a larger scale are unlikely in the short- to midterm. Further developments remain to be seen.

In the meantime, the following excerpt from the coalition agreement may give a hint of the route the government is likely to take:

We want to increase the attractiveness of Germany for highly qualified staff and steer immigration to Germany. Administrative barriers must be reduced for qualified staff. Access for highly qualified foreigners and foreign experts must be adjusted to the requirements of the German labor market and structured according to coherent, clear, transparent, and weighted criteria based on need, qualification, and integration potential. In addition, we plan to review the regulations on self-employment, jobs for students with a German university degree, jobs for artists, athletes, and seasonal workers; and to strive for simplification. [Translated, edited.]

The same applies at the European Union (EU) level, where the EU "Blue Card," which had been put up for discussion in 2007, was recently adopted in May 2009 (Council Directive 2009/50/EC on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment; May 25, 2009). The EU Commission, with particular emphasis on work and residence permits for highly qualified employees from third countries (non-EU), intends to increase the competitiveness of the European economy via the Blue Card. The Blue Card is expected to attract experts to Europe instead of the U.S., Australia, or Canada. According to an analysis by the EU, the latter have been the preferred work countries until now.

The EU Commission wants to introduce a simplified, accelerated, and EU-standard admission process for persons who have special professional qualifications, an employment contract with a company based in the EU, and earnings at least triple the national minimum wage. By means of the Blue Card, highly qualified staff will be granted a residence and work permit that includes special rights; e.g., if accompanied by family members. The directive is intended to encourage further mobility within the EU of highly qualified individuals.

It acknowledges labor shortages and so its provisions are intended to:

foster admission and mobility - for the purposes of highly qualified employment - of third-country nationals for stays of more than three months, in order to make the [EU] Community more attractive to such workers from around the world and sustain its competitiveness and economic growth.

To reach these goals, it is necessary to facilitate the admission of highly qualified workers and their families by establishing a fast-track admission procedure and by granting them equal social and economic rights as nationals of the host Member State in a number of areas. It is also necessary to take into account the priorities, labor market needs and reception capacities of the Member States.

Belgian Corporate Immigration - Sep 03, 2009

Since September 2009 when the last update on Belgian corporate immigration was published in the ABIL Immigration Insider, Belgian regulations regarding corporate immigration have not been subject to many changes, and the global economic crisis has not led to a change in Belgian corporate immigration legislation.

The rules on the most common work permit, particularly the fast-track work permit B for non EEA highly skilled and executive-level personnel, are summarized below.

1. A fast-track work permit (meaning no resident labor is required) can still be obtained for, among others, highly skilled personnel and executive-level personnel earning a yearly gross salary exceeding a threshold, adapted on a yearly basis:

To be considered highly skilled, a foreign employee must have received higher education resulting in a degree, and the yearly gross salary must exceed EUR 36,355 (amount for 2010)/EUR 36,604 (amount for 2011);

Executive-level is legally defined as "the people in charge of the daily management of the company, who are authorized to represent and to bind the employer, as well as personnel, immediately under the authority of the people in charge of daily management, if they also carry out tasks of daily management." The yearly gross salary must exceed EUR 60,654 (amount for 2010)/EUR 61,071 (amount for 2011).

This fast-track work permit, valid for one year and renewable, is available for employees who meet the above conditions, regardless of whether they are seconded.
It is important to determine what is considered salary:

Pursuant to Belgian labor law rules, all amounts (e.g., gross wages, commissions, bonuses, premium at the end of the year, single and double holiday pay) paid in consideration for the employee's work are considered salary;

Cost-of-living allowances (COLA) (allowances to compensate costs of life in Belgium and/or allowances that aim to reimburse exceptional disbursements, not foreseeable in the employment contract, such as moving costs or school costs) are not considered salary because they do not enrich the employee.

The processing time may vary depending on the place of employment in Belgium (Brussels, Flanders or Wallonia). However, the fast-track work permit can be processed within a short period. Unless the authorities decide they need additional information and/or documentation, the average processing time is two to three weeks. There are no filing fees.

2. Dependents can join a non-EEA work permit holder in Belgium. Spouses and children under 18 are entitled to residence in Belgium. Common-law partners of work permit holders also may be eligible to join their partner in Belgium:

A "registered partnership, equivalent to marriage in Belgium" entitles a partner to residence in Belgium. The age threshold is 21 or, exceptionally, 18 years. At present, only registered partnerships from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom qualify;

Non-EEA common law partners may also cohabitate in Belgium provided (i) they enter into a registered partnership in Belgium, (ii) they have a "duly documented durable and stable relationship" for at least one year, (iii) they are both older than 21 (or 18) years, and (iv) they are both neither married nor involved in a durable relationship with another person.

The durability/stability of a relationship may be established as follows:

The partners can prove they have been living together, prior to the application, for at least one year (i) uninterrupted, (ii) legally, and (iii) in Belgium or abroad; or

The partners can prove they (i) have known one another for at least one year, (ii) have had frequent contact (by phone, mail, or e-mail), and (iii) have met at least three times before filing the application and that these meetings, all together, took at least 45 days; or

The partners have a child together.

Proof of sufficient housing in Belgium (registered lease contract or proof of ownership of the house) as well as comprehensive health insurance are required to be entitled to residence as a non-EEA common-law partner.

3. If a common-law partner is entitled to join his or her partner who holds a Belgian work permit, he or she is eligible for a fast-track work permit, as are spouses.

As a matter of fact, a spouse of a non-EEA national who holds a Belgian work permit is eligible for a fast-track work permit. Circular Letter of 17 December 2008 clarifies that the reference to "spouse" also includes "registered partners," who are entitled to reside in Belgium.