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Reform of the European Blue Card: what does it mean for Belgium?

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The Directive reforming the European Blue Card system will introduce more flexible conditions to facilitate the recruitment of third-country nationals in member states. In Belgium, the Regions will have considerable autonomy in how they implement it, and what salary thresholds apply.

Directive 2021/1883 of 20 October 2021 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of highly qualified employment was recently published in the Official Journal of the European Union. This Directive, which must be transposed into national law by 18 November 2023, aims to make it easier for European companies to attract the non-European workers they need to develop their activities. Below we provide an overview of the new rules and the potential consequences in Belgian legislation.

Need for reform

Until now, the number of European Blue Cards issued by member states has remained rather low. This lack of interest is attributed, among other things, to the overly restrictive conditions, the lack of facilities for intra-EU mobility, or competition with other possibilities under national law for the recruitment of highly qualified workers.

It is mainly for the latter reason that the number of EU Blue Cards issued in Belgium has remained so low (118 Cards in 2020). In Belgium, indeed, this category competes with the broader category of highly qualified workers, which has lower salary thresholds.

Reform leaves leeway to Member States

The main axes of the reform of the European Blue Card are described below.

More flexible conditions

The salary threshold is reduced to a range between 100 and 160% of the average gross annual salary, with the possibility of a range between 80 and 100% for shortage occupations and for young graduates. The minimum duration of an employment contract is also reduced to six months instead of the current one year.

More intra-EU mobility

On the one hand, the Directive provides for a right to short-term intra-EU mobility allowing the European Blue Card holder to reside and work in another Member State for 90 days in any 180-day period without the need for an authorisation. On the other hand, the Directive provides for a right to long-term intra-EU mobility allowing the European Blue Card holder, after 12 months of legal residence in the first member state, to reside and work in a second Member State by submitting an application in the second member state no later than one month after entry into the territory of that country. For both short- and long-term mobility, specificities exist depending on whether or not Member States fully apply the Schengen acquis.

Equivalence of skills

The Directive facilitates the recognition of professional skills for certain professions in the information and communication technology sector. Applicants with professional experience equivalent to a higher education degree in certain particular sectors will also be able to submit an application.

However, as is the case now, the new Directive does not prejudice member states from issuing permits other than a European Blue Card for the purpose of highly qualified employment. Disparities between national laws will therefore continue to exist.

Transposition in Belgium

In Belgium, the Regions will have great latitude in transposing the above-mentioned Directive. The success of the European Blue Card will depend in particular on the salary thresholds that will be set by them.

Action point

Once Directive 2021/1883 has been transposed into Belgian law, that is, by 18 November 2023 at the latest, it will be necessary to consider, when recruiting a third-country national, if this person could be eligible for a European Blue Card. The attractiveness of this permit will however depend on the choices made by the Belgian Regions when transposing the new Directive.

Sophie Maes
Partner - Belgium
Claeys & Engels