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The employment of foreign workers


Principle foreign workers

An important distinction must be made between 2 categories:

  • foreign employees originating from the EEA (European Economic Area)
  • foreign employees originating from countries other than the EEA, also called third country nationalss

foreign employees originating from the EEA

. The European Economic Area (EEA) includes all EU countries including Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. Concretely, these are the following countries:

External workers originating from other countries (third country nationals)

For employees coming from countries that are not part of the EEA, different rules apply. These rules must be strictly applied. Moreover, the rules are not always the same. Depending on the time of the application for the permit and the right of residence of the employee, they may differ.

Applications made before January 1, 2019

For applications made before 1 January 2019, the former rules will continue to apply. As a transitional measure, these employment cards remain valid until their expiry date.

Work Card A: Employees in possession of a Work Card A may perform any job with any employer for an unlimited duration. The A permit will eventually be abolished and replaced by a single permit of indefinite duration.

Work permit B: Workers with a work permit B may carry out a specific job for a specific employer. The type B work permit remains valid for employment of less than 90 days and for frontier workers and au pairs. There are still a number of specific conditions to be taken into account, such as the limit of 20 hours per week for a student during the school year.

Work card C: Workers holding a work card C may carry out any type of work for a fixed period (maximum 12 months). This card will be abolished. Workers who used to be eligible for a type C work permit may now work on the basis of their temporary residence permit (asylum seekers, family reunification workers, etc.). He will receive a new identity card stating "access to employment: unrestricted"


Employees with an electronic foreigner's card

Employees with an unrestricted right of residence in Belgium are exempt from needing a work permit. This group of workers is allowed to work in Belgium on the basis of their electronic foreigner card. More concretely, these are workers with an electronic foreigner card B, C, D, F or F+.

Employees with an electronic foreigner card H (the blue card) do not have to have a separate work permit either. This card is both a residence permit and a work permit and is issued to highly skilled workers.

Foreigners with an electronic foreigner card A have a right of residence of limited duration and are therefore not allowed to work without a work permit or combined permit.

The electronic cards will remain after January 2019, whether or not in adapted form. If applicable, the access to employment will be added: limited, unlimited or no.

Applications submitted after 1 January 2019 (single permit or combined permit)

Since 1 January it is possible to apply for a single permit. This allows one to follow one application process , which gives both admission to stay and access to work. Concretely, this means that work permits A and C are no longer issued separately (except in certain cases).

  • A "short stay" whereby the employee will stay and work in Belgium for a maximum of 90 days. The employee must apply for a type B work permit. The stay is limited to the duration of employment.
  • a "long stay" where the worker will stay and work in Belgium for more than 90 days. A combined permit can be applied for.

The combined permit can be requested from the region and is issued by the Immigration Department. The maximum duration for going through the procedure is 120 days, but usually it will take less time (4 to 5 weeks). There is also a faster procedure for renewals. However, one has to take into account that the application for renewal or modification of the single permit must be submitted at least two months before the expiry date. Moreover, the application for the permit remains a complex procedure since several actors are involved. On the one hand there is the competent region for the admission to the labour market (regional), on the other hand there is the Immigration Department (Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken - DVZ) which is responsible for the admission to reside (federal).

The permit always mentions "access to the labour market". These indications only relate to access to the labour market and have no influence on the residence status or the duration of residence. There are three possible entries:

  • "Limited": limited in duration and limited to one employer
  • "Unlimited": unlimited in duration and valid for all employers
  • "No": no permission to work

As an employer, it is also advisable to remain vigilant throughout the period of employment. With the introduction of the single permit, it is still possible that an employee meets all the conditions at the beginning of the employment (valid single permit), but that this situation changes in the course of the employment. The employer is still not automatically informed of this.


Before hiring a foreign worker, it is important to carefully analyze the situation of the foreign worker and to comply with the administrative procedures. Always consult the administrative authorities before taking further steps. Infringements of the employment of foreign workers are severely sanctioned. A foreign worker who legally resides in Belgium is not always allowed to work in Belgium.

With the introduction of the single permit, a big step forward has been made in the administrative simplification of the work permit. Practice shows, however, that the procedure has become more complex than originally thought and that there are still many ambiguities. Caution and vigilance are therefore still required during the entire period of employment.


Heidi Vergauwe

Dedicated and meticulous Payroll & HR Advisor, always willing to go for the extra (s)mile!