One of the most wanted countries in Europe , in terms of asylum, is Belgium; however, it has restructured its laws related to immigration and reception of refugees , making the process now a little more strict and selective . And it is that, since the beginning of 2022, the number of applications for international protection has fluctuated significantly, going from 31,910 in 2022 to 44,660 in 2022; this great difference being the reason for said legislative reform .
With the legislative restructuring , by the year 2022, only 12,827 refugee applications were received in the territory, of which 31% were approved. Most of the foreigners were people from Afghanistan, Montenegro, Burundi, Syria and Eritrea .
The foregoing has made it possible to estimate that 17.2% of the Belgian population is foreign; this being a very high percentage, compared to other countries on the continent . Therefore, if you want to be part of the statistic, find out below what are the steps to obtain international protection in that nation.
First considerations for applying for protection in Belgium
In principle, please note that there are two types of protection: refugee status and subsidiary status. However, you must make a single request and the General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA) determines whether you qualify for one or the other, in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention.
The residence permit obtained by the refugee status is valid for five years; and after that period it changes to permanent, as long as there is no revocation of the aid. In the case of subsidiary protection, the legal stay is for one year, although renewable, and after five years, if authorized by the CGRA, it may be unlimited.
Finally, consider that the competent body for the initial registration of asylum applications is the immigration office. The same will rule which country is responsible for the request according to the Dublin regulation, so it is important that:
- You make a direct trip to Belgium.
- You do not have family members in a country that is also governed by the regulation.
- You have not applied for a travel, stay or work permit in a nation that is covered by the Dublin Convention.
Types of asylum procedures in Belgium
Belgium establishes three types of procedures for asylum seekers, where the main difference will be the established deadlines. These are:
In this case, the deadline is six months after receipt of the application sent by the immigration office. This period may be extended for nine more months in the case of complex cases or if there is a high number of requests at that time. Therefore, the law establishes a maximum period of 21 months.
However, the CGRA may give priority to a specific case. A common example is when the applicant is in prison, or simply if the immigration office or the Secretary of State for Asylum and Immigration requires it.
Regardless of the above-mentioned deadlines, there will be a mandatory interview. Some exceptions to this rule, however, are:
- The police station is able to grant refugee status based only on the documents accompanying the application.
- The applicant cannot be interviewed for justifiable reasons, such as motor or mental limitations.
- The CGRA can make a decision, either positive or negative, based on the documentation submitted.
An interpreter will be present at the interview and you may even choose your gender. You will also have the right to make objections and add comments to the written report of the meeting up to eight days after you receive the photocopy of the office.
If the CGRA denies protection, you may file an appeal with the Alien Contentious Council (CEE) within 30 days. They have the responsibility to conduct a judicial review to:
- Reverse the decision of the CGRA, granting you international protection status.
- Confirm the negative decision of the CGRA or annul the decision if they consider that essential information is missing to resolve the appeal.
- If further investigation by the CGRA is necessary, then the EWC has only three months to notify you. However, given the high demand for petitions, the board takes slightly longer.
The term for decision making by the CGRA is reduced to 15 days . Likewise, an interview is carried out under the same conditions as in the normal procedure and, if the person is detained, it is carried out in the detention center . Asylum applications will be processed on an expedited basis, if you:
- Mention irrelevant grounds for international protection.
- You come from a safe country of origin.
- Present false documents and are quickly determined by the authorities.
- Destroy or delete the identity or travel document to enjoy more benefits in Belgium.
- You state inconsistent, false, contradictory or improbable arguments.
- You make an asylum application subsequent to the one that has been admitted.
- You enter the country irregularly and prolong your stay in a similar manner, without sufficient reasons not to present yourself or apply for asylum as soon as possible.
- You do not comply with the obligation to provide your fingerprints.
- You are considered a threat to public order or national security.
Belgium has a list of safe countries of origin, which is reviewed annually, and is currently composed of: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, India and Georgia. If you come from any of them, you must present consistent arguments demonstrating the insecurity you face.
If the CGRA, after the interview, rejects your application for international protection, you can appeal to the EWC within 10 days. In addition, please note that because of the expedited process, you will receive a notice of removal directly from the Immigration Office so that you can voluntarily return to your country within a maximum of seven days.
All applications generated at Belgian international borders have a processing time of 28 days to be examined by the CGRA. From there, the agency will determine whether it is inadmissible or cannot be channeled through the accelerated procedure. If the period elapses and there is no response, then the immigration department authorizes entry into the country immediately.
If the above happens, you will be transferred to the Federal Reception System for asylum seekers, in order to re-channel the process through a normal procedure. However, there is a possibility that the border agency may determine that you will have to be detained for a longer period of time.
General procedural steps
Beyond the types of procedures applied and the associated deadlines , there is a set of steps that are fulfilled in each of them; which are:
Step 1. Record
When you are inside Belgium, go to the ‘Petit Château’ registration center at the Immigration Office. Here they will make you:
- security log
- Determination of identity, based on the documentation presented.
- Study on your language proficiency to find out if you need the assistance of an interpreter.
- Capture of fingerprints and taking of a photograph, in order to determine if you are already registered in another European country, according to the Dublin Exam.
- Medical exam
- Economic study to define if you need to be part of the reception system.
Remember that from abroad you will not be able to submit an asylum application and no person will be able to do so on your behalf. Your children under the age of 18 , who arrive with you in Belgium, will follow the same procedure and if you require legal advice you will have the right to a free lawyer .
With regard to the Dublin Examination , keep in mind that it is a brief interview carried out by an official from the Immigration Office to determine whether or not Belgium is responsible for processing your asylum application . In case of considering the transfer of the case and yourself to another nation, you will be notified and you will have the right to an appeal before the SCC court.
Step 2. First interview
You must attend an interview with the Immigration Office at the following address: Boulevard Pacheco 44, 1000 Brussels. During it, they will ask you questions about your identity , family situation, place of residence, travel itinerary and the reasons that forced you to apply for asylum.
It should be noted that it will be essential that you present all original identity documents and any evidence supporting your reasons for seeking asylum in Belgium. If possible, give a detailed and chronological account of the relevant events in your home country.
On the same day, you should fill out a specific procedural needs form, indicating the reasons, which, in the future, may prevent you from fully continuing with the asylum procedure. If an adjustment is necessary, the CGRA will make appropriate arrangements in advance.
Then, the Immigration Office will transfer your file to the CGRA to study your application. In other words, the police station will evaluate whether you should be granted asylum, either because you are fleeing persecution due to your nationality, ethnicity, political or religious opinions or because you belong to a certain social group, or because of the presence of war, torture or inhumane treatment.
Step 3. Second interview
It is very likely that it will be a long time before the summons letter for the second interview arrives , either by post or at your reception center . It could even be that the CGRA first cites people who started the process later. The extension of the waiting period will depend on different aspects, starting with the fact that the investigation will start only after the file is transferred .
The time goal established for said notification is four months , after the transfer of the file. Although it is possible that the waiting period is greater than one year, even up to more than two years. If this happens to you, make the most of the waiting time to:
- Contact the CGRA if you have specific needs.
- Confirm registered address.
- Contact your lawyer for advice.
- Gather the documentation and evidence necessary to validate your case.
- Prepare for the interview, rehearsing each aspect to be addressed.
Now, the second interview is the most important part of the process. The CGRA protection officer will ask you questions about who you are , your origin , what your life was like in your country , how you came to Belgium , about your personal documents, the reason why you left your nation and why you cannot return to it.
Tell what has happened to you personally, because during the meeting the credibility of your story will be evaluated . That is why it is essential to illustrate in detail , with evidence , the true situation that you experienced. If for some reason you don’t know the answer to a question, say so; that is, do not invent anything.
It should be noted that the second interview will take place at the CGRA: Rue Ernest Blerot 39, 1070 Brussels . A place that is easily accessible by public transport .
Step 4. Decision on the asylum application
The waiting period for a final decision varies, although the usual time frame is two months after the second interview, provided that no further investigation is necessary. If so, this could take years. The CGRA understands that the stress and insecurity of the petitioners increases over time, so it will notify progress gradually.
There are only two types of decisions that grant you the right to asylum and residence in Belgium:
- Refugee status
- Subsidiary protection status
But if the CGRA’s decision is negative, it means that you were not admitted; and, therefore, if you are not satisfied, you will have the right to appeal the resolution of the case. The deadline for this will depend on the type of rejection, so it will be essential that you seek legal advice.
Can an asylum seeker work in Belgium?
The law states that any asylum seeker whose asylum procedure lasts more than 21 months may apply to the competent regional authorities for a temporary work permit. If this is your case, then you will have the right to work until the CGRA makes a decision.
If you are self-employed, you can apply for a professional card that accredits you; that is to say, you will be able to access risk-free projects or develop small businesses. In summary, Belgium is a pioneer country in the area of international protection and being home to most of the EU institutions, it becomes an excellent option to seek refuge, as long as you comply with its requirements.