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Governance of Migrant Integration in Belgium

Belgium is a Federal State with competences distributed across regions. Since the 1980s, most integration matters have been managed by the country’s language communities: French-, German- or Flemish-speaking. While the national government is in charge of immigration matters, language communities’ governments set priorities for given periods and establish integration programmes for newly arrived third-country nationals (TCNs).

Statistics

Migration is a central aspect of Belgium’s history and special identity. On 1 January 2016, 450 800 TCNs were living in Belgium. They accounted for 4% of the total population.

Most came from former labour partners Morocco (14%) and Turkey (7%) and the former colony of Congo (3%). Most arrived in the country to unite with family members, study or work. In 2016 for example, Belgium issued 20 440 permits for family reunification, 10 048 for studies and 4 337 for professional reasons.

 

Besides the foreign population, there are more than 720,000 Belgian nationals with third country origin. 27,727 of them were naturalised in 2016.

In 2020, 144 169 people migrated to Belgium while 720 000 left the country. As a result the migratory balance has fallen by 24.1%, probably due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Integration Strategy

To integrate or foster the inclusion of these migrant populations, the regional governments have altogether set up 11 integration plans: 1 in Brussels, 7 in Flanders and 3 in Wallonia.

Wallonia was the first to issue a decree setting integration priorities in 1996 for a period of 13 years, followed by a second decree. Both were designed by the Directorate General for local authorities and social affairs and implemented by the regional Centres for Integration and through local initiatives carried out by public services or NGOs. The top three priority areas are:

  • social cohesion within an intercultural society
  • equal access to services
  • social and economic participation

The third decree (2014) organises the integration of third country nationals around a newly introduced integration programme (parcours d’intégration) that includes 120 hours of French language training, 20 hours of citizenship training and professional orientation. The programme became mandatory for newcomers in 2016.

The Flemish Interior Ministry was the second to design an integration strategy in 2004. The five-year document was implemented by local reception offices and organised the first compulsory integration programme of Belgium with four priorities:

  • social orientation, including values and norms
  • active citizenship, including rights and duties
  • Dutch as a second language
  • employment

Other plans followed, including the Policy brief on Civic Integration and Integration which covers the period 2014 – 2019. It was also designed by the Flemish Interior Ministry but was implemented by several actors and at different levels of government: the regional agency for (civic) integration, local language learning organisations and reception offices. The top three priority areas are:

  • fight against ethnic divide and the weak educational attainment of TCNs
  • improve equal access to services
  • increase the knowledge of Dutch as a second language

The capital region, Brussels, has had a migrant integration strategy since 2017. The Order, adopted in April 2017, was designed by the Common Community Commission and is to be implemented by the reception offices BON, VIA and Bapa. The strategy organises a compulsory integration programme with the following top three priorities:

  • citizenship training
  • French or Dutch as second languages
  • social and economic participation

However, given that Brussels hosts both the Flemish- and French-speaking communities, the legislation not only of Brussels but also the Flemish- and French-speaking communities coexist in Brussels. This means that the Flemish and Wallonian integration programmes will remain voluntary in Brussels until all three authorities have signed an agreement to execute the Order of April 2017, which would make the programmes mandatory for newcomers from third countries. Numerous adjustments remain to be carried out before the Order is put in practice and the integration programmes become mandatory.

The German-speaking community issued a decree in 2018 (modified in 2020) making integration programmes mandatory for immigrants under certain circumstances, such as being a non-EU national and having settled in the region after the promulgation of the decree. Other immigrants may attend integration programmes on a voluntary basis. As stated in the decree, integrations programmes must include:

  • language courses;
  • integration courses;
  • counselling interviews for socio-professional orientation.

Until now, integration programmes have remained cost-free for all participants across the country. This may soon change, though, as the Flemish government is currently working on a proposal that would set the price of these mandatory programmes at 360€ per person.

Integration Programme

In theory, newly arrived non-EU foreigners must follow mandatory integration programmes in all three regions. In practice, it is still voluntary in Brussels for administrative reasons explained above.

Programmes include:

☑  language courses;

☑  civic education;

☑  vocational training.

Evaluation

Neither the integration programmes nor the integration strategies are officially evaluated. However, diverse associations and research centres have investigated the integration of migrants in Belgium. In 2014, Jacobs and Adam published a wide analysis of the two existing models of integration and the role of multilevel governance. The Brussels Centre for Social Cohesion conducted a nationwide evaluation of migrant integration journeys in March 2016 and published local reports in 2016 and 2017. The University of Liège (ULiège) and IWEPS (Institut Wallon de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la statistique) have published a report evaluating integration programmes in Wallonia in 2019.

The government of Wallonia is currently reviewing an evaluation report.

Legislation

☑  Foreigners Law

The Belgian foreigners law covers all foreigners, including refugees. A 1 June 2016 amendment limited the legal stay of recognised refugees to an initial 5 years.

  Asylum Law

Belgium does not have dedicated asylum legislation. In case of an asylum application, the Belgian State examines whether the foreigner meets the criteria set out in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

☑  Integration Law

Given the decentralisation of integration matters, there are two pieces of legislation on integration: the Decree of 7 June 2013 and the Walloon code for social action and health. In Brussels, there is a decree of the French Community Commission and Ordonnance of the Common Community Commission.

☑  Nationality Law

The Circulaire of 8 March 2013 introduced new grounds to reject naturalisation applications. The process of naturalisation is detailed in the Belgian Nationality code.

☑  Anti-discrimination

The Law of 10 May 2007 fighting certain forms of discrimination clarifies the distribution of competencies regarding anti-discrimination in the Belgian federal structure, while the Law of 30 July 1981 punishes racist and xenophobic acts.

Public authorities

At the federal level, the Asylum and Migration Secretary of State, under the Ministry of Interior, leads migrant integration governance. Within this structure, the Immigration Office grants access to the Belgian territory as well as residence permits. In addition, the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons evaluates asylum applications and issues asylum decisions, while the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum seekers is in charge of their reception and early integration.

There are also three regional authorities in charge of integration in Belgium. In Flanders, it is the Agency for Civic Integration, which also analyses integration statistics and organises language courses and socio-professional orientation. Integration is the responsibility of the Directorate General for local authorities and social affairs in Wallonia and of the French Community Commission in Brussels.

In addition, local authorities are involved in all integration programmes, particularly in the design of citizenship and languages courses. In some cases, they are also involved in the selection of projects to be financed in the framework of the integration strategy.

Civil society

The Consultative Committee for Foreigners is Belgium’s consultative body on integration. It is made up of 21 individuals, some of whom are representatives of NGOS.

Funding

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. In addition, national, regional and private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.

 EU Funds

  • Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Belgium

Details

The total allocation for Belgium under AMIF over the 2014-2020 period is € 179,127,447. 32% of this amount is allocated to asylum and 29,5% to legal migration and integration. Priorities include socio-professional orientation, vocational training and language courses. Belgian AMIF programme

National managing authority

The integration aspect of AMIF in Belgium is coordinated by the Public Planning Service - Social Integration.

  • European Social Fund (ESF) in Belgium

Details

The ESF is contributing over 973 million to Belgium over the 2014-2020 period. The funds are divided into different regional operational programmes.

National managing authority

The managing authorities for the European Social Fund (ESF) in Belgium are:

Brussels-Capital Region: Actiris

Flanders: Department of Work and Social Economy, section for the ESF and Sustainable Entrepreneurship

German-speaking community: Ministry of the German-Speaking Community

Wallonia and the French-speaking community: Agence FSE

  • Other EU funds for integration available in Belgium

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

Flemish community: EPOS(Education and Training), JINT (Youth in Action)

French-speaking community: AEF Europe (Education and Training), Bureau International Jeunesse (Youth in Action)

German-speaking community: Jugendbüro

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

Brussels-Capital Region: Brussels Regional Public Service (SPRB-GOB)

Flanders: Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO)

Wallonia: Public Service of Wallonia – Office of Secretary General

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: Public Planning Service - Social Integration

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities

Flanders: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Wallonia: SPW Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment

 Other Funds

  • Other public funding in Belgium

In Brussels and Wallonia, the Social Cohesion Fund of the French Community Commission provides support to NGO projects dedicated to the fight against discrimination, exclusion and racism.

In Flanders, the Agency for Internal Public funding publishes specific calls for projects aimed to support the regional integration policy.

  • Private funding in Belgium

The Evens Foundation support projects that promote a diverse and multicultural Europe.

The Bernheim Foundation finances projects addressing social cohesion and providing civic education to young people

Other stakeholders

☑  Implementing integration programme

☒  Providing integration services

☒  Campaigning

☑  Publishing statistics