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Migrant Integration Governance in Belgium

Belgium is a Federal State with competences distributed across regions. Since the 1980s, most integration matters are managed by communities: French-, German- or Dutch-speaking. They set priorities for given periods and establish integration programmes for newcomer Third Country Nationals (TCNs). The national government however continues to organise a number of integration programmes, mainly in support of regional policies.

Statistics

Foreign population in Belgium

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 former colony 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 4337 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.

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.

The Walloon region was the first to issue a Decree setting integration priorities in 1996 for a period of 13 years. A second will follow in 2009. Both were designed by the Walloon Region - DG 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 3 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 of newcomers in 2016.

The Flemish Interior Ministry was the second to design an integration strategy in 2004. The 5-year document was implemented by local reception offices and organised the first compulsory integration programme of Belgium with 4 priorities:

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

6 other plans will follow. The latest one - Policy brief on Civic Integration and Integration - covers the period 2014 – 2019. It is also designed by the Flemish Interior Ministry but implemented by several actors and levels of power: the regional agency for (civic) integration, local language learning organisations and reception offices. The top 3 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 second language

The capital region Brussels also has a migrant integration strategy since 2017. The Order adopted in April of the same year was designed by the Common Community Commission and is to be implemented by reception offices BON, VIA and Bapa. The strategy organises a compulsory integration programme which top 3 priority areas are:

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

However, given that Brussels hosts both the Flemish and the Walloon communities, the 3 legislations of the 3 regions currently coexist in Brussels. This means that the Flemish and Walloon integration programmes will remain voluntary in Brussels until all 3 authorities have signed an agreement to execute the Order of April 2017, which makes them mandatory for newcomers from third countries.

Integration Programme

In theory, newcomer non-EU foreigners are to follow mandatory integration programmes in all 3 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, the Brussels Centre for Social Cohesion conducted a nation-wide evaluation of the migrant integration journeys in March 2016 as well as local reports in 2016 and 2017.

The Walloon government is currently reviewing an evaluation report.

Legislation

☑  Foreigners Law

The Belgian Foreigners law covers all foreigners, including refugees. The 1 June 2016 amendments limit the legal stay of recognised refugees to an initial 5 years.

  Asylum Law

Belgium does not have a dedicated Asylum legislation.

☑  Integration Law

Given the decentralisation of integration matters, there are 2 integration legislations: 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 introduces new reasons 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

On 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 3 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 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 of 21 individuals, some of which are representatives of NGOS.

Funding

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several funds. EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) is the most important one in terms of budget. The basic allocation for Belgium under EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund is €89 250 977. 32% of this amount is allocated to asylum and 29,5% to legal migration and integration. The integration aspect of the fund is coordinated by the Public Planning Service - Social Integration. Priorities reflect the integration programmes and include socio-professional orientation, vocational training and language courses. Belgian AMIF programme

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.

Public funding Private funding
  • 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