The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union: Information for British employees of international organisations in Belgium

 

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The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31st, 2020 at midnight. Nevertheless, the Withdrawal Agreement, which came into force on February 1st, provides for a transition period. During this transition period, which will last until December 31st, 2020, all rights UK citizens previously held as citizens of the European Union will be maintained. This means that UK citizens will still be able to exercise their right to settle in another member state of the EU under EU law during this period. UK citizens who have exercised this right by December 31st can be beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, and maintain their right of residence after the end of the transition period, provided that the necessary steps are taken to this end.

As the end of the transition period approaches, the Protocol Directorate of the Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation wishes to provide the following information to holders of special residence permits, with regard to the impact of the withdrawal of the UK on their right of residence: The right to obtain and hold a special residence permit is not linked to the nationality of the holders, but rather to their function or their status as family members. As long as a person is employed by an international organization, a consulate or a diplomatic mission, that person, as well as his or her family members, will be entitled to a special residence permit for the duration of the function, regardless of whether or not the UK is a member of the EU.

Holders of special residence permits may wish to register in their municipality as beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement. In this regard, the Protocol Directorate can confirm the following: The EU has stated that UK nationals who are employees of international organisations in an EU Member State, are workers pursuant to Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. As such, they are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, provided that they resided in that EU Member State before the end of the transition period. This means that international officials who wish to give up their special residence permit and register with their municipality of residence are eligible to obtain the so-called M card, which proves their status as beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement. Employees of international organisations who are holders of special residence permits, and who resided legally in Belgium before the end of the transition phase, will continue to be regarded as falling under the Withdrawal Agreement after the end of the transition phase. This means that employees of international organisations who reside in Belgium with a special residence permit at the end of the transition phase will fall under the Withdrawal Agreement, and can register with their municipality of residence under beneficiary status at any time (this includes the period after the transition phase) under certain conditions. The most important of these conditions are that a potential beneficiary must obtain the cancellation of his or her special residence permit before registering as a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement with the municipality, and that this registration as beneficiary must take place within three months after the cancellation of the special residence permit. It is also important to note that after holding a special residence permit type P or S for five years, UK nationals who are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement are entitled to an M card which grants permanent residence. Employees of international organisations who resided in Belgium before the end of the transition period, but who were not registered with the Protocol under a special residence permit, will have the opportunity to demonstrate their timely residence in Belgium and status as employees of international organisations by any other means (e.g. contract). However, holders of special residence permits who wish to register with their municipality of residence while still employed by their international organisation, should bear in mind that this may affect their privileges and immunities. According to some host country agreements, the Organization, not the employees themselves, can waive the privileges of its agents; this waiver must always be express.

First-degree family members of UK employees of international organisations who resided in Belgium under special residence permits before the end of the transition phase are eligible for the same status under the Withdrawal Agreement as the holder of the function. If these family members choose to register with the municipality, they will be regarded as family members of a UK national who is a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement. Family members of beneficiaries who arrive in Belgium after the end of the transition period may also benefit from the same status under certain conditions. UK family members of employees of international organisations who have the nationality of a third country, can be considered beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement after a stay under special residence permit, if they provide proof of sufficient means of income (this can be their partner’s income).

In order to facilitate the process of requesting the status of beneficiary, a memo is available here to all UK holders of a special residence permit and their family members who may be eligible for the status of beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement. This note contains more information on the procedure to be followed in order to request an M card as beneficiary from their municipality of residence. The Protocol Directorate wishes to point out this note is purely informative, and that the decision regarding who can be considered a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement falls under the purview of the Immigration Office (DVZ/ODE).

UK nationals who are employees of international organisations and who arrive on or after January 1st, 2021 will still be entitled to the special residence permit. However, if they wish to register with their municipality of residence, they will be regarded as third country nationals. Belgian immigration law as well as the EU legal migration acquis will be applicable.

For more information about the procedures and regulations applicable in Belgium, please refer to your municipality of residence, or to the website of the Belgian Immigration Office. Please bear in mind that questions regarding Belgian nationality fall under the sole responsibility of the FPS Justice. Therefore, the FPS Foreign Affairs respectfully requests that questions on this matter be addressed to the FPS Justice or the municipality of residence.

Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice, something which neither the Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs, nor the Belgian embassy in London can provide.