Changes in immigration status and purpose of stay in Belgium and in the EU (EMN)

Status changes are a relatively new field of study. This EMN-study was launched to collect information and knowledge on the existing possibilities for status changes in the EU (Member) States.

Background information

This study looks into the ways, and extent to which, (Member) States’ existing legal framework allows legally admitted third-country nationals to switch from one status to another.

(Member) States regulate immigration flows by providing, on the basis of their immigration legislation, specific channels for immigration, each of which relate to a specific purpose of stay. Respective to each “purpose” or “reason” for immigration, potential immigrants have to fulfil certain requirements in order to be granted access to the territory and be allowed to stay there. Also, third-country nationals admitted under one channel may seek to change their position in order to meet all the requirements of another status and hence remain legally on the territory of a (Member) State.

The aim of this study is to provide an analysis and further understanding of the conditions in place in EU (Member) States that regulate the changes of status between different categories of third-country nationals. Therefore, this study addresses the criteria for issuing a particular authorisation to stay/residence permit and the rights associated with the authorisation or permit, while comparing it with the legal framework that allows status changes.

Belgian study

The study is divided into four sections. Here are some of the key points:

Section 1 – Overview of the national migration system in place regarding changes of status:

  • Although the general legal rule in Belgium is that a request for a residence permit needs to be submitted from abroad, since 2007 TCNs can change their residence status in Belgium to almost any possible other residence status, as long as the TCN is in legal stay at the moment of filing the request and meets the eligibility conditions that are linked to the immigration status that he/she wants to obtain.
  • The rationale behind the facilitation of status changes in Belgium initially seemed to be of an economic nature, being to facilitate the stay of TCNs who match the labour market needs. Over the years, the scope of status changes was expanded and now, the Immigration Office allows almost every change of status as long as the applicant meets all the eligibility criteria.

Section 2 – Overview of the admission criteria

Section 3 – National legal framework on change of status whilst remaining on Belgian territory.

  • Switching from one immigration status to another while in Belgium is possible between most existing immigration categories in Belgium. The number of switches is not restricted by quotas.
  • The only limitation applies to certain TCN’s with a pending residency application right that allows them to stay in Belgium while their application is processed (like asylum seekers) or those that are irregularly staying.
  • The level of rights that is linked to each immigration status following a status change, are fairly similar.

Section 4- Challenges, good practices and lessons learned

  • No general obstacles specifically related to status changes for TCNs in Belgium, as long as the TCN is in legal stay in Belgium.
  • The only general obstacle is the fact that the ample possibilities to change status are not very well known and that there are no official data available on status changes.
  • Limited number of specific challenges are identified in the study.

For futher information, please read the full Belgian study (attached).

EU Synthesis

The Synthesis report is based on contributions from EMN National Contact Points in 24 Member States (the national reports can be found here). The EMN Inform summarizes the findings from the study.

Among other key points, the synthesis report highlights:

  • In most cases, Member States require TCNs to lodge a first residence application from abroad. However, when a TCN is already (legally) residing on the territory of a Member State, s/he is often allowed to apply for a change of the existing migration status without having to leave the country.
  • All Member States have at least some legal possibilities to allow for changes to migration statuses (they are more or less restrictive). The main drivers of Member States to allow for such changes are primarily economic in nature.
  • The admission criteria and conditions when applying for a change of status do not differ much from those for first time applicants in the majority of Member States. Where criteria differ, they are in most cases reduced in comparison to those for first time applicants.
  • Changes from education reasons into another status are those most often legally allowed in the Member States and they are also the changes which are most often made in the EU. Changes from remunerated activities are the second most frequent changes made in the EU. Although often legally possible, changes from family reasons are least frequent.
  • Few Member States have evaluated the effectiveness or impact of national policies allowing changes of status. Some studies do exist (e.g. studies carried out in France and Spain showed that legislative changes facilitating status change can make a positive contribution to the economy as well as facilitate integration).
  • Member States also highlighted some challenges encountered, in particular with regard to the absence of research on status changes ; misuse and abuse of the change of status by migrants or their sponsors or employers ; and a lack of access to information on status change possibilities (e.g. in Belgium).
  • Good practices have been identified in several Member States, mostly with regard to the ability to retain talent by offering status change opportunities, in particular of international students who have successfully completed their studies.

For further information, please read the full Synthesis Report (attached).

Publication Date:
Thu 28 Jul 2016
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