Migrant access to social security - policy and practice in Belgium and the EU (EMN)

This study provides an overview of the social security entitlements of certain categories of immigrants in Belgium. It also analyses the socio-economic position of immigrants in Belgium.

Belgian study

The study analyses the main eligibility criteria and benefit content of the Belgian social security branches, as organised in the MISSOC database (www.missoc.org ):

  • health insurance (health care, sickness cash benefits, maternity and paternity benefits, invalidity benefits)
  • retirement and survival pensions
  • benefits for accidents at work and occupational diseases
  • family benefits
  • unemployment benefits
  • guaranteed minimum income resources (integration income, social aid, guaranteed income for the elderly, guaranteed family benefits, disabled persons’ benefits)
  • long-term care benefits

For every social security branch the conditions and limitations for immigrants are listed. The study further offers an assessment whether a nexus between social security and immigration policy has been established by policymakers in Belgium in recent years.

For the main branches of social security, the study also gives a more in-depth analysis of possible conditions and criteria in social security legislation that could affect immigrants, such as minimum residence or employment periods, exportability of benefits, and possible specific migration conditions. The study indicates differences between conditions for Belgian citizens and immigrants (section 3). Next, the study addresses administrative practices in the application of a few discretionary criteria that are used to assess claims in the social security field (section 4). In section 5, the study gives an overview of the bilateral agreements on social security that Belgium concluded with various countries and the main benefits that the parties can derive from them. Section 6 solves the case-studies proposed by EMN to be able to compare immigrants’ eligibility in practice between the Member States. Finally, section 7 offers statistics on immigrants’ employment socio-economic situation in Belgium. The study concludes with key findings.

This study hopes to contribute to a comparative understanding across Member States of immigrants ' social security entitlements and bring to the fore the changing landscape in Belgium in which immigration policy and social security get gradually more interwined.

EU Synthesis Report

The synthesis report is based on contributions from EMN National Contact Points in 25 Member States. The EMN Inform summarises the findings from the study.

Some key points:

  • The equal treatment provisions contained in the EU’s Migration Directives have influenced national legislation and practice, in particular as regards the social security rights of third-country nationals holding long-term residence permit and EU Blue Card holders. However, in the absence of Union-level harmonisation of social security policies, significant variations exist in relation to the range of benefits available in Member States, the way these benefits are financed (insurance contributions, general taxation or both) and the conditions under which the benefits are granted.
  • There appears to be a connection between the systems used to finance social security benefits and their accessibility by third-country nationals. Third-country nationals that are holders of long-term residence permits generally have access to all of the benefits reviewed in this study. However, equal treatment for third-country nationals that are holders of fixed-term residence permits tends to be granted more readily in relation to benefits that are financed through contributions by employers than in relation to benefits that are financed through general taxation.
  • Member States use different mechanisms to regulate access by third-country nationals to social security benefits. 
  • In the majority of Member States, claiming social security benefits – in particular social assistance – can have some negative impact on the legal status of third-country nationals in procedures for residence permit renewal, applications for long-term residence permits, naturalisation and family reunification.
  • Existing bilateral agreements on social security reached by Member States with third-countries extend access by third-country nationals to certain social security benefits, especially benefits that are contributory or partially contributory. However, significant variations in the material scope and geographical coverage of these bilateral agreements mean that many third-country nationals may lose acquired social security rights when they move out of the European Union.

The study identifies five sets of eligibility rules which shape migrant access to social security benefits. The first set exists specifically to regulate access for third-country nationals. The others are general eligibility rules that apply (with the exception of some discretionary criteria) to third-country nationals and Member State nationals alike.

Firstly, the social security systems in most Member States include eligibility rules which require third-country nationals to hold a particular type of residence permit, authorisation of stay or visa. These rules tend to apply more to social security benefits that are financed through general taxation rather than through contributions made by employees and employers.

Secondly, a number of Member States attach minimum residence periods to certain social security benefits. On the other hand, a minimum residence period is not normally required before third-country nationals can take up healthcare benefits (in kind), sickness cash benefits, and maternity and paternity benefits.

Thirdly, restrictions on the export of certain social security benefits exist in most Member States. These export restrictions exist in most Member States in relation to healthcare benefits (in kind), maternity and paternity benefits, family benefits, unemployment benefits and guaranteed minimum resources. In contrast, the national legislation of 17 out of the 25 Member States participating in this study allow for the export of old-age pensions to third-countries.

Fourthly, minimum employment (or contribution) periods frequently apply to insurance-based social security benefits. These minimum contribution periods are frequently found in relation to sickness cash benefits; maternity and paternity benefits; old-age benefits; and unemployment benefits. Minimum employment periods are not usually required to qualify for healthcare benefits (in kind); family benefits; and guaranteed minimum resources, although some exceptions exist.

Finally, administrative discretion is used to determine eligibility for particular social security benefits in all but six of the 25 Member States participating in this study. The discretionary criteria are used in a variety of contexts, including in order to determine the residence status of applicants, in order to waive certain eligibility conditions, and in the course of applying means tests. 

Publication Date:
Fri 21 Feb 2014
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