Obtaining work permit for athletes much easier now?

Obtaining work permit for athletes much easier now?
Photo: Jacob Lund/

Until recently, non-EEA athletes wanting to work and stay in Belgium had to follow a double procedure. First, the future employer had to start a procedure at the regional level to obtain a work permit for the specific athlete. Then afterwards the athlete him/herself had to undergo a separate procedure to obtain a residence permit with the federal government. Belgium’s specific state structure, with separate powers competent for granting work permits on the one hand and residence permits on the other hand, caused a significant delay in implementing the Single Permit Directive (2011/98). However, from 1 January 2019, Belgium will – finally – combine both procedures in one Single Permit procedure. Sports clubs and athletes must know that the new legislation means a brand new procedure, as well as some modifications to the requirements to obtain the combined work and residence permit.

The new ‘Single Permit’ procedure is initiated by filing a complete application file at the Economic Migration Service (‘EMS’). The EMS has in principle 10 days to decide upon the admissibility of the request. To be admissible, the request needs to be accompanied by a series of documents (ID, employment contract, proof of payment of the administrative fee, criminal record, medical attestation and proof of health insurance). Once the file is declared admissible, the competent services have a term of 120 days (extendable) to make a decision on both the athlete’s work and residence status. With a positive decision, the athlete will receive a temporary document, which he/she can use to obtain a type D visa at a Belgian embassy. Upon arrival in Belgium, the athlete must report within 8 days to the communal services of his/her residence where he/she can ultimately obtain the ‘Single Permit’.

While the combined residence and work permit is clearly a simplification in comparison with the old system, the total timeframe needed to start up employment in Belgium for a non-EEA employee may increase significantly with the new procedure. Indeed, only at the time when all documents have been gathered to file a request (which in itself can take a while), a term of 10 + 120 days (extendable) starts running. Furthermore, an extension of an existing permit should now be requested at least 2 months prior to the existing permit’s expiry, whereas under the previous procedures this was only 1 month. Sports clubs should therefore act proactively, gather all documents for new permit requests as quickly as possible, take into account that it might not be possible to obtain all the permits in a couple of days/weeks and request extensions of existing permits in a timely manner.

Finally, the way to calculate the salary threshold for non-EEA athletes (i.e. currently 81,600 €) has been modified. Whereas previously the definition of salary from the Wage Protection Act was used, salary is now defined as the compensation for employment that is fixed with certainty at the point of entry into service. In light of this new definition, it seems that it will be impossible to take into account performance-bonuses to achieve the salary threshold.

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