Joint opinion on the pending legal reform in Belgium

Joint opinion

ENS and NANSEN prepared a joint opinion on the legislative proposal submitted by the Belgian Government to the Parliament to introduce a residence permit for stateless persons.

In September, the Belgian Government submitted a proposal to amend the Law on access to the territory, residence, settlement and removal of foreigners, with a view to regulating the right of residence of stateless persons. Belgium currently has a judicial procedure to determine statelessness, although it does not lead to a right to reside in the country. While the willingness to introduce a residence permit for stateless people (as Belgium pledged in 2021) is welcome, the current proposal contains several concerning features that would result in creating an intricate, burdensome, and complex system to determine statelessness. The proposed amendments would only benefit a small proportion of stateless people in the country, and would not effectively improve the protection of stateless people in Belgium.

The bill proposes to establish a new administrative procedure for granting permission to stay on the grounds of statelessness, to be carried out by the Immigration Office, while the current judicial procedure for determining statelessness would be maintained. If the decision is positive, the stateless person would be granted a five-year residence permit. The proposed administrative procedure contains strict eligibility requirements that go beyond the 1954 Convention, including that the applicant must have had lawful stay in the country for over three months or have applied for international protection, and that the application is not ‘manifestly unfounded’. The proposal also contains stringent requirements to prove statelessness and the individual’s identity through documentary evidence, and lacks key procedural safeguards such as the right to an interview.

The joint opinion prepared by ENS and NANSEN analyses the proposal, notes its challenges, and makes recommendations towards the introduction of a statelessness determination procedure that is fair, accessible, and leads to a protection status on the basis of statelessness in line with Belgium’s international obligations.

Related topics