A Belgian law passed on 16 December 2020 partially implementing the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the European Union provides British nationals and their family members with the opportunity to formalise any residence permits which were not requested or obtained before the end of the transition period i.e. prior to 31 December 2020.
For instance, it is worth noting that a British national who requested a Belgian residence permit before 31 December 2020 may still be joined by their common-law partner residing outside the territory of the European Union by providing evidence of a durable relationship prior to 31 December 2020.
Equally, the benefits of free movement in the European Union continue to apply after the end of the transition period to children born to or adopted by a British national who requested residency within EU territory before the end of the transition.
It is also important to highlight that the right to family reunion of a “British national who is a beneficiary of the withdrawal agreement” is governed by the rules applicable to Europeans and Belgians exercising their right to freedom of movement.
Which British nationals fall into this new category of “beneficiaries of the withdrawal agreement”? This status applies to those British nationals who requested permission to reside in Belgium before the end of the transition period and who have obtained their residence permit in the form of an “annex 8”, “8bis”, E/E+/F/F+ card or “annex 15”.
But that is not all.
Indeed, British nationals with a special residence permit related to a diplomatic position or a role at an international institution and their family members can still change their status and request a Belgian residence permit as a “beneficiary of the withdrawal agreement”. This is particularly useful for anyone wishing to apply for Belgian nationality.
Moreover, a British national or family member who can prove that they exercised their right to reside in Belgium in practice and as of right by virtue of the European regulations on free movement, even if they did not hold a valid residence permit (for instance because they omitted to request one or were unable to formalise their application or residence permit before the end of the transition period), can still receive the status of “beneficiary of the withdrawal agreement” pursuant to the new Article 47/5 of the Belgian law on foreign nationals dated 15 December 1980! Such an application needs to be carefully prepared and accompanied by specific documentation.
In any case, British nationals and their family members who already have one of the following types of residence permit: annex 8, 8bis, E/E+/F/F+ card or annex 15, are invited to apply for a new permit document from their municipal authorities as soon as possible and, in any event, before 31 December 2021 (unless reasonable justification is given for failing to comply with this deadline). In practical terms, the new residence permits will be called ‘M cards’, while cross-border workers will receive ‘N cards’. As of early 2021, municipal authorities appear under-prepared for issuing these cards, which could lead to assistance being required in some urgent cases.
As soon as an application for a residence permit is made by a British national as a “beneficiary of the withdrawal agreement”, a temporary residence permit must be issued by the municipal authorities.
If the immigration office rejects the application made by a “beneficiary of the withdrawal agreement”, any subsequent appeal which may be made with the assistance of a lawyer before the CCE (Immigration Litigation Council/Conseil du Contentieux des Etrangers) has an automatic suspensive effect. This means that while the appeal is being examined, the person in question retains the right to reside and work in Belgium unhindered.