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Erasmus students in Brussels launch campaign against bureaucracy
A group of Erasmus students in Brussels have launched a campaign to make it easier to register as a resident at the town hall - after a survey revealed the majority of participants in the student exchange programme are breaking the rules.
Six Master's students at Solvay Business School, from various countries, are lobbying MEPs to remove the administrative burden faced by Erasmus students, who often discover too late that they are legally required to register with their commune when they arrive on a study placement.
"We've experienced issues ranging from infinite queues and waiting times, inconvenient opening hours and language barriers," the Improve Erasmus campaigners say. Students in Belgium have even been threatened with €200 fine for failing to register.
One Danish student, who wanted to follow the rules, had several phone calls to her commune unanswered and then had to understand the procedure in French. After waiting two weeks for a police officer to check her address, she was given an appointment date one month later.
"At that point she decided to give up - she's only here for five months," said one of the campaign's organisers, Ivette Paul Batlle, who is on an Erasmus placement from Barcelona.
It is not a uniquely Belgian issue. Many countries have compulsory registration for stays of longer than three months - and a survey across several European universities found 70% of students do not register.
Marco Aukofer, who is on an Erasmus placement in Brussels from Munich, said students faced difficulties going about their day-to-day lives, including formalities such as opening a bank account, because they were not officially registered as resident.
"We perceive it as a barrier to integration," he told The Bulletin. "It really makes it harder for you to settle here. We think it's a matter of pride. Without registering and without being officially a resident there, you don't build up that official relationship [with your host country]."
The campaigners have launched a petition on Change.org calling for Erasmus students to be given an ID card that doubles up as an official identification document in their host country.
"When you go on Erasmus you have to go through quite a detailed and long multi-step registration process, at your home university and guest university," said Aukofer. "You give away a lot of information - more than you need when you register as a resident.
"We thought that it shouldn't be too difficult to integrate the residents' registration process into the Erasmus application process. Erasmus is the project that the European Parliament and Commission are probably most proud of - so why not start with Erasmus students?"
The group would be interested to hear from fellow Erasmus students about the administative difficulties they have faced. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org