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The path to Belgian citizenship: an expat trail guide
Becoming Belgian: there is a will…
For some of us expats, the adventure of living in Belgium has been going on for some time now. And as days turn to months and years, we find ourselves thinking, speaking and acting more like Belgians than ever thought possible. So its not surprising then that, according to the Immigrant Citizens Survey (ICS), 75% of non-EU residents want to celebrate this transformation by becoming Belgian citizens.
…but not always an easy way
Good expat intentions aside, Belgium has not paved the smoothest of roads to Belgian citizenship. For example, the country obtained a score of only 69% in terms of Access to Nationality from the Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) because among others its citizenship procedures were found to be discretionary, changeable, and inefficient.
These critiques are mirrored by comments in The Bulletin’s expat forum, where most complain about the lack of information, unclear requirements and a long wait accompanied by the impossibility of asking for an application status update.
To further complicate affairs for Belgian hopefuls, a new Belgian National Law went into affect on January 1st 2013. While Migration Integration Policy Analyst Thomas Huddleston offers a useful in-depth analysis on how the law differs from former legislation, the main message is this: the path to Belgian citizenship, while clearer, is no less demanding.
Belgian Nationality: A Trail Map
As with all endeavours involving Belgian administration, the path to Belgian nationality is long, unpaved and sometimes without indication. Therefore, The Bulletin gives a scout’s promise to be your Belgian Nationality guide with some helpful tips before embarking on your citizenship journey.
12 trials, 1 destination: the Belgian passport
As the saying goes, many paths lead to the same destination. It’s no different with Belgian citizenship, where, according to the City of Brussels’ website, 12 different procedures exist to get a passport.
Although it is only is only one of the 12 possible paths, the procedure of “naturalisation” often comes up when talking about Belgian citizenship. However, this route, in which one acquires nationality based on exceptional merit, is most likely not yours. Instead, many expats, having originally immigrated to Belgium through marriage, cohabitation or work visas, are more likely to obtain their citizenship by the “declaration of acquisition” based on legal stays of 5-10 years.
If you would like more information on which case suits you, the Belgian non-profit Objectif helps you decipher which path best suits your circumstances, and then provides detailed, up-to-date information on procedures and documentation required accordingly (have a web translator ready if you need this information in English).
Know how to read your map
The right trial or not, the risk of getting lost in Belgian administration is just as great if you don’t know how to read your map. To fully understand the meanings of terms such as “legal uninterrupted residence,” “social integration,” “economic participation” and “language proficiency,” a good legend is needed. Objectif non-profit can shed some light on these terms, while, Linda Magaret’s “6 steps (and five years) to Belgian citizenship”, provides useful information on the general procedure and how to officialise required application documents. Keep in mind, however, that being written in 2010 this website does not include information on the latest required documents.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re lost
If you find yourself turned around by the above information, why not seek help from a Belgian administrative Sherpa who knows the trial by heart? Objectif, for example, welcomes Belgian hopefuls to come with questions on their quest for citizenship 5 days a week (including Saturday). Information on its different centres is provided here. Also, for questions specific to the rules for your nationality when applying for Belgian citizenship, you can call the hotline or send an email to the Service Public Fédéral Etrangères Etat-Civil.
“Are we there yet?!”
Like that never-ending family car ride, the road to Belgian citizenship never seems to come to an end. Upon the submission of your completed application for Belgian citizenship, you are informed that it will take the Belgian state two years to consider your application. The actual waiting period may be much longer, or shorter, depending on your application and when you turn it in. But generally speaking, the most demanding the application’s requirements, to longer the waiting period: for example, acquiring Belgian nationality based on marriage with a Belgian citizen tends to take only 6 weeks, while that based on legal residence 1-2 years. In any case, you should receive an official dossier number in a registered letter within two weeks of applying at your commune. If this does not happen, check at your local post office.
Meanwhile, while in your Belgian citizenship ‘waiting room’, you can get a general understanding of where your application stands (be it with Belgian Parliament, the King or in the Belgian Moniteur) in reading steps 3-5 of this eHow.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/HollyHobbiesCrossStichings