Interview: Belgium’s foreign workers register ‘not aimed at EU’

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Limosa, a little-known scheme that requires foreigners to register with social security before heading to Belgium for temporary work, has raised concerns in Brussels EU circles. The official behind the scheme, Sarah Scaillet, seeks to clarify the new law in an interview with EURACTIV.

When Limosa entered into force on 1 April 2007, it sparked a wave of panic among US business travel organisations, which expressed strong concerns regarding the potential administrative and social security costs of the new Belgian law.

“Limosa took a lot of people by surprise,” wrote Bill Carver, an editorialist at BBT Travel, a publication focusing on the business travel industry. “Not only were the Belgian consulate and the Belgian embassy unable to detail the new requirements, but travel managers in Belgium were also unaware of the law.”

Tensions were subsequently eased when a delegation of the Belgian federal government was sent to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ Conference in Miami in May last year to explain the new law.

Limosa scheme little-known across Europe

But the US flop could repeat itself in Europe, where EU citizens travelling to Belgium are largely unaware of their Limosa obligations.

Sarah Scaillet, the ministerial adviser who helped draft Limosa, told EURACTIV: “We have indeed realised that, obviously, the message has not gone through at European level. In a paradoxical way, Japan and the United States were better informed but our European neighbours much less so.”

What’s more, the thousands of officials and lobbyists working in and around the EU institutions in Brussels seem completely unaware of the scheme, according to Scaillet. 

“There has not been the European transmission that we were anticipating would happen via the embassies, something we had thought would happen automatically,” she explained.

Brussels EU circles not targeted

There are about 30,000 officials working for the EU institutions and about 15,000 lobbyists active in EU affairs in Brussels, according to unofficial Commission figures. Across Europe, it is estimated that around 500,000 people – mainly civil servants and experts – contribute to shaping EU policies by making frequent visits to Brussels, bringing huge economic benefits to the city known as the “capital of Europe”.

But according to Scaillet, EU officials and foreigners who work and live in Belgium need not worry. “The person who is domiciled or resides in Belgium is absolutely not concerned,” she said. Asked whether EU affairs circles were targeted by Limosa, she said: “Not at all.”

“It is possible that the message hasn’t gone through simply because it was part of the exceptions.”

Rather, she says the problem Limosa seeks to address is “people who come from abroad to work in Belgium temporarily” and evade the social security system altogether. “There is the IT sector, and also the construction sector, which is quite well-known for social security fraud,” she said.

The current lack of awareness regarding Limosa in Europe is likely to be addressed in a new information campaign “in the course of the year,” Scaillet said.

No restrictions on workers’ mobility

According to Scaillet, there were exchanges with the Commission prior to the scheme’s adoption, which showed it conformed to EU rules on the free movement of people and the freedom of establishment.

“This is a project which has been presented at European level and for which there has been a series of exchanges. There has been no negative opinion on behalf of the European institutions.”

Numerous exceptions

To simplify procedures, regular business travellers will benefit from a single registration with a single declaration enough to cover a full year. “This is the case of a company executive who comes every month to visit his affiliate,” said Scaillet. “He fills a Limosa declaration for the full year in which he says ‘I regularly come to visit this particular location.'” 

Regarding those travelling to Brussels for conferences and meetings, Scaillet says they will fall under the exceptions as well. “At European level, one of the hypotheses is that, probably, most people will end up falling under the exceptions because it often implies very short stays, sometimes only for conferences.”

This exception, she said, was introduced to ensure Brussels is not penalised by heavy formalities. “It is mainly Brussels because, even if there are conferences across the whole country, it is primarily Brussels which is the conference centre.”

To read the interview with Sarah Scaillet in full, please click here

Limosa requires employees, self-employed persons and trainees to fill a mandatory online social security declaration when temporarily coming to Belgium for work purposes. 

The scheme seeks to improve statistics on foreign workers coming to work in Belgium in order to better monitor migration flows and guarantee respect of social legislation.

However, there are a number of exceptions to the scheme and, in most cases, registration is only compulsory for stays exceeding five days.

Otherwise, sanctions for employers can range from a fine of up to 125,000 euro (between 500 and 2,500 euro per employee) or even prison sentences of up to a year.

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