UK citizens and their family members resident in Belgium before 31 December 2020 are covered under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and have the right to remain and work within the Kingdom of Belgium after Brexit. To assert that right we must apply for new residence cards to replace our current E/E+ cards that are for EU citizens. The new card is the M-card and although in theory we have been able to apply for it from 1 January 2021, technical difficulties (not helped by Covid restrictions) have meant it has not been produced. However, we hear that the cards are now becoming available, so we thought it would be timely to review the ‘ins and outs’ of residency, the M-card and the application process.
All UK citizens resident in Belgium before 31 December 2020 should have received a letter in late 2020 from the Belgian Immigration Office informing them that they should exchange their current residence cards (E,E+,F, F+, Annex 8/8bis) for an Article 50 residence card: the M-card.
To obtain the M-card, UK citizens and their family members will need to present themselves at their local commune/ gemeethuis prior to 31 December 2021, and preferably before 1 October 2021, to start the application process.
What is the M-card?
The M-card is a Belgian residence card that will be recognised as proof that you are resident in Belgium under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The card is renewable and is valid for 10 years for those who already qualify for permanent residence in Belgium (hold an E+ card) and 5 years for those currently holding a temporary residence card (the E card). The M-card will continue to build rights towards permanent residency status – the clock is not reset.
Achieving long-term permanent residency in Belgium may open a door to a form of onward movement within the EU subject to a number of conditions under the Directive on the status of non-EU nationals who are long-term residents.
The M-card gives the holder access to the Belgian labour market as an employee or as a self-employed person, but no longer allows unrestricted free access to the labour market of other EU Member States. And there are specific rules for absences from Belgium.
The deadline for applications is 31 December 2021 unless there are exceptional circumstances (for example force majeure), however it is much better to apply sooner rather than later.
How do I apply?
The application must be made at your local commune/ gemeethuis/ town hall. There, each family member will need to fill in an ‘Annex 58’ application form and will be issued with an ‘Annex 56’ form that is a certificate of application but serves as a temporary residence permit while your application is processed. See a French language version of an ‘Annex 58’ below.
You will need to present the following documents at the town hall at the time of application or within three months of applying:
- Your current residence card (E,E+,F, F+, Annex 8/8bis)
- A passport or other valid ID card (remember the residence card is not a valid ID card). Note that your UK passport should have at least six months validity – i.e. not expire within six months.
- A Police Clearance Certificate/ extract from the criminal record/ Extrait de casier judiciaire which is not older than six months.
No other documentation should be requested, and no one should be reassessed. The only time the Commune can ask for additional documents under the Freedom of Movement directive, such as proof of sufficient resources, medical insurance, etc., is if the applicant did not successfully complete a residency application before 31 December 2020 and, therefore, does not have a valid residency card or proof of application, or if they came to Belgium under EU family reunification rules.
Some early applicants for the M-card, who are married to a Belgian or EU citizen, have been offered the chance to apply for an F-card (E indicates EU, F indicates Family). This is a personal decision, but rights under the F card, at least initially, would be dependent on someone else (your spouse) whereas protection under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (M-card) is tied to the individual.
The town hall could approve the application immediately if you are already registered in Belgium and the criminal record check is null. When the M-card is ready you will be notified to collect it from the town hall. The issue of the new M-card may cost EUR15, however some communes may not charge. Others may charge more.
How do I obtain a criminal record extract?
If you have been resident in Belgium for six months or more then it is possible that your commune will do this automatically as part of the process. In any case you should be able to access an extract online via your commune website if you can access the eID system. The process (in general) is described here.
If you were still living in the United Kingdom during the second half of 2020, you may need to provide an extract from the criminal records of the United Kingdom ('Police certificate for visa and immigration purposes'). For the UK you can obtain such a certificate via the ACRO website and we hear that communes have also been accepting certificates from the UK Government Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
If you were living elsewhere outside Belgium, then a criminal record extract for that country may be required. You will be required to submit the extract most relevant to your situation. Remember to provide a legalized translation of the criminal record extract if it is not in Dutch, French, German or English.
Who is eligible for an M-card?
UK nationals and family members, irrespective of their nationality, who resided in Belgium prior to 2021 and continue to do so, including posted workers (if they qualify for residence), and holders of the Special ID Card. In addition, family members coming to Belgium in the future, but who do not yet reside in Belgium are also eligible if the relationship existed prior to 31 December 2020 and children born at any time are eligible.
For Special ID card holders to obtain an M-card, the holder will need to cancel their existing special residence permit and then apply for the M-card within 3 months, which may affect certain privileges and immunities. For more information on Special ID card holders wishing to switch to the M-card see the Belgian Diplomatic Service website, and also contact your organisation’s HR department.
All other family members not covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement now fall under family reunification rules as third country nationals in Belgium.
Your travel rights etc
As of January 2021, and until 31 March 2022, UK nationals can prove their right to stay and work in Belgium (pending the issue of an M-card) with their existing E/E+/F/F+ card / Annex 8/ 8bis or their Annex 56 (issued to M-card applicant) plus their passport. Keep hold of your existing E/E+/F/F+ cards and your Annex 56 until a new M-card is issued and show this when crossing the border.
Your passport will always be required, and you will need to use the ‘All passports’ lane when entering Schengen territories from a non-Schengen territory. The same documents as above can be used to (re)enter Belgium - except Annex 8 (which not a travel document) – but will only be accepted up to 31 December 2021.
Office for Foreigners
Normally, M-card applications will be processed within your Commune administration and the M-card issued by them (see flow chart below).
Note that there are three very specific cases where the M-card application will be automatically sent to the Office for Foreigners/ Immigration Office for assessment (“Envoyer la demande à l’OE”). These are:
- If a UK national has a criminal record
- If a UK national does not have a valid Annexe 8/8bis or a valid E/E+/F/F+ card, or
- If a UK national takes longer than 3 months (the validity of the Annexe 56 certificate of application) to provide the Commune with requested documents.
If this is the case, the Immigration Office will examine the application further and take a decision. As soon as the Immigration Office has taken a decision, it will notify your commune. In the rare cases of a negative decision, an ‘Annex 59’ will be issued informing the applicant of the decision with a notification to leave the territory of Belgium.
However, if the decision is positive, the commune will request your new M-card and inform you.
Further information on living in Belgium, and your rights under the Withdrawal Agreement, can be found on the Living in Belgium Guide.
Tell us your M-card experience
We would love to hear about your experiences (good and bad) in applying for the M-card. Customer service at our townhalls can vary widely and sometimes laws are subject to local interpretation. Please relay your experiences to us via BBCA.NewsAndEvents@gmail.com. All information supplied will be treated in confidence – but don’t forget to include the name of your commune.