The blog has been pretty silent of late, mostly because I’m trying to forget that a certain someone has become Prime Minister. I mean, if BoJo can live in his own fantasy world where a no-deal Brexit is a good idea, then I can live in my own fantasy world where he is not PM. Try and stop me…!
However, just in case reality bites and Brexit turns out to be a bad idea, I am urgently looking into becoming a Belgian citizen. Belgian citizenship means European citizenship – something with which I grew up, and of which every single British citizen is soon to be stripped.
The flag of Belgium
First and foremost, because Belgium is the country where I live. Usually you can only apply for the citizenship of the country that you live in, unless family ties give you access to another country’s citizenship. Irish grannies are very handy in this respect.
However, there are many reasons why Belgian nationality is an especially good one to choose. Belgian nationality has the following advantages:
- You can apply for nationality after only 5 years’ residence: many EU countries demand far longer, e.g. Germany which requires 8 years’ residence, or Austria which requires 10.
- You can keep your original nationality as well: many EU countries do not allow dual nationality. If I gained Dutch nationality, for example, I would have to give up my UK citizenship.
- You do not have to pay millions of shady euros into the Belgian economy: the less said about Cyprus and Malta the better.
How do you become Belgian?
I will not go into the philosophical aspects of becoming Belgian (perhaps in another post). Rather I’ll examine the practical steps.
There are several routes to becoming Belgian. Apart from marriage to a Belgian citizen, the most straightforward route is through ‘integration’, for which the following conditions apply:
- You must have lived in Belgium for at least 5 years and have gained permanent residency.
- You must have worked for at least 468 days during the past 5 years.
- You must have basic knowledge (A2 level) of one of the three national languages (French, Dutch, German) spoken in the region where you live.
- You must be socially integrated.
- You must be 18 or older.
Social integration: taking the test
This week I took my first step on the long road to becoming Belgian. I passed a social integration exam organised by the Flemish government’s Agentschap Integratie en Inburgering (AGII). This is the simplest way to prove your social integration, and it is entirely free.
Generously enough, you can do the exam in English, French, Dutch or German. The language you choose has no impact on the outcome of the exam. All the same, whichever language you choose, you will be required to understand enough Dutch to read short documents such as an electricity bill, about which you will then have to answer questions.
The test takes an hour and consists of questions relating to daily life in Belgium and the values of Belgian society (with a focus on the Flemish-speaking part of the country).
What might you be asked?
During the test you might have to fill in forms in Dutch based on information you have been given. You might have to look up ticket prices for the zoo. You have Internet access during the test, so if in doubt you can look things up. This might sound easy, but in reality it is often hard to find the information you need online, especially under time pressure, and much of it might not be in English.
The questions on the values of Belgian society should pose no problems for Europeans though, as these are likely to be the same as the values of your own society. For example, you may be asked about the acceptability of homosexual relationships, whether or not you should give up your bus seat for the elderly, or whether you are allowed to slap your children about.
Whether or not you have ever given up your bus seat for the elderly, you probably know that you ought to do so. The test is manageable without any preparation, although the high pass mark (80%) means you have to take some care when answering the questions. It would be a shame to miss out by 1 mark.
If you do not already have a recognised Dutch certificate of level A2 or higher, you will also have to do a Dutch test before being deemed socially integrated.
Integration courses are also offered by the French-speaking authorities, though these follow a different format.
(Dutch for ‘passed’.) I am very pleased to say that I passed the test and can now proudly boast of my social integration in Belgium. And it’s a good thing too, because failure would have meant having to follow a lengthy integration course in the evenings together with everyone else who didn’t know that you aren’t allowed to slap your children.
As such, I have taken a small step towards gaining Belgian citizenship. Now I only have to wait another 2.5 years for permanent residency. With any luck I can apply for citizenship in 2022. I can almost smell the stoofvlees at the end of the tunnel!
Hang on, why is any of this necessary?
It is worth pointing out that all of this should be completely unnecessary. All this planning, all this administrative hassle, all the tests and scrambling for paperwork… Neither I, nor the Belgian state, nor any of the UK citizens across the EU27, nor any of the EU citizens living in the UK, should have to be putting themselves through this. The only reason for all this angst and bureaucracy is the sad, pointless, national meltdown that is Brexit.
And of course I am not alone. So far 3500 Brits have become Belgian since the referendum. And many more are still trying.
The UK may soon start producing blue passports. But with a bit of luck, my next one will be European burgundy.