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Only 37% of Britons in Belgium have applied for new M card protecting their long-term rights
British ambassador Martin Shearman has made an urgent appeal to Britons in Belgium to apply for the new M card, after the Belgian foreign office revealed that only 37% of eligible UK nationals have requested the electronic residence card.
With UK nationals facing a 31 December 2021 deadline for applications, the British embassy is concerned that some could fail to protect their rights as agreed under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA).
In a video appeal on the embassy’s Facebook page, the ambassador (pictured above) called on Britons to apply for the card as soon as possible. “If you know someone who hasn’t applied, please encourage them to get on with it,” he added.
According to Belgian statistical office Statbel, 18,574 people were registered as British on 1 January 2021. Since then, 418 of them have received Belgian nationality. On 27 August, 37% of eligible Britons had applied for the M card, with 30% already issued it.
The British Embassy is concerned that some nationals who have not yet regularised their residency are gambling on receiving Belgian nationality before the end of the year. It’s calling on all Britons to apply for the M card, whatever their status. Application is a straightforward process, particularly for those who have already prepared paperwork for dual nationality.
Although Belgian communes are automatically notified when UK nationals become Belgian, they are not updated when someone takes another EU nationality. In this case, the individual needs to inform the commune which nationality they choose to use, recommends the embassy.
It also advises its nationals to not wait to be contacted by their commune as there are variations in how Belgium’s 581 communes in Belgium process M card applications.
This message is echoed by the Brussels British Community Association (BBCA), an umbrella group for British organisations in Belgium. “Some communes have sent letters to UK residents informing them of the process, but for others you have to apply via email or their website,” says vice chair Tim Reynolds.
In the Brussels region, appointments can be made with some nine communes via the central IRIS site, adds Reynolds. He points out that the official Belgian statistics on the number of British nationals in the country could include anyone issued with an E card, but not take into account anyone who has left the country and not deregistered from their commune.
The application process for an M card involves filling in an ‘Annexe 58’ form and receiving a certificate of application called ‘Annexe 56’ that is valid for three months, the time required to provide the commune with any additional documents. This certificate provides temporary protection under the WA and is recognised as a legal document when leaving or entering Belgium. For more information on the M card application process, see the BBCA’s website.
If UK nationals haven’t been notified by their commune after three to four months of filing the application, the embassy recommends that they contact the help desk of the Belgian immigration office for an update (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The British Embassy is hosting a Microsoft Teams online outreach event on 6 October, from 18.00-19.30. It will address questions about citizens’ rights under the WA and representatives from the Belgian federal immigration office and the Belgian social security ministry are expected to be present. Registrations via the following link: https://bit.ly/3ASEcwB.
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