TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Importance of Civic Integration Programme
• Know more about Belgium and its culture
• Increase Job Employability
• Make New friends
• Social Interaction
• Integration Policy Obligation
2. Civic Integration Programme Registration
3. What to Expect for First Appointment?
• Integration Programme Registration
• Interview with the Assessor
• Cognitive Skills Test
• Date Selection for Social Integration and Dutch Course
4. Programme Counsellor
• Role of Course Coordinator
• Equivalence of Diplomas
5. Future Integration Programme in Brussels
6. Location of Civic Integration Programme Offices in Flanders and Brussels
Who Needs Civic Integration Programme in Belgium? What is that?
In the Flanders region of Belgium, all non-EU new migrants residing in the Flemish community for more than three months are obliged to undergo a Civic Integration Programme. As for the EU citizens, the programme is optional for them.
On the other hand, the unusual trait is that immigrants residing in the Wallonia have no obligation to follow such an Integration Programme. In another word, it is solely the initiative of the Flemish Government.
The Civic Integration Program consists of two separate modules which can run concurrently or separately depending on the chosen schedules:
Importance of Civic Integration Programme
Why is it Important to take the Civic Integration Programme? Here are some practical reasons to kickstart your interest in it.
1) Know More about Belgium and Its Culture
In social Orientation Course (NL: inburgering), newcomers would find it useful to understand some of the facts and practices in Belgium. Thus, they would settle better in Flanders receiving the valuable information. The integration programme will also focus on your residing city and current happening too.
2) Increase Job Employability
The Flemish Government spends money and resources on new immigrants to attend Dutch courses. Consequently, this is to facilitate them to find a job with less difficulty and better acceptance from the employers. Without the knowledge of the Dutch language, it is near to impossible to find a decent job or something that you really like to do. Almost all the jobs in the Flemish labour market requires one to speak Dutch up to an acceptable level.
People who can also speak French has an added advantage. Therefore, I am referring to the majority of the Belgians who can manage three languages fluently – Dutch, French and English. Despite that, there are some professions in Belgium where speaking Dutch is not mandatory. One good example is the IT industry where the technical skill sets are more in demand rather than the language requirement.
3) Make New Friends
You will meet newcomers from all walks of life in both the Social Orientation Course and the Dutch Courses. They may or may not share the same kind of background similar to you. Some live in Belgium for a few years whereas some are here for a few months. Nevertheless, the Civic Integration Programme gives an excellent opportunity to form some genuine friendship out of these group of people.
4) Social Interaction
How is it like to interact with others who have a different background entirely? We open up our view of other cultures, mentalities and the way they think about certain topics. Due to differing perspectives, we learn to handle disagreement in a more positive light. From the courses followed, I understand particularly more about refugees and their situations. They have circumstances of not what I have perceived previously.
5) Integration Policy Obligation
It is mandatory for non-EU citizens to comply with the integration policy whether one likes to attend the courses or not. Those who do not comply may get a fine from the government by not following the law.
The immigrants in Brussels Capital have no obligation to attend the integration programme at this moment. So, it is an optional choice for them. But soon, in 2018, they may have to undergo the Civic Integration Course if the bill passes through successfully.
To administrate the requirement, one legislation that kicked in on the 25 January 2017 requires all new migrants to provide evidence for their integration effort in Belgium. Henceforth, the Immigration Office can end a person right to stay in Belgium for non-compliance after the date.
In addition to the existing law, the other proposed law not gazetted yet is for migrants outside EU to sign an integration pledge obligatorily. Likewise, failing to comply with the new law will lead to a termination of residency rights in Belgium.
Civic Integration Programme Registration
On the interest of learning Dutch in Belgium, one does not register directly with the CVO schools for the Dutch Language Course. Firstly, always go to an association who organises the Integration Programme. In Antwerp, the Atlas, Integratie & Inburgering Antwerpen is the place to register for the Civic Integration Programme for both the Social Integration and the Dutch Language Courses.
Similarly, in Brussels, BON – Agentschap Integratie & Inburgering would be able to provide directions to both the mentioned courses. For Civic Integration Programme of all other cities, check out the main website of Agentschap Integratie & Inburgering which provides you with all the office contact details in Flanders.
For newcomers who come to Belgium under a Family Reunion Visa, on the day of receiving the Orange Card at the Gementeehuis, you can also ask for the Civic Integration Programme or a Dutch Language Course. Over there, you get to speak to someone responsible for the Integration Program. In my case, the person-in-charge is not around. So, I went directly to Atlas on the same day to ask for an appointment.
What to Expect for First Appointment?
» Integration Programme Registration
For those residing in Antwerp, you can register at the Atlas counter. Bring along your identity card, residence permit or the Orange Card. Passport is not required in this instance because you need a Belgian National Number to be eligible for the Civic Integration Programme registration. Subsequently, the counter staff will give you an appointment date to have an interview with one of the assessors there. Alternatively, you can also make a call to Atlas to get the first appointment.
» Interview with the Assessor
For the first Civic Integration Programme appointment, allow up to three hours with the interviewer. During the interview session, the assessor will create a profile for you by asking questions about your purpose in Belgium. Some questions asked are education level, work experience, family situation and language skill. In general, the conversation is all about getting to know you and your plans in Belgium.
» Cognitive Skills Assessment
It is a common practice to take a logic proficiency test in many Flemish cities to test the cognitive skills of an individual. However, in Atlas, they abolish the rule of the assessment for highly educated people. The evaluation primarily focuses on new immigrants with low literacy level from all walks of life. As a result, Atlas can place them into the appropriate Social Integration and Dutch class according to their learning ability.
» Date Selection for Social Integration and Dutch Course
After the individual profile interview, the assessor will go through the date availability of the Social Integration and Dutch Course. You can select the schedule based on your preference accordingly. If a person is not able to confirm the date selection for either one of the courses on that day, he has to come back again for the course registration. At the same time, the assessor gives another appointment to meet with the Programme Counsellor at the same place.
For those newly arrived, a Trajectbegeleider also known as the Program Counsellor or the Course Coordinator guides all newcomers in Flanders so they can integrate more easily into the society. He is like a personal assistant who provides all sorts of advice during the integration period. This friend is a (free) gift deriving from the participation of the Civic Integration Programme.
My Programme Counsellor is Harmen from Atlas House. There would be a second round of interview with the Programme Counsellor to understand the newcomer better and to introduce his role to them too. However, the interview would likely be shorter because the Programme Counsellor can refer to the profile of a person inside the database created during the conversation with the first assessor.
» Role of Programme Counsellor
In fact, the role of a Programme Counsellor is very diversified. During the entire integration period, they can help us in some of the following ways:
- Assist us in the direction of finding a job.
- Help to get our academic certificates from abroad to be recognised in Belgium.
- Find a hobby and interest group to help the newcomers to pass their time in a more productive manner.
- Additional language activities to improve our Dutch.
- Family Counselling – Different types of schools for children.
- Engage in volunteering work appropriate for our Dutch level. The minimum Dutch level is 1.2 to become a volunteering social worker.
- Many others still unknown to me at this moment until I need them, I would check with my Programme Counsellor again. In short, ask them anything you want to know.
Truly an ingenious system with such resource given by the Flemish Government to have someone with you along the way. At least for the first few months to a year should we face problems with certain issues while settling down and integrating in Belgium. In conclusion, I would say that this person is a friend for life on a professional level.
Equivalence of Diplomas
One of the most important tips that my Programme Counsellor had given me was to get my academic qualification equalised to that of Belgian educational standard. It is especially important if one is interested in working for the Belgian Civil Service in future.
On the contrary, it is less crucial for those planning to work in the private sectors as not all employers will ask for the equalised diplomas. The recruiters may only assess you based on your working experience and your performance during the job interview.
The time taken for equalisation of diplomas is around six months. For the equivalence of certificates, one has to produce the following to the Programme Counsellor:-
3) Course Outline
Alternatively, if one prefers to do the Equivalence of Diploma himself, he can do so. Depending on which region he comes from – French, Flemish or German-speaking Community, he would consult the different department in-charge on the website.
NARIC-Vlaanderen is another site where you can do the equivalence of diploma by yourself. The illustrated steps are rather clear on the website. Therefore, it will be easy to submit your academic qualification online. On the other hand, isn’t it better to have a Programme Counsellor to help us with the paperwork as he is more familiar with the system?
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Harmen from Atlas House Antwerpen for enlightening me along the way and offering his help at all times. Not forgetting my first assessor, Tarik, who has provided me with first-hand information during my first interview in Atlas.
Future Integration Programme in Brussels
If the agreement between the French Communal Commission and the Flemish Communal authorities goes through, long-termed residents in Brussels will have to undergo the integration process similar to Flanders in 2018. Non-EU adults below the age of 65 who have been living in Brussels for less than three years are obligated to adhere to the new policy.
Newcomers have to take the Integration course within six months upon arrival after their registration in the population register. The good news is that they can choose to take French or Dutch Courses in Brussels. Failing to comply with the regulation may lead to a fine of €2,500 in severe circumstances and €100 every two months.
BON – Agentschap Integratie & Inburgering in Brussels provides some useful information about Integration Programme in View and Dutch as the second language in the capital.
Location of Agentschap Integration and Inburgering (Civic Integration Offices)
Below is a list of Flanders regions including Brussels which you can locate the city for your Civic Integration Programme registration. Each region will have addresses of the integration offices under it.
- Region Brussels
- Region Antwerp
- Antwerp City – Atlas
- Region Limburg
- Region East Flanders
- Region Flemish Brabant
- Region West Flanders
What is your thought about the Civic Integration Programme in Belgium?