New measures from Muyters not enough to put Belgium on the map

Published on: 24 August 2018

Global war for talent reaches way beyond Europe

The Belgian labour market is under considerable pressure. That’s why Philippe Muyters, the Flemish Labour Minister, presented his vision statement last week with which he aims to attract foreign talent. His plan includes a number of measures which should make Belgium more attractive to foreign talent. As a specialist in international recruitment, Michiel van Rossum considers this to be a step in the right direction but fears it does not go far enough in allowing Belgium to compete with countries such as the Netherlands and Germany in the global war for talent.

Our own pool is becoming too small

‘Our policy is one of concentric circles,’ explains Muyters. ‘We start looking for employees in Flanders, then Belgium, followed by neighbouring countries, Europe and finally the rest of the world.’ This opinion is shared by Michiel Van Rossum, director at Select International. ‘I am in favour of recruiting staff in our own region. It is cheaper and causes less headaches, but the pool of candidates is becoming ever smaller and we must therefore also extend our search to Europe. Eastern and southern Europe are becoming decreasingly relevant as their populations are ageing even more than in Belgium and their own economies are also growing.’

Positive measures

Van Rossum is an expert in international recruitment and happy with the measures that are being taken by Muyters: ‘It is good news for Belgium, without a doubt. Extending the maximum length of the work permit, creating mobility between companies without having to request a new work permit and salary scales that are also adapted to young people’s real and current salary levels are steps in the right direction. Also positive are the measures for foreign students that make it easier for them to do an apprenticeship and allow them to stay for longer after their studies to look for work in Belgium.’

Fiscal pressure too great in Belgium

However, these measures do not go far enough, in Van Rossum’s opinion. ‘We are facing a global war for talent and therefore, as a country, it is important to be able to differentiate yourself from your neighbours, who are fishing in the same global pond.’ The greatest obstacle, according to Michiel, is Belgium’s fiscal position. ‘It is common knowledge that Belgian labour taxes are higher than in the rest of Europe. For example, for expats in the Netherlands, the first 30% of the complete salary remains tax free for 8 years while, in Belgium, this is set at an annual net rate of 8,900 euros, the so-called cost of living allowance (COLA).’

Negative connotation

Michiel also stresses that labour migration need not be negative. ‘The word migration immediately has a specific connotation, however, it is good for our economy to attract foreign talent. I still hope to enjoy a good pension in the future and foreign talent that fills bottleneck professions will be a great help in achieving this. Of course there must be clear rules, plus stricter control and sanctions should the rules be abused. The door will not simply fly open now that new measures are to be enforced.’

Michiel van Rossum concludes that minister Muyter’s plan makes Belgium more competitive in the war for talent: ‘However, it is not enough to differentiate us from neighbouring countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany. A further strategy is therefore still required in the longer term to deal with the fiscal problem.