At present, students from third countries must find a job that meets salary thresholds, an internship with a governmental or certain international organisations, or start their own company in order to obtain an a new permit after their current one expires.

“There’s not a big difference in terms of procedure or registration but in the Netherlands it is possible to stay for 12 months after studying to look for work, unlike in Belgium. This will now change and we won’t lose the war for talents,” said Mahdi.

“We won’t lose the war for talents”

“This isn’t a lottery ticket but a winning opportunity both for us and their home countries. Every student costs the authorities €12,000 per year,” he continued.

“That’s an investment that gives us nothing if we send students back to their home countries several weeks after their studies because they don’t immediately find jobs.”

Piet Van Hove from the International Relations Office at the University of Antwerp said the “orientation year” initiative – not yet in law – would also allow international students to obtain a residence/work permit for a year after graduating in order to find a job or start a business.

“There are, as usual relating to this topic, directly opposed considerations: finding ways to keep international graduates here in order to have them contribute to our economy (positive), which will of course lead to brain drain in the countries of origin (negative),” he noted.

“The idea is that the implementation of this option will make Belgium more attractive to international students and researchers. This is probably true, but to what extent this will really make a difference is entirely unclear.”

According to the OECD, in 2018 10,454 international students studied in Belgium. The share of international students in the country has decreased from 11% in 2014 to 10% in 2018, although the number of Belgian students enrolling abroad is higher than the average across OECD countries. Their most popular destination is the Netherlands.

The proposition has now been sent for opinion to the Council of State.

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