Search Year in Belgium Explained

Curious about what the search year is? Should you go for a search-year or a single permit? This article will help you understand the processes and the differences.

International House Leuven
17 January 2024

What is it?

The search year is a sort of work permit that allows graduated international students to stay within Belgium for 1 year after their studies to find a job. The benefit of a search year is that you have an unlimited access to the labor market during that year.

Helpful Dutch vocabulary: zoekjaar = search year also known as an orientation year

Who is it for?

This permit is for non EU/EEA students or researchers that have graduated from a Belgian higher education institution. So, if you received your bachelor or master’s in Belgium, then you could apply for a search year to continue residing in the country.

Are you an EU/EEA student or researcher or a British national with an M-card? Then you do not need a search year because you already have access to the Belgian labor market.

Related link: Search year from the city of Leuven

What about the application process?

The application is done by the student or researcher themselves (which could be a benefit for some employers), meaning that the applicant has to make sure they have collected all of the proper documents for their own application.

Like every immigration application, there is a lot of research to be done to make sure you tick all of the boxes, so below we will provide you will some links that will take you to official sources of information. You should be able to find all you need to know via those links, but the International House Leuven can surely help you out if you get stuck.

Most of the documents you need to collect are the normal suspects (remember back when you did your student visa? Same deal). The most time consuming document for me was collecting the proof of financial solvency. The idea for this requirement is that you can prove that you have the financial means to support yourself while looking for a job.

Please be aware that the financial proof is different for students vs researcher. KU Leuven has explained the requirements for each on this page.

The application is submitted to your town hall of residence at the latest, 15 days before the expiry of your student visa. If you are a resident of Leuven then you can submit the application online here.

After you submit your application to the city they will check that you have all of the documents in order, then your file is sent off to the immigration office which may take up to 90 days for a final approval.

After approval you will receive a new residence card from your local town hall. If you are in a position where your residence card from when you were a student expires then you can make an appointment at the town hall to get an annex 15, which is a form that proves you are waiting to hear back from the immigration office about a decision.

What are the benefits of a search year compared to a single permit?

A single what? A single permit is a common work permit for foreigners. Sometimes it could be that you recently graduated from university and already have a lead for a job after your student visa runs out. You could go one of two routes.

Route 1:

Tell your employer that you are applying for a search year which allows you unlimited access to the labor market for 1 year. This way you can work for that company on a one year contract, and about halfway through your year working there, start to inquire about the possibility of renewing your contract with a single permit. The single-permit process is done by your employer.

Route 2:

You have an interested employer, and you discuss the possibility of them supporting your work permit via a single permit. There is a list of conditions to be able to apply for a single permit; it is a short list, with big conditions (mainly when it comes to the minimum salary requirements). Does your employer have questions about the single-permit, maybe they aren’t sure what it is or how the application procedure works? This link provides a lot of information, explaining the process, the files that need to be collected, and the platform where the employer should apply.

All that to say, a big benefit of the search year is that the graduate applies for it themselves, taking away some of the “stress” or admin from the future employer. Another benefit is the freedom that comes with it. A search year provides unlimited access to the labor market (for 1 year). You could try out a few different jobs over the course of the year, where a single-permit ties your residency status to the company where you work.

The last benefit is that the conditions to apply for a search year are lower, where the conditions for the single permit require a minimum salary to apply.

Tips from someone on the search year.

#1: Apply early! Currently (in mid-2023) there is a fairly long waiting time. Go ahead and do your research, make a list of the documents you need and get ahead of schedule. The latest day to apply is 15 days before the end of your student visa, but ideally you shouldn’t even wait that long for a smooth handover.

#2: There are some supporting documents that might take some to gather. For me the hardest ones were the proof of financial means and some of the things I needed to get apostilled.

#3: Don’t worry too much if the process of receiving the final decision is taking a bit longer than you expected. The system works, but sometimes can take longer than you like. You can always ask your town hall for an annex 15, which is a form proving that your file is still being processed, and by no fault of your own. Do you have other questions or worries, reach out to your town hall and they can assist you.

#4 During your search year, it is possible that the immigration office checks that you are actively searching for a job. It’s not a bad idea to keep your job search history in one place so if you are asked to prove this you are prepared. An idea is to start an excel sheet with who you have contacted, the interviews you’ve had and even the offers.

#5 Join one of the International House Leuven’s career workshops to help get your foot into the door of the labor market. They have information sessions and more practical sessions on CV/motivation letters, networking, and discussion groups.

Some helpful links in one place

This information is provided in good faith, and does not constitute legal or financial advice. The information has been designed to provide a simple overview rather than to be exhaustive.

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3000 Leuven

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This page was last updated on: 8 May 2024