British citizens who “exercised their right to reside” in Belgium before January 1, 2021, and “continued to reside thereafter”, can apply until December 31, 2021, for the status of beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement (art. 47/5, §3 from the law of December 15, 1980, on the access to the territory, stay, establishments and return of the foreigners, and art. 69undecies, 1° from the royal decree of October 8, 1981, on the access to the territory, stay, establishments and return of the foreigners).
Regarding the procedure, British citizens that have applied for the status of beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement receive an annex 56. This annex 56 is a certificate giving a temporary legal stay, protecting their rights, and giving an unlimited access to the labour market.
In case the Immigration Office takes a positive decision, the British citizen receives an M-card or an M+-card. Depending on where British citizens reside, the decision-taking process may be longer or shorter.
Many British citizens wish to apply for Belgian citizenship and are wondering whether their M-cards or annex 56 will be accepted as proof of legal stay, with respect to the Belgian Nationality Code, (1) at the time of submitting the application, and (2) for the period preceding the application. Indeed, to receive the Belgian nationality, a foreigner must have had an uninterrupted legal stay in Belgium for 5 years, or 10 years.
Article 7bis of the Belgian Nationality Code defines the “legal stay” required at the time of submission of the application for Belgian nationality, and the “legal stay” during the period preceding the application. The royal decree of January 14, 2013, implementing the law of December 4, 2012, amending the Belgian Nationality Code to make the acquisition of the Belgian nationality neutral from an immigration perspective, in its articles 3 and 4, lays down the lists of the residence documents that must be considered as proof of legal stay.
Regarding M-cards and M+-cards, a royal decree has been adopted on August 30, 2021, amending the royal decree of January 14, 2013, implementing the Belgian Nationality Code. This new royal decree adds two new documents that must be considered as proof of legal stay in Belgium at the time of the submission of the application for Belgian nationality: the “M. Article 50 TEU”-card and the permanent “M. Article 50 TEU”-card (art. 1 from the royal decree of August 30, 2021). The Annex 56 has not been added to the list, but it would not make sense to exclude this type of document providing a temporary legal stay from the list of legal stays within the meaning of the Belgian Nationality Code. Difficulties, in the practice, could arise.
Furthermore, this royal decree also amends article 4 of the royal decree of January 14th, 2013, listing the documents that must be considered as proof of legal stay in Belgium during the period preceding the application for Belgian nationality. He adds not only the “M. Article 50 TEU”-card and the permanent “M. Article 50 TEU”-card, but also the annex 56.