Since Merv’s arrival in Brussels, the question we are asked most often is “What is happening with Merv’s visa?” As a non-European foreigner in Belgium, having your partner or spouse join you on a long term basis can be a long and confusing process filled with obstacles and suspense, with the occassional twist and comic relief thrown in. It’s an adventure in itself – here’s the story of our visa journey so far.
I’d been working in Brussels for 12 months, and with no sign of being ready to return home to Australia any time soon, we decided to start looking into the possibility to having Merv finally join me in Brussels. Being beyond the eligible age for a working holiday visa, and not having EU citizenship, meant that a long-term stay in Belgium without employer sponsorship was not a possibility, and the prospects of finding local employment while still in Australia, with no knowledge of French or Dutch, was also a long shot. Being unmarried, a family reunification visa was not an option either.
The Belgian Embassy in Canberra advised that a long-term stay could be granted on the basis of a de facto visa – hoorah! But since it is possible for Australians to travel to Belgium (being in the Schengen zone) without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days, the de facto visa would not be processed by the Embassy. Instead, Merv would need to enter Belgium as a tourist, and then apply directly to the Belgian Foreign Office for the de facto visa.
Much to our confusion, the concept of a ‘de facto’ relationship does not officially exist in Belgium, so neither does a ‘de facto visa’. Rather, we would need to apply for a visa on the basis of ‘legal cohabitation’, whereby two adults form a household by living together at at the same address. To be eligible for this, we would need to prove that we’d been in a stable relationship for at least one year, and were not already married to other people. As we’d been together for over twelve years, this seemed straightforward enough…
When I finally decided to take the plunge and move across the world to join Bec in Brussels, I knew it was not going to be a simple process. Stories I’d heard about Bec’s experiences with the Belgian administration, and the experiences of her Australian friends that had already been through the process of having their non-European partners join them in Brussels left me feeling very uncertain about what lay ahead. All I could do was follow the advice of the Belgain Embassy and work my way through the required steps, beginning with the checklist of documents I’d need to submit for my application for a “visa with a view to legal cohabitation in Belgium”.
Obtaining all the necessary documentation was a challenge in itself. The online application for the police certificate was simple enough, but obtaining the medical certificate from an Embassy-appointed doctor required a series of visits, blood tests and x-rays. I’d lost my birth certificate during the move from the Philippines to Australia as a child, so obtaining an equivalent document had me contacting relatives in the Philippines to apply on my behalf for a record of birth at the registry in the town where I was born and having it FedExed to Sydney. Applying for a Single Status Certificate for each of us was a seemingly simple online process, but delays with processing resulted in last-minute in-person visits to the registry and the payment of additional fees to get the papers in time to have all of these original certificates legalised with an apostille – at the Foreign Affairs office for the Australian certificates, and at the Philippine Consulate for the birth certificate.
I also needed to submit proof of adequate health insurance covering me in Belgium for an extended period, and documents proving the history and “permanent and stable character” of our relationship. Since an Australian registered relationship is not recognised for this purpose in Belgium, and with no guidance as to what might constitute “proof”, I went into my memory boxes to gather a selection of photographs, cards and letters from the past 12 years, and hoped that these would be sufficient. With all these documents and my one-way ticket in hand, I boarded the plane for Belgium, ready for the adventure to come.