Indians in Belgium Jun03
has a population of 10.2 million and it has done well by hosting both NATO
and the European Union institutions. There are over 1 million immigrants
(10% of population) and of these there are 14,000 of Indian origin. About
3000 Persons of Indian Origin” (PIOs) from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and
Mauritius are awaiting their residency to be legalised. A further 2500
Indians have acquired Belgian citizenship because Belgian families have
bulk of the Indian community is concentrated in Antwerp and in Brussels.
Only a few years ago the top 10 diamond merchants in Antwerp were Jewish
but today the top six are of Indian origin. These rich Indian diamond
merchants have substantially improved the diamond trade between India and
Belgium creating many jobs in Belgium and many more in India. The Antwerp
Indians have an active Antwerp Indian Association that works closely with
the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO).
trade has soared to $5bn and gems and jewellery account for almost 75% in
value terms. Belgium, with only 16 Belgian companies operating in India,
is now India’s 7th largest trading partner and 3rd
most important in the EU – a significant achievement in view of its
small population and limited resources. Indian companies have shown
interest in investing in Belgium, especially in the energy, ports,
software and biotechnology sectors. The Double Taxation Avoidance
Agreement, the Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement (1997) and the
Agreement on Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technological
Co-operation (1990) between India and Belgium facilitate bi-lateral trade
and joint ventures. Indian software companies such as TCS, HCL and Infosys
are active in Brussels. Belgian companies continue to employ Indian IT
experts and it is estimated that Belgium needs a further 6000 IT experts.
is evidence of racial discrimination in employment in Belgium, especially
in the service sector at management level. Anti-immigrant political
parties have gained in recent elections forcing the Belgian government to
be less welcoming in
processing asylum applications from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Linguistically, Indians are disadvantaged compared to the French speaking
Moroccans, Tunisians and Algerians. Those Indians and their children who
acquire Belgian citizenship have difficulty in securing meaningful
employment in the public sector e.g. civil service and parastatal
are far more Indians working in Belgium than Belgians working in India. At
present, Indians working in Belgium for many years and returning to India
before reaching retirement age lose any right to pensions although they
contribute each month for the full period of their work in Belgium. This
impoverishes the workers in an unacceptable manner whilst enriching the
Belgian government by millions of Euros.
countries have bi-lateral treaties with Belgium e.g. Algeria, Democratic
Republic of Congo, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey etc that allows social
security contributions of their workers to be accumulated towards a
pension that is payable in the country of origin of the worker. It is
essential for the Indian Government to establish a reciprocal agreement
with the Belgian Government so that Indians working in Belgium would
qualify for their pensions to be paid in India when they retire.
relations with Belgium are good and India can do business with Belgium as
there is a culture of enterprise and flexibility on both sides. There is
scope for the successful Indian pharmaceutical industry to establish joint
ventures with Belgian companies so that Indian products can be freely sold
in the EU. India needs to have a strong presence in Brussels – a
presence that can connect Indian entrepreneurs to tap the full potential
of agro-processing in India, development of renewable energy e.g. biomass,
wind and solar, leather and textile industries. India needs competent
industrialists as well as diplomats to represent its interest in the EU.