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May 2019 - How about taking international employment into account?

Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA) - In the Spotlight - Situation of the Brussels working age population on the labour market

Situation of the Brussels working age population on the labour market (2016)

Source: Steunpunt Werk and BISA

The European and international institutions of the Brussels-Capital region employ some 50,000 people throughout the regional territory. However, this “international employment” goes undetected in certain labour market statistics. This issue of “In the spotlight” explains why and exposes the means implemented by BISA to fix this problem. The result is striking: when international employment is integrated into labour market statistics, the unemployment rate and the activity rate increase by 4 percentage points[1], whereas the unemployment rate decreases by 1 percentage point.

Administrative statistics on the labour market: precise but not always accurate

The Brussels working age population (see Box 1) is divided into three groups:

  • People that are working (employed population);
  • People that are looking for work (unemployed population);
  • People in neither of those situations (the inactive population). This latter category includes, amongst others, students, stay-at-home spouses, pensioners and people on a career break.

The indicators that describe the labour market (employment, activity and unemployment rates) are derived from the proportions of these three categories (see Box 1).

1. Definitions

  • The activity rate is the ratio of the active population (employed and unemployed population) to the working age population (population aged 15 to 64).
  • The employment rate is the ratio of the employed population to the working age population.
  • The unemployment rate is the ratio of the unemployed population to the active population.


There are several ways to measure the employed, unemployed and active populations. The most precise way relies on administrative data. Administrative data is precise because it is based on the situation on the labour market of each member of the population, unlike survey data that is based on the situation of a sample of the population. However, these statistics have a major disadvantage for the Brussels region: in administrative data, employees of European and international institutions are wrongly listed as “inactive”, as they are not registered as “working” by the Belgian administrations.


2. Why aren’t international employees included in employment administrative data?

Administrative data comes from the administrations that register workers and job seekers. For the Brussels-Capital Region, workers are registered with the NSSO if they are salaried employees and with the NISSE if they are self-employed. Job seekers register with Actiris. The “inactive” population category includes all people residing in Brussels, of working age, who are not listed in the databases of workers or job seekers. Employees of European and international institutions are included in the latter category, as their social security programme is different from that of the NSSO.

BISA to the rescue: a census of international employment

To remedy this problem, BISA has undertaken an extensive census of international employees. As their data is not centralised by any administration, it was collected directly from the international employers. With the collaboration of more than 50 European and international institutions, BISA has been publishing accurate yearly statistics on international employees and their characteristics for the past two years.

In order to integrate international employment into labour market statistics, the first step is to determine how many among them are wrongly listed as inactive in administrative data. In other words, one must determine the number of international workers of working age who are registered as residents of the Brussels-Capital region. In total, 48.278 people work for European and international institutions in Brussels. If one subtracts the number of people aged 65 or more, those who live outside of Brussels, and those who do not feature in the National Register (diplomats and consuls), the remaining population is of 30,627.

The impact of international employment on the labour-market statistics

When international employment is taken into account, more than 30,000 people are therefore moved from the “inactive” to the “employed” category. This correction has a significant impact on the labour market indicators:

  • the employment rate increases from 49% to 53%;

  • the activity rate increases from 61% to 65%;

  • the unemployment rate decreases from 20% to 19%.

By including international employment in administrative statistics (see Box 3), we obtain an image of the Brussels labour market that is closer to reality. Thanks to BISA’s census on international employment and to all the participating institutions, this is now possible.

3. Data sources

Among the different data sources used to calculate employment statistics, some already take international employment into account. That is the case for example of the Labour Force Survey, conducted by Statbel. Actiris also includes a correction for international jobs in their calculation of the unemployment rate.

In this issue of “In the Spotlight”, the statistics used come from the Vlaamse arbeidsrekening 2016 developed by Steunpunt Werk, which do not automatically include international employment. From 2019 onwards, the statistics issued by Steunpunt Werk will systematically include the international employment data collected by BISA.


 Further information

Find figures relating to international employment per municipality under the theme “Labour market - domestic employment” in BISA’s website.

Discover the analysis of these figures in BISA’s Focus No. 24: Employment at international organisations: finally included in the labour market statistics.

[1] A percentage point is the unit of absolute difference between two figures expressed in percent. Therefore, between an employment rate of 49% and an employment rate of 53%, there is a difference of 4 percentage points.