So Bernard Arnault wants to go to Belgium? He’s not the only one. French citizens a tad less well-off than he and a shade younger are also hurrying aboard the Paris-Brussels train. And unlike “France’s richest man”, the latter migrate in the hope of paying taxes — it will mean they have found a job.

“A growing number of young French people are tempted to begin their professional careers abroad, notably in French-speaking Belgium,” explains Éric Verhaeghe, author of Faut-il quitter la France?[Should you leave France?] And the reason for their exile? “The French labour market is less and less motivating for them.”

The number of French residents in the Brussels region is constantly on the rise. In 2010, the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis reported that they numbered 50,000, as opposed to 34,000 ten years earlier. In 2011, the population of French nationals registered in Belgium grew by 8.1%, the third highest rise in Western Europe after Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Amidst this diaspora, tax exiles are a minority, only accounting for 2% of the 250,000-strong French population in Belgium.

So what is the proportion of young graduates? “It will take time for the statistics to reveal this,” concedes Éric Verhaeghe. No figures, but if you look at the migration of French students to Belgium “there was a logical increase with the construction of Europe and the development of programmes like Erasmus. The single currency has also helped. Since then the number of French students arriving in Belgium doubled to reach 10,000 in the boom years.” Moreover, the Belgian government attempted to establish measures to limit these flows, although these were never implemented because they were deemed incompatible with European law in 2009.

Another type of purely professional mobility which highlights the dynamism of the Franco-Belgian axis is the Volunteer for International Experience programme (VIE) which gives under 28-year-olds an opportunity to spend time working abroad. For French participants, “Belgium is the third-ranked VIE destination in Europe (after the United Kingdom, and Germany), and the fifth ranked in the world,” according to organiser Ubifrance.

Brussels internships are proper internships

So what motivates the graduates who are running scared from the French context? A mixture of weariness and apprehension at the precariousness of job market in France, and the desire for new experience in a country that is perceived as particularly easy and welcoming.

For them, it’s a matter of getting away from a labour market that is hostile and closed. Sciences-Po graduate Louise, age 25, is a case in point. Having taken the logical step of trying her luck in Paris, where she “experienced an ordeal, marked by the daily grind of commuting and pressure on junior employees,” she headed for Brussels:”I moved there on a Thursday, and signed a contract on Friday. It all happened very quickly.”

Is this related to a more accessible labour market? “In terms of job offers, Belgium is one of the top five countries in Europe,” points out an official in the international office of the French state employment service. Especially for highly qualified candidates. However, in certain sectors, breaking into the job market is a difficult as it is in France.

Another criteria: candidates benefit from more flexible options when entering the job market and networks are more accessible. Ninon, 27, who graduated in industrial design in Paris before moving to Brussels a year ago told us: “It was a real pain trying to find a job in Paris. So I decided to go after an internship, but that was no longer an option, because I wasn’t a student anymore. After six months, I headed for Brussels, where they’re more flexible.”

The internships are not fabulous (temporary contracts for low pay), but at least in Brussels internships are proper internships, “and not regular work in disguise like they are in Paris. You can arrive without baggage, because you are there to learn. And you don’t have to wait too long before working on interesting projects. Whereas in Paris, you have to take a ticket like at the butchers and wait your turn in the queue for interesting missions.”

Accessible housing and the low cost of living

Developing a professional network also appears to be easier. Candidates waiting for the Holy Grail of a job find that cobbling together their own employment is not as scary as it is elsewhere: “In the media creative field for example, it is much easier for people to take the plunge than it is in Paris,” explains Ninon.

At the same time, Brussels offers career opportunities for an increasingly wide range of professional profiles. For Sophie, age 26, and a recent graduate of the School for Advanced Studies in Public Health in Paris, a stay in the city was virtually obligatory: “80% of environmental legislation is developed there. You have to get a foothold there, if only to develop your network.”

In Brussels, economic pressure does not weigh as heavily as it does elsewhere. According to an international study on the cost of living conducted by Mercer in 2011, Brussels is the 62nd most expensive city, behind Bratislava and Athens, whereas Paris is ranked 27th. Then there is the issue of housing, which is strong motivation for many expatriates. In the 2011 ranking of European citieswith the highest rents, Paris which is ranked 6th cannot compete with Brussels which is ranked 26th. “For 380 euros a month, I have a room in a shared house with a garden, hens and a vegetable patch,” explains Ninon. ”And it’s only five minutes from Flagey, which is young, trendy and multicultural neighbourhood.” At that price, it’s hard to find a studio in Paris.

For those whose main objective is to find a job, accessible housing and the low cost of living are a bonus, and the icing on the cake for expatriates is a quality of life that is clearly superior. Along with low population density, green spaces, a cultural life that is less elitist and more accessible than the one in Paris.

The Belgians have a lot to do with this migration… they have a very good reputation. However, they complain a lot about the French pushing up prices, the Parisians get especially bad press… They’re sharp, those Belgians.