On 4 August 2023, the latest amendments to the Serbian Law on Foreigners and Law on Employment of Foreigners entered into force, with the most significant amendments taking effect starting from 1 February 2024.
The alterations may be attributed to the need to accelerate and simplify the permit procedure, global affairs that have led to a notable increase of foreign citizens entering Serbia in the past year, as well as to a general effort to bring Serbian legislation closer to EU standards in terms of the security of documents granted to foreign citizens.
One of the most significant amendments to the law has been the issuance of a unified permit to foreign citizens for the reasons of employment or professional specialisation, training, and internship, effectively replacing work permits. Previously, it was necessary for foreign citizens to first obtain a temporary residence permit from the Serbian Ministry of Interior Affairs ("MIA"), after which the foreigner's Serbian employer would apply for the foreigner's work permit at the Serbian National Employment Service ("NES"). The two permits have now been combined to form a unified, single residence and work permit, issued by the MIA, that enables foreign citizens to simultaneously obtain the right to both. This unified permit, as well as the temporary residence permit can now be valid for a maximum of three years, which is a significant improvement from the one-year validity term prescribed for the duration of temporary residence permit by the previous legislation.
Due to work permits being abolished, certain categories of foreigners are exempt from obtaining a unified permit in order to work in Serbia. Examples of these include foreigners who have been granted temporary residence on the basis of family reunification with a member of a Serbian citizen's immediate family, ownership of real estate, studies, scientific research, volunteering or a humanitarian stay, as well as foreigners who have been approved for permanent residence and foreigners who have been granted asylum or temporary protection.
Submitting a request
The request for issuance or extension of the unified permit shall be submitted electronically, through a publicly accessible portal on the internet, by the foreigner, their employer or persons authorised by them. The request for a foreigner who, in accordance with the visa regime, does not require a visa to enter Serbia, can either be submitted during the period of the foreigner's legal residence in Serbia, or submitted from abroad. The evidence required for issuing the unified permit shall be submitted to MIA in electronic form, either as an electronic document in its original form or as a digitised document.
The previous requirement held that an application must be submitted no later than 30 days before the expiry of the temporary residence permit, whereas the amended law allows foreign citizens to apply for the renewal of their unified permit up until the day the permit expires. Hence, it provides for more achievable and realistic thresholds, ultimately reducing the number of issues that arose due to the previous requirements. In addition, MIA must decide on the request within 15 days from the date of receiving a complete application. This is a significant improvement over the previous 30-day deadline for issuing residence permits which, combined with the time needed to issue work permits, often resulted in the procedure lasting more than 40 days.
Assessment and approval by NES
Despite not issuing work permits anymore, NES still plays a significant role in the employment of foreigners because it closely cooperates with MIA concerning the request for issuance of the unified permit. According to the amended laws, NES carries out an "assessment" - an evaluation of the foreigner's fulfilment of the conditions for employment, any special cases of employment of a foreigner, and the self-employment of a foreigner. The assessment in case of employment includes, inter alia, the obligatory labour market test, initiated at the employer's request, upon which NES acts and reports to the employer if there are any domestic workers in NES's records who are competent to work at the requested work position. The deadline for issuance of the report is four days from the submission of the request (the previous deadline was 10 days). The assessment is conducted on the premise of the unified permit application and must be obtained by MIA in order to decide upon the request. Moreover, NES is authorised to give "approvals" to foreigners requesting to change the basis of work or their employer, as well as to be employed by two or more employers during the period of validity of the unified permit. The approval is given on the basis of a separate request by the employee, their employer or persons authorised by them.
The unified permit will be issued as a biometric document, which replaces the previously used stamp in the foreigner's passport. Subsequently, biometric data including photos, fingerprints, and signatures will be taken from all foreigners who are granted a unified permit. The purpose of this measure is to increase the security standards in this area of law and control the movement of foreign citizens in Serbia.
Permanent residence and Type D visas
The amendments provide that permanent residence may be granted to a foreigner after three years of continuous residence in the territory of Serbia (instead of the current five-year period). In addition, for foreigners who need a Type D visa (long-term visa) to enter and work in Serbia, acquiring this visa will represent a sufficient basis for residence and work. This will be the case for the duration of the visa (90 to 180 days). Thus, conditional upon the amendments' implementation, foreigners will be able to work as soon as they arrive in Serbia by obtaining a Type D visa. For this reason, a Type D visa would act as a residence and work permit for as long as the visa remains valid.
The amendments are intended to greatly expedite and digitise the process for obtaining the relevant permits to work as a foreign citizen in Serbia. It can be said that this is a necessary step in reducing the excessive administrative burden placed on foreign citizens and domestic employers under the previous law. It is therefore evident that, under the condition of successful implementation, the amended law will be a welcome step forward for people from abroad wishing to work in Serbia.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.