NOVELTIES IN THE FIELD OF EMPLOYMENT OF FOREIGNERS IN SERBIA
Faced with increasingly frequent immigrations and the rapid changes that they bring with them, the competent authorities of the Republic of Serbia came to the conclusion that the current regulations and prescribed procedures are not adequately aligned with the needs of practice, and that many existing rules need to be regulated differently, simplified, and finally modernized.
The greatest need for reorganization was certainly in the field of residence and work of foreigners, therefore these procedures faced the most significant changes and liberalization.
On July 26, 2023, the National Assembly adopted the Law on Amendments to the Law on Foreigners and the Law on Amendments to the Law on Employment of Foreigners. Below are presented the most important amendments.
I WHAT IS A UNIFIED PERMIT?
The previous two separate procedures - the procedure for obtaining residence and the procedure for obtaining work permit have been now merged into one procedure - procedure for the approval of unified permit. Unified permit will be issued to foreigners who stay in the Republic of Serbia based on employment, special cases of employment, self-employment and professional specialization, training or practice.
It is interesting that the entire procedure has been further modernized, and the procedure for issuing unified permit will be fully electronic. Therefore, it will be possible to submit a request only electronically, through a special web portal.
The novelty is that the request can be submitted on behalf of the foreigner by the foreigner's employer or a person authorized by them, as well as by a foreigner from abroad if he/she does not need a visa to enter Serbia.
Those amendments have led to shortening a deadline for the competent authorities to decide - 15 days from the date of submission of the complete request.
Also, the labor market test procedure will be carried out electronically in the future, by submitting an electronic request that will be an integral part of the request for issuing unified permit. The deadline for processing the request for labour market test is shortened to 4 days (instead of previous deadline of 10 days).
The unified permit will be issued in the form of a biometric document (card), which will contain personal data of the foreigner (such as photograph, fingerprints and signature).
New legal solution provides the possibility of extended duration for the unified permit. The permit may be issued for a period of up to 3 years, with the possibility of extension for the same period.
The request for extension shall be submitted no earlier than 3 months before the expiry of the permit, and no later than the expiry of the permit itself (while until now, the request could be submitted no later than 30 days before the expiration of the approved stay).
II CLARIFIED AMBIGUITIES IN PRACTICE
The legislator also amended and regulated many issues that arose in practice, around which there were ambiguities and different interpretations. For example, when calculating the legal stay in the Republic of Serbia, many foreigners found themselves faced with a dilemma - is it necessary to include the day of entry into the Republic of Serbia in the deadline itself? As a result, the legislator now clarifies this and clearly defines that the day of entry and the day of exit from the Republic of Serbia are counted as days of stay on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, which can be of great importance for foreigners, considering the higher amount of the penalties in case of illegal stay of foreigners.
Also, the issue of proving the financial means for subsistence and proof of health insurance during the stay in the Republic of Serbia arose in practice - "is the employment contract of foreigner sufficient evidence for both conditions?" In order to avoid different interpretations in practice, the legislator now clearly confirms that a foreigner who is employed is not obliged to provide a proof of financial means for subsistence and proof of health insurance, neither do his/her immediate family members.
The labor market and the flexibility required by the labor market have caused more frequent changes both with employees and employers, which has also caused many changes in the previous work permits of foreigners and the implementation of the same procedures over and over again. This is why, the legislator now foresees the possibility that the competent organization for employment affairs (instead of changing the work permit, which was the case until now) during the period of validity of the single permit, through consent, approves a change of the basis of work, change of employers, or approves employment with two or more employers. The deadline for approval is 10 days from the day the request is duly received, and the entire procedure, as mentioned above, will take place electronically, through a special web portal.
Amendments define a deadline for a foreigner whose employment contract has been terminated, to conclude a new employment contract. The prescribed deadline is 30 days from the date of termination of the employment contract.
III PERMANENT RESIDENCE
With the extension of the duration of temporary residence/single permit, the period required for the approval of permanent residence has been shortened. Instead of the current period of continuous residence of more than 5 years based on the temporary residence permit, it is foreseen that permanent residence can be granted to a foreigner who resides continuously for three years based on the temporary residence permit, i.e. on the basis of a single permit.
However, the question is, which stay can be considered a continuous residence?
By continuous residence, the legislator means the effective stay of a foreigner on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, with the possibility of absence. The absence itself can be a multiple - for up to 10 months in a period of 3 years or a one-time absence - for up to 6 months in a period of 3 years.
Therefore, if the foreigner is granted permanent residence, the foreigner will be issued an identity card for a foreigner with a validity of 5 years, or a minor foreigner with a validity of 2 years. The foreigner's identity card must be collected by the foreigner in person and will represent an identity document and residence permit.
IV VISA PROCEDURE
Digitization of the procedure will also follow the process of obtaining visas required for entry, stay and transit, for which, in addition to the possibility of personal submission, the request will also be submitted electronically, and the visas themselves will be issued in electronic format.
The consent of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the diplomatic-consular representation will be given within 10 days from the date of submission of the visa application for review, unless there are humanitarian reasons, force majeure or the interest of the Republic of Serbia in urgent action, when the visa can be issued without prior consent of the Ministry, which is a novelty.
In the end, although the mentioned laws came into force, the actual application of many provisions will be carried out from February 2024. Namely, the provisions related to the unified procedure for issuing permits will be applied from February 1, 2024, while separate procedures for issuing permits will be carried out until then.
Also, detailed regulation of the prescribed forms, instructions and the establishment of a unified web portal is still pending, so it remains to be seen how those novelties will be implemented in practice.
VI SUMMARY OF KEY AMENDMENTS
1. As of 01 February 2024, the implementation of the unified electronical procedure through the web portal will start to apply. Foreigners will be issued a unified residence and work permit in the form of a biometric document.
2. The deadline for decision of the competent authorities has been shortened to 15 days from the day of submission of the proper request.
3. Unified permit (and temporary residence) will be granted for a period of up to 3 years. However, it is not clear whether this option will be applicable before 1 February 2024 due to potential administrative issues, i.e. necessity of harmonizing work of competent authorities with new regulations.
4. It will be possible to submit a request for an extension until the date of expiration of permit.
5. A more flexible solution was introduced in case of change of employer and basis of employment. Instead of changing the work permit, which was the case until now, during the period of validity of the unified permit, the competent authority approves the change of the basis of work, changes of employers or employment with two or more employers. The deadline for approval is 10 days from the day of properly receiving the request.
6. The period necessary for approval of permanent residence has been shortened. Instead of the current period of continuous residence of more than 5 years based on the temporary residence permit, it is foreseen that permanent residence can be granted to a foreigner who resides continuously for three years based on the temporary residence permit, i.e. on the basis of a unified permit.