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It is inevitable that Serbia has been attracting foreign individuals and legal entities in recent years to enter the Serbian market and discover all of its charms. However, due to the new amendments to the Law on Foreigners (hereinafter: the Law), which came into effect in August 2023, we are confident that the number of foreign nationals considering coming to Serbia will definitely increase.
The revised legal framework provides for the modernization and liberalization of conditions for foreigners to enter the Serbian market with their knowledge and work. With these legal changes and the extension of the period for which residence and work permits are granted, Serbia is keeping pace with other European countries.
We suggest that you take a few minutes to see why it is advantageous to be a foreign national in Serbia.
The Law is undergoing such fundamental changes for the first time, so it would be desirable to highlight the most significant ones that will help you understand what to expect.
The previous regulations allowed for the approval of a residence permit in Serbia, as well as work permits, for a period of up to one year, and in practice, there were even situations in the last year where residence was granted for shorter durations.
Taking inspiration from other European countries, such as Poland, which allows temporary residence for up to three years, Serbia has incorporated this time frame into its legal system. The significantly longer approved period of residence is certainly long-awaited and supported by both foreign nationals and the companies they work for. This change will lead to a reduction in administrative costs since there will no longer be a need to renew residence and work permits every year. Due to the favorable economic climate and conditions in the market, it has been observed in practice that many foreign nationals stay in Serbia for longer than one year on average. Therefore, these proposed changes have been enthusiastically welcomed by foreigners residing in Serbia.
In addition to saving time and money, these changes also ease the workload of the relevant authorities, which will now undoubtedly be more relieved and efficient in their decision-making processes.
While there has been an increase in the length of approved residence permits from one to three years, the legislator, on the other hand, reduced the duration after which a foreigner can apply for permanent residence.
The Law now provides the opportunity to apply for permanent residence after three consecutive years on an approved temporary residence permit. We can agree that this is a significant relief for foreign nationals who previously had to wait for up to five consecutive years of temporary residence before reaching the stage of permanent settlement.
A foreigner now has the option to personally submit an application for permanent residence or do so electronically, as well as personally collect their foreigner’s ID card, which leads us to the next significant innovation.
It is no secret that the digitalization system in Serbia is progressing day by day. We have previously introduced you to the benefits of eGovernment. For those who prefer to complete administrative procedures from the comfort of their own chair, we have some more news – as of February 2024, the entire process of obtaining temporary residence and work permits will be transferred to the online world.
The concept is that foreigners can electronically submit the necessary requests and that communication with the relevant authorities is generally being digitized. This is undoubtedly a very positive change that has been warmly welcomed, as waiting in queues and dealing with paper documents has proven to be outdated in every sense. Since Serbia has also introduced digitalization of company formation in Serbia and electronic document signing, it was expected that digitalization would be directed towards procedures related to foreigners’ rights.
As we discuss aligning with European trends, we cannot bypass this topic. You must be wondering what has happened. The legislator has decided that in line with the interests of the Republic of Serbia and respecting the relevant provisions of the Law, the Government may establish, by special act, specific categories of foreigners, criteria, methods, and all related conditions for granting their temporary residence.
The characteristics that these categories possess are specific and deserve special treatment in addition to the established grounds for applying for temporary residence. As you may know, we have already elaborated on the topic of granting temporary residence based on employment, company formation in Serbia, or real estate ownership.
In accordance with these amendments, a legal framework is being established for introducing new categories and, effectively, the basis for applying for temporary residence. The executive authority will be responsible for determining, by means of a special legal act, which categories of foreigners fall into this group and what specifically may be more suitable for their residence. For example, the Law currently mentions:
- Foreign investors,
- Foreigners engaged in innovative activities,
- Digital nomads,
- Highly qualified foreigners,
- Foreign talents,
but leaves room for this circle to expand.
Currently, there are no guidelines on how these terms will be interpreted in practice, but we can make assumptions about the direction in which these terms are likely to evolve. A special basis for the temporary residence of investors, commonly known as the “Golden Visa,” already exists in many other countries. For example, if you want to obtain residency in Portugal  on this basis, it is necessary to purchase real estate worth over 250.000 euros, and the benefits include the ability to enter the country at any time, even when borders are closed, or the option to not even reside in the country for your residence permit to be renewed.
A distinct special category is digital nomads. Digital nomads are individuals who work remotely, meaning they conduct their work over the Internet, whether as employees of companies or as freelancers. This way of working is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, and Serbia could become an attractive destination for digital nomads due to its relatively low cost of living and quality business opportunities. To this list, we can now add easier and quicker residency and work arrangements.
Now, Jenny, a U.S. citizen considering coming to Serbia to continue her work as a freelancer, can expect more favorable treatment than if she had decided to come half a year ago. In addition to the liberalization of the treatment of foreign nationals, she will certainly want to familiarize herself with the tax aspect through our blog on the status of freelancers in Serbia.
As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons for these amendments is to adapt the legal framework to new trends and the needs of the modern world, for which Europe has already opened its doors. We are witnessing an increasing migration of workers who can now work from anywhere on the planet, making remote work a daily reality. In this context, the support provided to digital nomads in this manner is particularly significant, as the government will recognize them as a distinct category deserving special treatment and attention.
One of the most noteworthy changes and liberalizations, which has been warmly welcomed by individuals planning to relocate to Serbia, is the possibility of issuing a unified residence and work permit.
The unified permit is planned to take the form of a biometric card containing all essential information about the foreign national. In addition to serving as proof of the foreign national’s legal residence, this unified permit will also serve as their identification, with legal validity equal to that of a passport.
The reason for introducing this entirely new procedure, which results in the issuance of a unified residence permit and a work permit in Serbia within 15 days, is to expedite processes and enable foreign nationals to exercise their right to work in the Republic of Serbia as quickly as possible.
A new feature being introduced alongside the unified permit is the ability for foreign nationals to apply for both permits electronically. This is undoubtedly another indicator of progress in the digitization of the entire procedure.
There will no longer be a need to print and submit a large number of paper documents, which only consumes time and space for the competent authorities when reviewing and deciding on applications.
However, some procedures and rules remain unchanged, including security checks, discretionary powers, specific limits on tourist days, visa regimes, and the authorities involved in decision-making on applications.
With the new procedure for issuing the unified permit, the focus is on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Bureau of Employment, which will now have to cooperate and influence each other in much shorter and more urgent timeframes to ensure that significant changes are truly accepted and implemented in the daily lives of foreign nationals.
Although the amendments have been adopted, it will be necessary to wait until February 1, 2024, for the implementation of the new provisions.
What does this mean for you? Take the example of Jenny, a U.S. citizen planning to apply for temporary residence and a work permit based on self-employment. After the amendments to the Law, she will certainly be able to submit a joint application and request approval for a three-year period. However, Jenny will still have to wait 30 days for the issuance of the permits, separately for the stamp indicating approved temporary residence, and especially for the work permit. This means she will have to wait at the relevant department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the temporary residence permit stamp to be affixed to her passport and then wait for the National Bureau of Employment to issue the work permit.
We can agree that the amendments to the Law are phenomenal from the perspective of foreign nationals considering coming to Serbia. A more liberal approach to the rights of foreigners is undoubtedly a positive step forward compared to the previous decade.
Shortened timelines and digitization are advantages for all foreign nationals, but they also pose challenges for the relevant authorities, who will now have to ensure that everything is substantiated in practice within significantly shorter timeframes to truly demonstrate that Serbia is a great destination for residence and life.
Overall, numerous opportunities for economic growth and cultural exchange are being created. The amendments to the Law open a new chapter for Serbia, and we can say that a new era has begun for foreigners in our country.