27 March, 2020
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Covid-19 outbreak: Status of legal aliens and other foreign nationals in Serbia during the pandemic

The state of emergency has witnessed more than 320,000 Serbian nationals return to the Republic of Serbia (“RS”) from abroad.  To prevent an onslaught of arrivals and in turn any exacerbation of the existing public health crisis, as of March 20, 2020 the authorities have sealed all borders to travelers, Serbian and foreign nationals alike. Serbian citizens returning from abroad who entered the RS prior to the border closures must self-isolate for 14 or 28 days and are subject to isolation order spot checks by police.  Many foreign nationals are “stuck” in the RS following global airport closures, and because neighboring countries have banned entry to foreigners. This situation is unlikely to change until the state of emergency is lifted.  Those foreign nationals who remained found themselves in a predicament, occasioning the Government’s adoption of a special decision to address this matter.

 

Legal framework

The Foreign Nationals Act (“Act”) governs the entry, movement, stay and repatriation of foreign nationals, as well as the remit of state authorities with regard to the entry, movement and stay of foreign nationals in the RS and their repatriation from the RS. Pursuant to the Act, a foreign national is any person who does not hold RS citizenship.  However, the Act does not apply to foreign nationals who:

  • have applied for asylum or have been granted asylum or temporary protection in the RS;
  • enjoy privileges and immunities under international law;
  • have been granted refugee status under the Refugee

 

Registration of residence

Foreign nationals in the RS are required to register their residence.  This must done at the police station with responsibility for the locality in which the foreign national resides, or at the regional police department, which is an organizational unit with responsibly for foreign national matters.  It is important to note that the electronic registration of residence is also possible.  Under the Act, a foreign national may stay in the RS on one of the following grounds:

  • short-term stay;
  • on a long-term visa;
  • temporary residence;
  • permanent residence.

Short-term stay means a stay without a visa of no more than 90 days in any 180-day period, starting from the date of first entry, if not determined otherwise under an international treaty, as well as a stay on a short-term visa.

Stay on a long-term visa permits a foreign national to enter and reside in the RS for between 90 and 180 days, in accordance with the visa regime for visa-required nationals, and who intends on applying for temporary residence in the RS. 

Temporary residence permits foreign nationals to stay in the RS for more than 90 days (up to one year, which may be extended for the same period) on one of the grounds referred to in Article 40 of the Act (employment, primary/secondary education or learning the Serbian language, higher education, ownership of real estate, family reunification, treatment and care etc.).

Permanent residence permits foreign nationals to reside permanently in the RS.  Applications are open to foreign nationals meeting the conditions under Article 70 of the Act and who, on the permanent residency application date, have at least five years of continuous residence on a temporary residency permit.  Foreign nationals must file their permanent residency applications in person using official forms with the authority having responsibility for the locality in which they have been temporarily resident.  Biometric identity cards are issued to foreign nationals that have been granted permanent residency.

 

Illegal stay and repatriation

Foreign nationals found to be staying illegally on the territory of the RS shall be subject to a repatriation order and given a voluntary repatriation deadline i.e. a deadline by which they must leave the RS.  The competent authority may extend the voluntary repatriation deadline for a foreign national who, on legitimate grounds e.g. the coronavirus pandemic, has not departed the RS within the deadline.

 

Government Decision

The Government of the RS adopted the Decision concerning the Status of Foreign Nationals in the Republic of Serbia during the State of Emergency (“Decision”) which seeks to regulate the status of foreign nationals during the state of emergency.  Accordingly, foreign nationals retain the status they had prior to the state of emergency, without the need to obtain/produce any new documents or extend existing permits.

Foreign nationals given unchanged status

Legal aliens staying in the RS on the date of entry into force of the State of Emergency Order, i.e. on March 15, 2020, on any of the grounds prescribed by the Act, may legally stay in the RS for as long as the State of Emergency Order is in force, with no requirement to pursue their applications to determine their status.

Validity of identity documents

Identity cards issued under the Act to foreign nationals, and under the Asylum and Temporary Protection Act to asylum seekers and persons granted asylum, which has expired or will expire while the State of Emergency Order is in force shall be deemed valid for as long as the Order is in force.  While the State of Emergency Order remains in place, work by police officers tasked with taking biometrics from foreign nationals shall be temporarily suspended until the conditions are safe to do so.

The Decision entered into force on March 24, 2020.

 

For more information, please contact us via covid19@geciclaw.com