Is Serbia going to lose its visa-free agreement with the EU because it changed its Law on Foreigners?

Last week, the Serbian Parliament passed amendments to the Law on the Employment of Foreigners and the Law on Foreigners. That law stipulates that foreign citizens, in a single procedure, simultaneously exercise the right to temporary residence and to obtain a work permit in Serbia.

 The European Commission has expressed its concerns because, as they say, the amendments are jeopardizing public policy and the security of the European Union.

To remind, one of Serbia’s biggest successes on its road to EU membership happened in 2009, when Serbian citizens no longer need visas for travelling to EU countries. Is the visa-free regime of Serbia now in jeopardy because of the amendments to the Law on Foreigners, which simplified the procedure for obtaining work and residence permits for foreigners?

“The problem is that the amendments prescribe a very simplified procedure for obtaining Serbian citizenship after a limited period of stay in Serbia, i.e. three instead of five years. Thus, what could easily happen is that citizens of third countries, who would otherwise need a visa to enter the EU, can now do so without,” says Sofija Popović from EWB.

The European Commission has already expressed concern.

“Amendments to the Serbian Law on Citizenship could pose a risk to the public policy or security of the European Union, given that citizens of Serbia enjoy visa-free access to the European Union,” the EU stated in its response.

In coordination with European institutions, the Serbian authorities should remove all legal provisions that could pose a risk for the abolition of the visa-free regime that Serbia enjoys.

“It is discouraging to see that when creating legal solutions, the Serbian authorities do not automatically take into account the European rules to which we have committed ourselves, but the EU has to remind us of this, which creates a bad message of Serbia as an EU partner, especially in the context of the war in Ukraine, where we, as a candidate country, not only did not comply with the European sanctions against Russia, but there is a perception about us circumventing the European sanctions,” says Popović.

Amendments to the Law on the Employment of Foreigners were made in order to attract highly educated personnel, especially since the war between Ukraine and Russia began. Opposing views came from the Ministry of European Integration, which says that they see no problem with the Law and that Serbia will continue to pay attention to the EU’s security policy and security interests. The Centre for European Policies says that a better solution than changing the law itself would be to implement a Circular Migration project, that is, that those people who leave their country maintain constant contact with their motherland.

“Some of the analyses we conducted as part of that project actually proved that circular migrations actually address the problems of a shortage of workforce, i.e. attract foreign-educated workers,” says Andrija Mladenović from the Centre for European Policies.

This applies especially to the context of Serbia, a country whose large number of citizens lives in work across Europe.

(N1, 31.07.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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