The President of the Republic of Serbia (Serbia) has declared a state of emergency on 15 March 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic (State of Emergency Decree). The declared state of emergency affected numerous areas, but most importantly – cross-border mobility, functioning of the airports, functioning of the State administration, and free movement.
All border crossings for international traffic are closed. International airports in the Serbia are shut down entirely as of midnight, 19 March 2020. State administration counters are closed for work with parties. These circumstances made foreigners in Serbia extend their stay until the end of the state of emergency and normalization of international border crossings. This raises the question of the legal basis of their residence and validity of their residence permits in Serbia.
Foreigners who are temporarily staying in Serbia due to employment or any other type of work engagement, are additionally facing the question of validity of their work permits.
Serbian Government resolved these issues by adopting two different decisions concerning the status of foreigners in Serbia during the state of emergency and the validity of their residence and work permits.
According to the Decision on Status of Foreigners in the Republic of Serbia during the State of Emergency, dated 24 March 2020, all foreign citizens who had entered Serbia legally before the State of Emergency Decree are allowed to legally stay in Serbia during the state of emergency. Furthermore, persons holding a Serbian residence permit or a Serbian identity card for foreigners, are considered to be legally residing in Serbia during the state of emergency, and their residence permits and Serbian identity cards shall be deemed valid during the entire state of emergency. The main condition for the latter is that the foreigner has legally entered and legally stayed in the Republic of Serbia as of the moment of declaration of the state of emergency.
Foreigners who have entered the country illegally, whose residence documentation has expired or has been terminated before the declaration of the state of emergency, whose permanent residence has been terminated before declaring the state of emergency or hold no other legal grounds to stay on the territory of Serbia before the state of emergency was declared, are deemed to be staying illegally in Serbia. Procedures in case of illegal stay in Serbia are prescribed by the Serbian Law on Foreigners, with the latter applied accordingly, even during the state of emergency. In case that the criteria for defining the illegal stay have been met, the competent authority shall issue a decision on return and order the foreigner to leave the country. Taking into account the current circumstances and the fact that the return is not possible at the moment, the competent authority shall also issue a decision on delay of return or forced removal of the foreigner. If there is a risk that the foreigner who is in the return procedure, will not be available to the competent authority to execute return or forced removal when the moment comes, the foreigner shall be ordered to stay in a detention centre. Stay in a detention centre is the ultimate and the most restrictive measure which shall be adopted only in exceptional cases. In all other cases of delayed return, the competent authority will issue a decision imposing mandatory stay in a particular place.
Validity of work permits during the state of emergency is determined by the Decision on Validity of a Work Permit issued to a Foreigner during the State of Emergency (Validity Decision). The Validity Decision was adopted on and has been in force since 27 March 2020, and prescribes that work permits, issued to foreigners in accordance with the Serbian Law on Employment of Foreigners, and which are to expire during the state of emergency, shall be valid until the State of Emergency Decree is in force. Regardless of the type of work permit, it shall stay valid for the entire state of emergency. This resolves the legal status of foreigners during a state of emergency and guarantees the possibility for all foreigners to keep their jobs and stay employed during a state of emergency. This is very important since the employment of foreigners ceases by force of law when their work permit expires.
All the above-stated summarized in one sentence – foreigners who had entered and stayed in Serbia legally before the state of emergency was declared and who had appropriate work permit (in case of work engagement) at the time, are allowed to stay and their residence and work permits are deemed valid during the entire state of emergency.