The Asylum Act foresees that persons granted asylum in Serbia shall be equal to permanently-residing foreigners with respect to the right to work and rights arising from employment and entrepreneurship. The Asylum Act guarantees equality in the rights and obligations of persons granted refugee status with those of persons granted subsidiary protection, even though the Employment of Foreigners Act (EFA) explicitly states that persons who have been granted subsidiary protection are to be issued personal work permits for the duration of that status. The Integration Decree further foresees assistance in accessing the labour market as an integral part of integration.
The assistance is to be provided by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migrations and is to form part of every individual beneficiary of refugee status’ integration plan. The assistance includes assistance in gathering of all the necessary documents for registration with the National Employment Service (NES), the recognition of foreign degrees, enrolling in additional education programmes and courses in line with labour market requirements and engaging in measures of active labour market policy.
The NES is tasked with issuing personal work permits which further allows refugees free employment, self-employment and the right to unemployment insurance. This further provides foreigners who have been granted asylum an unimpeded access to the labour market. The Rulebook on Work Permits governs the procedure for issuing and extending work permits, as well as criteria that one must meet in order to receive the permit. In order to be issued with a personal work permit, in addition to a completed application, a person granted asylum needs to submit proof of payment of the administrative fee, a certified copy of the identity card and a certified copy of the decision granting asylum. This set of procedural requirements creates a serious set of bureaucratical obstacles for persons granted asylum in Serbia and disregards their unfavourable and vulnerable position.
The General Administrative Procedure Act (GAPA) envisages that, in line with the principle of procedural efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the procedure for issuing work permits must be conducted without delay and at the least possible cost to the party. The competent authority is required to inspect, ex officio and in accordance with the law, the information related to the facts necessary for taking a decision which is available in the official records of different state authorities. It may request from the party such information as is necessary for its identification and documents confirming facts only if they are not available in the official records. Taking this in consideration, it can be reasonably assumed that an identity card for a person granted asylum should be considered as sufficient evidence of the legal status and should shift the bureaucratic burden on the NES to ex-officio obtain all other necessary documents from the MoI.
Another problem that exists implies that beneficiaries have to pay a tax in order to receive a work permit, which often represents a major expenditure for them. The Decree does not foresee assistance from the CRM in this regard, meaning that refugees usually require financial aid from civil society organisations to pay these taxes. Moreover, these obstacles push refugees to the so called “grey zone”, where they find employment without a work permit, which exposes them to various harmful practices which deprive them of the minimum wage and other employment rights. The fee that person granted asylum has to pay in order to obtain a work permit amounts to RSD 13.890,766 (EUR 119) plus the administrative fee which is RSD 320,00 (EUR 2,73).
In addition to being a prerequisite for foreigners to engage in employment in Serbia, a work permit is also a prerequisite for the registration on the NES unemployment register. This issue is relevant also for refugees wishing to exercise their right to accommodation in accordance with the law, as one of the requirements for accessing that right is evidence of registered unemployment. That is why such high costs are a major impediment for this vulnerable population. The GAPA stipulates exemptions from payment of the costs of procedure if the party cannot afford to bear the costs without endangering his/her subsistence or the subsistence of his/her family or if provided for in a ratified international treaty. In practice, this is possible only for persons staying in one of the Asylum or Reception centres. For persons staying in private accommodation, demonstrating the inability to afford the costs of procedure would require obtaining the opinion of a Social Work Centre and would cause additional delays in their access to the right to work or other related rights.
In spite of the fact that, in terms of the law, persons granted asylum in Serbia should not face significant challenges in accessing the labour market, finding employment is difficult in practice, especially bearing in mind the language barrier that exists between most of these persons and the local community.
It is important to highlight that the Asylum Act imposes upon beneficiaries an obligation to attend classes of the Serbian language and script. If the beneficiary fails to do so without a justified reason 15 days from the date of the effectiveness of the decision granting him or her the right to asylum or stops attending such courses, he or she shall lose the right to financial assistance for temporary accommodation, as well as the right to one-time financial assistance provided from the budget of the Republic of Serbia.
In 2017, UNHCR, together with BCHR, started an awareness-raising campaign in the private sector in order to draw attention to the position of asylum seekers as a particularly vulnerable group and the persistent legal gaps and practical challenges preventing them from becoming fully integrated into the labour market. The campaign has continued in 2018,2019 and 2020.
It should also be added that the National Employment Strategy of the Republic of Serbia for 2011-2020 identifies a number of vulnerable groups, the improvement of whose status with regard to the labour market is to be prioritised in the relevant timeframe. Unfortunately, refugees and asylum seekers are not specifically mentioned as a group whose increased access to employment is a national objective, which is striking bearing in mind the fact that the Strategy covers refugees from other former Yugoslav republics and internally displaced persons. However, a number of identified groups, including persons with disabilities, persons with a low level of education, the young and elderly, women and unemployed, still remain relevant for the current mixed-migration flow through Serbia.
It should be also born in mind that the support for accessing the labour market is solely provided by CSOs. In other words, state institutions still do not provide organised assistance to refugees for inclusion into the labour market, despite the provisions of the Integration Decree which stipulates such assistance.
According to the Analysis published by A11 and taking in consideration the number of persons granted asylum in Serbia, it can be concluded that persons granted asylum usually do not have effective access to the labour market. Out of 185 persons who were granted asylum in the period 1 April 2008 to 31 December 2020, 44 left Serbia, one passed away and 1 refugee from Lebanon changed the type of residency. Thus, a maximum of 139 refugees were in Serbia, out of whom 23 are children who cannot yet establish employment, while two persons are unable to work due to their health condition, which brings the total number of persons incapable to work to 25. Therefore, a maximum of 110 persons who have been granted asylum in Serbia are available to the Serbian labour market and are subject to provisions in which the CRM should enable them to “be included in the economic life of Serbia”. However, it is reasonable to assume that some of these persons also left Serbia. Still, A11 confirmed that at least 53 refugee were present in Serbia on 31 October 2020, while 4 more adult refugees could be added to this list (granted asylum in November and December 2020) which makes the total number of persons granted asylum and present in the country 57.
Out of 57 refugees whose presence was confirmed at the end of 2020, the A11 determined that at least 24 were unemployed, while it can be safely assumed that, in COVID-19 circumstances the remaining 4 refugees granted asylum in November and December 2020 were not successful in finding jobs. The other half of refugees who are employed found their jobs by themselves or were assisted by CSOs. Thus, there are rare examples where access to labour market was secured through specialized state services. It is also important to stress that COVID-19 affected the job market in general in Serbia, and that most of the refugees who were employed in catering and hotel industry lost their jobs. 
In the first 10 months of 2020, NES issued 3 personal work permits to persons from the refugee category, and 117 to persons from the special category of foreigners. In the period 1 January 2015 – 31 October 2020, NES issued 470 work permits for asylum seekers and persons granted subsidiary protection and 55 to persons who were granted refugee status. The first working permit was issued in 2015 to a Tunisian man who was granted refugee status in 2014.
 Article 65 Asylum Act.
 Article 59 Asylum Act.
 Article 13(6) Employment of Foreigners Act.
 Article 7 Integration Decree.
 Article 12 EFA.
 Official Gazette no. 63/18, 56/19.
 Article 9 GAPA.
 BCHR, The Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2019, 170-171.
 Fee Schedule No. 205 of the Law on Republic Administrative Fees.
 Fee Schedule No. 1 of the Law on Republic Administrative Fees.
 Article 89 GAPA.
 Article 59 Asylum Act.
 BCHR, Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia – Periodic Report July-September 2020, p. 40.
 National Employment Strategy of the Republic of Serbia for 2011-2020, Official Gazette no. 37/11.
 Article 7 of the Integration Decree.
 A11, Precondition for Integration, February 2021, available at: , p. 31-32.
 Ibid., p. 35-36.
 Author’s own observation.
 A11, Precondition for Integration, February 2021, available at: , p. 36 and 40.
 Which encompasses persons granted subsidiary protection, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking. Response by the NES following a request for information of public importance of 8 November 2019.