Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 02/05/22


Nikola Kovačević

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.[1] The Asylum Act guarantees equality in the rights and obligations of persons granted refugee status with those of persons granted subsidiary protection,[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

The NES is tasked with issuing personal work permits which further allows refugees free employment, self-employment and the right to unemployment insurance.[5] This further provides foreigners who have been granted asylum an unimpeded access to the labour market. The Rulebook on Work Permits[6] 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 bureaucratic 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.[7] 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.[8] The fee is 14,360 dinars (around 121 EUR) [9] plus the fee for lodging the request for working permits which is around 330,00 dinars (around 3 EUR). There is a possibility of exemption from paying these expenses in special cases provided for in the GAPA,[10] but in practice it applies only to persons who are staying in ACs or PCs.

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

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 196 persons who were granted asylum in the period 1 April 2008 to 31 December 2021 45 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 22 are children who cannot yet establish employment and e three persons are unable to work due to their health condition.[15] 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 under 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 refugees 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.[16]

Another important indicator, which might lead to the conclusion that less than 100 persons granted asylum remained in Serbia are the official statistics of the UNHCR. According to their data, on 19 December 2021, a total of 135 asylum seekers and persons granted asylum were residing on a private address. If this data is accurate, this means that less than 100 persons granted asylum currently resides in Serbia, because at least 30 to 40 % of this number are asylum seekers residing on the private address.[17]

In the period form 1 April 2008 to 31 December 2021, asylum authorities in Serbia rendered 138 decisions granting asylum (refugee status of subsidiary protection) to 196 persons from 25 different countries.[18] A total of 59 decisions was rendered in relation to 97 applicants who received subsidiary protection, while 79 decisions were rendered in relation to 99 applicants who were granted refugee status.

Out of 57 refugees whose presence was confirmed at the end of 2020, the A11 determined that at least 24 were unemployed,[19] 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.[20] 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. [21] In 2021, there were no surveys on persons granted asylum and assessment of their employment rate.




[1] Article 65 Asylum Act.

[2] Article 59 Asylum Act.

[3] Article 13(6) Employment of Foreigners Act.

[4] Article 7 Integration Decree.

[5] Article 12 EFA.

[6] Official Gazette no. 63/18, 56/19.

[7] Article 9 GAPA.

[8] BCHR, The Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2019, 170-171. 

[9] Law on Administrative Fees, Fee No. 205, available at:

[10] Article 89 GAPA.

[11] Article 89 GAPA.

[12] Article 59 Asylum Act.

[13] National Employment Strategy of the Republic of Serbia for 2011-2020, Official Gazette no. 37/11.

[14] Article 7 of the Integration Decree.

[15] A11, Precondition for Integration, February 2021, p. 31-32 and UNHCR statistics.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Statistics obtained by the UNHCR office in Serbia.

[18] The author of this Report has collected 119 out of 138 decisions. The number of decisions and applicants was counted by the author of this Report and on the basis of a unique database which is established in IDEAS. Namely, official number of persons who received international protection in Serbia is 208. However, this number includes the cases which were not final in the given year. For instance, there is at least 7 asylum procedures in which legal representatives appealed the decision on subsidiary protection claiming that their clients deserve refugee status. Asylum Commission or Administrative Court upheld appeals and onward appeals respectively and sent the case back to the Asylum Office. However, Asylum Office rendered the same decision (subsidiary protection) concerning the same person for a second time. The lawyers were then complaining again. There were instances in which 1 person received 3 decisions on subsidiary protection in the period of 7 years and was granted refugee status in the end. However, it is possible to that the statistics provided by the author of this Report are not 100% accurate. Still, the author believes that this is the most accurate statistics which can be provided for now and potential variations cannot be higher than maximum 5 decisions regarding 5 applicants. 

[19] Ibid., 35-36.

[20] Author’s own observation. 

[21] A11, Precondition for Integration, February 2021, 36 and 40.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection