Asylum seekers did not have the right to work when the old Asylum Act was in force. Only after the Employment of Foreigners Act was adopted at the end of 2014, asylum seekers were recognised as members of a specific category of foreigners entitled to obtain the work permit.
Persons entering the asylum procedure in Serbia do not have an ipso facto right to access the labour market.
Asylum seekers whose asylum applications have not been decided upon through no fault of their own within 9 months of being lodged have the right to be issued a work permit valid for 6 months with the possibility of extension for as long as they remain in the asylum procedure. That provision is highly disputable considering that persons who genuinely want to apply for asylum have to wait for some time to get registered, and then to lodge asylum application on the 23d day after they were registered. Those who have legal representatives sometimes wait for even longer before their written asylum application is prepared. . For persons residing in Reception Centres this period is even longer since they have to be relocated to one of the Asylum Centres where the Asylum Office conducts the asylum procedure.
However, this period can be shortened through the wider use of written asylum applications, which was recorded throughout 2021 and 2022. Nevertheless, the practice has shown in 2022 that the time it takes the National Employment Service (NES) to issue the working permit is extensively long (from two to six weeks), while the validity of the working permit is counted from the day of submission of the request. Thus, the working permit issued to asylum seekers is valid for less than 6 months. This severely impacts asylum seekers’ opportunities on the job market. Overall, the 9-month period has a discouraging effect on asylum seekers to genuinely consider Serbia as a destination country and is contrary to the position of the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). In 2022, the amendments on the Employment of Foreigners Act envisage that this period will be shortened to 6 months and these amendments are currently in the Parliament and are expected to be adopted in the first half of 2023.
Also, one of the biggest concerns regarding access to the labour market is the fact that 4 out 7 Asylum Centres are located in remote areas in Serbia, where the unemployment rate in general is quite high (Tutin, Sjenica, Vranje and Bogovađa) and where access to job opportunities is extremely limited. For that reason and bearing in mind that genuine asylum seekers strive to integrate into society as quickly as possible, referring asylum seekers to remote asylum centres or in reception centres has an evident and discouraging effect on their aspiration to stay in Serbia.
The Rulebook on Work Permits governs the procedure for issuing and extending work permits, as well as the criteria that one must meet in order to receive the permit. In order to be issued a personal work permit asylum seekers need to fill in the application form, pay the administrative fee and submit a certified copy of their identity card and a certified copy of asylum application. The fee for obtaining the work permit is too high, and it is clear that asylum seekers would not be able to afford it without the support of CSOs. The fee is 14,360 dinars (around 121 EUR)  plus the fee for lodging the request for a working permit which is around 330.00 dinars (around 3 EUR). Still, there is a possibility of exemption from paying expenses in special cases provided for in the GAPA, but in practice it applies only to persons who are staying in ACs or PCs.
Asylum seekers are usually assisted by CSOs providing legal aid. Thus, APC, BCHR, HCIT, KlikAktiv, CPRC and IDEAS, with the assistance of UNHCR, have been assisting asylum seekers in obtaining work permits. In other words, the vast majority of asylum seekers would never be able to obtain working permits without financial and administrative support of CSOs. For instance, the working permit forms are in Serbian language and Cyrillic letters, which is an unsurmountable obstacle for asylum seekers.
However, as it was noted by A11, asylum seekers in Serbia do not have effective access to right to work due to the following reasons:
- There is no specialised state authority which would provide support in access to the labour market.
- There is no regulation governing the manner in which support in access to labour market would be provided,
- The right to work is not exercised in practice with institutional support, but only with support of CSOs that are UNHCR partners.
Taking into consideration that asylum seekers are in reports grouped under the same category as persons granted subsidiary protection, but also victims of human trafficking, it is not possible to determine the exact number of asylum seekers issued with work permits in the period from 2016 to 2021.The first working permit to an asylum seeker was issued in 2017. From 2016 to 31 October 2020, a total of 470 personal working permits were issued for the territory of AC Krnjača, AC Banja Koviljača and AC Bogovađa and to foreigners who belong to the special category. Several dozen working permits were issued or extended in 2021. However, this number does not reflect the number of persons, but the joint number of first time issued and extended working permits. Thus, the number of asylum seekers granted a permit is significantly lower because they have to renew their working permit every six months (while persons granted subsidiary protection every year). Every extension is included in the total number because that is the way National Employment Service (NES) keeps record. Also, NES does not keep records on the number of asylum seekers who are actually employed.
The NES delivered accurate data on the number of asylum seekers issued working permits in 2022. A total of 81 working permits were issued to asylum seekers in the given period, out of which 78 are asylum seekers accommodated in Belgrade and 3 asylum seekers accommodated in Novi Sad. There were no working permits issued to asylum seekers in other areas where asylum centres are located, such as Novi Pazar (AC Sjenica and AC Tutin are located in this municipality) or Lajkovac (AC Bogovađa).
Taking in consideration the 9-month period during which the person is not allowed to work, it can be safely assumed that by the end of March of 2023, 205 asylum seekers who lodged their asylum application in the period from January to June 2022 are entitled to work. However, not all of these 205 persons are adults and it is reasonable to assume that many of them have decided to abscond the procedure. Thus, it can be safely assumed that, until the end of March 2023, less than 100 asylum seekers from 2022 were entitled to work, but that only 78 of them obtained working permits. On the other hand, it is also reasonable to assume that there are several dozen asylum seekers whose cases are pending from 2021 or 2020 and who are also entitled to work and who applied for their extension. Thus, it can be safely estimated that the number of asylum seekers who are entitled to work is a bit more than 100 persons. The exact number of asylum seekers who meet the requirements set in the Employment of Foreigners Act could be obtained only from the Asylum Office who can extract from its records the number of pending asylum applications of persons who have been in asylum procedure for more than 9 months. Unfortunately, it was not possible to obtain information on the number of pending cases in 2022.
All asylum seekers are recorded at the NES as unqualified workforce and the condition to register their qualification in the records is validation of their diplomas, which can prove their qualification degree. However, the majority of them do not hold original versions of their diplomas and documentation from their country of origin and most frequently, there is no real possibility to obtain them.
The COVID-19 pandemic deprived asylum seekers accommodated in Asylum or Reception Centres of work, as well as the 2020 March-May lockdown. Also, the State of Emergency and the COVID-19 circumstances in general have led to a loss of jobs of several asylum seekers. However, it is not possible to determine the exact number of asylum seekers who lost their jobs.
 A11, Precondition for Integration, February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2ZYXZcS, p. 14-16 and 55.
 Article 2 (1) (9) Employment of Foreigners Act, Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, no. 128/2014
 Article 57 Asylum Act.
 Article 13 Employment of Foreigners Act.
 The Committee expressed concern over a nine-month period applied in Slovakia, see CESCR, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Slovakia**, 14 November 2019, E/C.12/SVK/CO/3*, available at: https://bit.ly/32TR1aM, para. 20 and 21
 The proposed amendments are available in Serbian language on the following link: https://bit.ly/40ce0ZJ.
 Official Gazette no. 63/18, 56/19.
 Article 89 GAPA.
 BCHR, Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia – Periodic Report July-September 2020, 39-40.
 BCHR, Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia – Periodic Report July-September 2020, 41.
 Ibid, 39.