Serbian Govt. Proposes Law to Grant Citizenship After Just 12 Months of Residency

In a story that appears to have escaped notice for not appearing in English, last month, Serbia’s government adopted and tabled in Parliament amendments to its Citizenship Act and two other related laws that – if passed – would allow immigrants and asylum seekers in the country to get Serbian citizenship after just 12 months of temporary residency (down from five years today) in the country, according to the BBC’s Serbian service.

Beyond the 12 months of legal residency, the simplified route to naturalization merely requires that applicants have attained a secondary education degree, are employed or self-employed, and declare that they consider Serbia “their country”. The proposed amendments also allow for an applicant’s spouse to obtain citizenship on the basis of the main applicant’s meeting the qualifying terms.

Adopting such an expedited route to citizenship would contrast sharply with the norms of other European countries, most of which require at least five years of continuous residency before allowing an immigrant to apply for naturalization.

EU reaction feared

“Once granted, citizenship cannot be taken away, and there is a fear that such a simplified way of obtaining it would threaten Serbia’s visa-free regime with the EU,” Jelena Ilić, a lawyer at the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, told the BBC, pointing out that this differed markedly from established practices in the EU.

The Balkan country, which has seen a large influx of Russians since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, has chosen not to align its foreign policy with that of the EU as regards sanctions, a stance widely believed to have delayed its plans of joining the EU. Belgrade now appears to be bucking the trend on immigration policy as well.

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While declining to comment on what it referred to as a “hypothetical scenario”, the European Commission nonetheless expressed a warning by commenting that “the harmonization of [Serbia’s] visa policy with the EU policy is essential for the functioning of the visa-free regime [that Serbia has with the EU].”

Serbia’s Ministry of European Integration, responding to the BBC’s questions, rejected the notion that amendments to the citizenship act might imperil Serbia’s visa-free access to the EU, but did not comment on whether it would slow down accession talks.

Professor Dimitry Kochenov – referred to in IMI as the Passport Professor – welcomed the news and pointed out that it would “significantly improve the position of stateless people, as well as that of all those who had to flee their own countries.”

Some 24,000 Russian citizens are registered as residents of Serbia, but officials believe the true number could be more than 100,000. The country is also home to thousands of Chinese and Turks, most of whom would be eligible for citizenship in Serbia and, by extension, visa-free travel to the EU.

Kochenov highlighted to the BBC that the European Commission itself recommended the 12-month minimum permanent residency period before granting citizenship when Malta first introduced its citizenship by investment program in 2014.

Parliament has yet to set a date for its discussions on the proposed legal amendments.

IMI Pros who can help with Serbian residency