Serbia may refuse to issue Passports to Russians because of the EU

Southeast Europe | May 12, 2023, Friday // 10:03|  views

Serbia has frozen plans to issue passports to Russians and other foreign nationals who have lived in the country for just one year after the EU warned it could end visa-free travel to the Balkan country, writes the "Financial Times".

The draft law proposed by the government in Belgrade in April specified that one year of temporary residence would be sufficient to allow foreigners who worked for local companies or were self-employed to obtain a Serbian passport. Currently, foreigners must live in Serbia for a minimum of five years before applying for citizenship.

But the European Commission has warned that it is monitoring Belgrade's visa-free regime "to prevent and mitigate possible risks to EU security". Visa-free travel can be suspended if it is deemed that granting citizenship under these schemes "poses an increased risk to internal security".

Over the past year, Brussels has tried unsuccessfully to pressure Belgrade to accept a sanctions regime against Russia, ban direct flights from the country and crack down on Russian companies and individuals seeking to evade Western travel bans and asset freezes. also writes "Financial Times".

According to an adviser to the Serbian government, the draft law is "a simple proposal" that "has not been accepted". The goal of the reform, which also includes simplification of rules for the registration of foreigners, is to attract low-skilled workers to the country with a shrinking population. News of the legislative changes has reverberated on Russian-language social media over the past few weeks, with a new wave of emigrants preparing to move to Serbia in the hope that they will soon be able to move to other European countries.

Among them is Timur, a 27-year-old Russian living in Kazakhstan after fleeing mobilization in September 2022. Through Telegram, Timur, who declined to give his real name, spoke of his concern that the Central Asian country would extradite Russians, hiding from military service, and for his hopes of finding a more stable place to live. "I want to go to a peaceful place and forget about all my problems, but I know that's not going to happen," he said.

He added that he was disappointed to hear that the planned changes had been delayed, but admitted that being able to apply for citizenship in just one year "sounded too good to be true". Serbia, he continues, is still an attractive option. "Even if we don't get Serbian citizenship, we young Russians still hope to be able to live our lives more freely there, then one day travel to Europe and apply for Schengen visas. That's more important to us."

Longtime Balkan observers said the Serbian government was likely to withdraw the proposal because of EU pressure. "Usually when the EU commission gives a negative opinion, it becomes difficult for Serbia to push for this law," said Jelena Dzankic, co-director of the Global Citizenship Observatory, an Italy-based think tank. "Otherwise, Serbs will lose their visa-free access to Europe, and it took a lot of effort to get this visa liberalization in 2009."

Instead, Dzankic said, the government will likely seek to extend the residence permits of some 200,000 Russians who have arrived in the country since February 2022.

"It's comfortable and safe to be Russian in Serbia," said Masha from Moscow, who now hopes to open a vegan cafe in Novi Sad. She and her partner Sasha (both declined to give their real names) moved to northern Serbia a month ago after first fleeing to Kazakhstan. "Our cultures are similar, people greet us positively, it's more liberal and fun than when we were in Kazakhstan, and we can meet foreigners."

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Tags: Serbia, Russians, passports, EU


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