Since Republic of Croatia declared its independence and the Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens came into force, part of former Croatian residents including a substantial number of Serbs, could not exercise their right to Croatian citizenship or obtain a certificate of citizenship. These were the persons who did not have registered residence in Croatia and had Yugoslav citizenship. Such persons obtained status of foreigner with permanent residence in Croatia.

Persons who were born in Croatia and have lived here all of their lives are also in this category of citizens, but when one of their parents was a person originating from another Yugoslav republic and who did not have Croatian Republic’s citizenship. For these reasons, a significant number of Serbs who were born and lived in Croatia before the war could not exercise their status rights upon return into the country.

With changes to the Law on Foreigners, which were enacted in 2012, returnees without citizenship who were returning to Croatia within the Program of Return and Care for Refugees and Displaced Persons and the Program of Housing Care and Reconstruction, were able to exercise the right to residence in Croatia. Thanks to changes of that law, all beneficiaries of the program who on the 8 October 1991 had registered residence in Croatia, do not have to pass through a lengthy procedure of acquiring status, but can immediately after having exercised return or/and arrival in Croatia submit request for permanent residence. After having obtained permanent residence, all who have the intention to stay in Croatia can exercise their right, more easily and faster, to Croatian citizenship, under the condition of renouncing their primary citizenship (most frequently it was Bosnia-Herzegovina citizenship).

On 29 December 2012, a new Law on Residence came into force in the Republic of Croatia. This law stipulates conditions under which the right to residence can be exercised, and among other, citizens’ obligation to regulate their residence status in Croatia in case of a longer stay abroad. Citizens who did not abide by this legal obligation were erased from the Ministry of Interior’s residence record. Also automatically erased from the record were those who have never requested issuance of an ID card in Croatia, and had residence in the Socialist Republic of Croatia before the war, as well as those whose ID card expired and those with residence registered at non-existent addresses (house number 0 or bb). Almost 260.000 persons were de-registered from Ministry of Interior’s records by February 2015, of whom 37.234 persons of Serb nationality.

Although at the end of 2013 the deadline for regulating residency was extended until 29 December 2014, this did not prevent police officials in return areas to de-register residency before expiry of the deadline. For example, in the area covered by Gračac police station, in 2013 and 2014 mass deregistration of residency took place (according to Ministry of Interior’s official data, police station Gračac in that period de-registered over 1200 residencies of which 230 ex officio, i.e. of their own initiative). Some citizens found that they were de-registered only upon arrival to the police station seeking to regulate their status, and were also subject to paying fines which in certain cases reached as high as 1500 kuna. Police officials’ arbitrariness ultimately sped up de-population of that return area in Croatia.

Since this is a permanent legal obligation, all Croatian citizens with registered residence in Croatia who reside abroad because of work, education, and long-term medical treatment and similar, are still obliged to inform Ministry of Interior about their status. The deadline to regulate this obligation is one year from the day of departure from Croatia. This registration can be done at the police department or at police station in the area where a person has registered residence in Croatia or at Republic of Croatia’s diplomatic missions and consular posts in the country where a person temporarily resides. The law stipulates that the Ministry of Interior should initiate administrative proceedings against all who fail to do so and for whom it is established by inquiry in the field that they do not live at registered residences at least three months in a year. Exempt from this procedure are citizens who currently participate in the program of reconstruction and housing care, and their house has still not been reconstructed, returned or they were not otherwise provided with housing care in Croatia.

In addition, all Croatian citizens who were erased from the record of residences, and who decide to return to Croatia, can again, in line with legal conditions, register residence and receive a new identity card.

Serb National Council’s legal assistance department cooperates daily with persons who are currently resolving their status issues in Croatia.

Law on Croatian Citizenship (Official Gazette 53/91, 70/91, 28/92, 113/93, 130/11)

Law on Residence (Official Gazette 144/12, 158/13)

Law on Foreigners (Official Gazette 130/11, 74/13)