In 2019, 7 000 new immigrants obtained a residence permit longer than 12 months in Bulgaria (excluding EU citizens), 20.8% more than in 2018. This figure comprises 13% labour migrants, 22% family members (including accompanying family), 9.7% who came for education reasons and 55.3% other migrants. Around 900 short-term permits were issued to international students and 1 400 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 14 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2019, an increase of 300% compared to 2018. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

Turkey, Russia and Ukraine were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2019. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Turkey registered the strongest increase (600) and Syria the largest decrease (-400) in flows to Bulgaria compared to the previous year.

In 2020, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 66.7%, to reach around 3 500. The majority of applicants came from Afghanistan (1 700), Syria (1 100) and Iraq (200). The largest increase since 2019 concerned nationals of Afghanistan (700) and the largest decrease nationals of Iraq (-55). Of the 2 200 decisions taken in 2020, 37.4% were positive.

Emigration of Bulgarians to OECD countries increased by 5% to 91 000 in 2019. Approximately 51% of this group migrated to Germany, 10% to the Netherlands and 6% to Austria.

The Law on Foreigner Citizens which regulates the residence of foreign persons in Bulgaria was changed several times in 2019-20. A main reason for the changes was the need to further harmonise the legislation with EU requirements, including a single application procedure, a common set of rights and conditions of entry for posted workers. The overall policy direction is towards more regulated immigration, by reducing the loopholes for irregular migrants and facilitating access to residence and the labour market for seasonal and highly-skilled foreign labour.

Access to Bulgaria by migrants who set up a company representation office solely to receive a long-term residence permit on that ground was restricted. Unaccompanied children became eligible for long-term residence status until they reached the age of 18. To reduce the administrative burden on seasonal and highly qualified foreign workers, they no longer have to file a new application for residence permission. A further amendment introduced more preconditions for family reunion when granting residence to refugees’ partners, including proof of a long-standing relationship before arrival.

Foreign students from third countries who reside and study in another EU member state were given the right to enter Bulgaria and continue their education in Bulgaria. Foreign students who complete their education in Bulgaria no longer need to return to their home countries before applying for a residence permit.

In order to encourage entrepreneurs to set up businesses in Bulgaria, a “start-up” visa was introduced which also provides for a long-term residence permit. In 2019, a bilateral employment agreement with Georgia was signed and came into force.

The Asylum and Refugees Law was amended in 2020 to streamline the procedures for granting status for unaccompanied minors.

Following Brexit, the reciprocity principle was adopted in order to protect the rights of UK citizens in Bulgaria as much as the Bulgarian citizens are protected in the United Kingdom. A special status is provided to the UK citizens who entered Bulgaria before 29 April 2019 and they and their family members receive unlimited leave to remain.

Foreign residents in Bulgaria whose residence permit expired during the COVID-19 lockdown received automatic extension of stay for six months.

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