In 2020, 5 000 new immigrants obtained a residence permit for longer than 12 months in Bulgaria (excluding EU citizens), -25.1% compared to 2019. This figure comprises 15.2% labour migrants, 20.8% family members (including accompanying family), 8.6% who came for education reasons and 55.4% other migrants. Around 600 short-term permits were issued to international students and 1 500 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 6 015 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2020, a decrease of 57% compared to 2019. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

Türkiye, Russia and Ukraine were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2020. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Ukraine registered the strongest increase (400) and Türkiye the largest decrease (-1 100) in flows to Bulgaria compared to the previous year.

In 2021, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 200%, to reach around 11 000. The majority of applicants came from Afghanistan (5 000), Syria (3 700) and Iraq (500). The largest increase since 2020 concerned nationals of Afghanistan (4 300) and the largest decrease nationals of Lebanon (-10). Of the 3 270 decisions taken in 2021, 62% were positive.

The period 2020-21 was one of political uncertainty, with four different parliaments and four different governments which precluded substantial long-term migration policy changes. Some changes to the Foreigners Act concerning migration were introduced during this period, most designed to improve and simplify the procedures relating to labour market access for seasonal and highly skilled foreign labour. Other changes addressed criticism by the European Commission (EC) for noncompliance with EU requirements.

The possibilities for company representation offices to obtain long-term residence permits were tightened in response to fraudulent activity. Changes to the legislation stipulate that no more than three representatives per foreign company may obtain a long-term residence permit. The permits may be granted only after assessment of submitted documents regarding the economic activity and tax compliance of the foreign company for a period of two years, as well as assessment of documents concerning its planned activities. A new “start-up visa” for entrepreneurs was introduced in 2021 after discussions for more than a year. It allows foreigners to obtain a Bulgarian long-term visa and residence permit on the grounds of participation in high-tech and/or innovative projects.

Several changes aimed at reducing the administrative burden of accessing the labour market by seasonal and highly qualified foreign workers. When changing an employer, seasonal workers can receive a new residence permit that remains valid until the expiration date of the initial permit.

Other amendments to the Act put more preconditions on family reunion reasons for granting residence permits for the partners of refugees. The legislation now states that permits for long-term residence can be granted to family members of individuals granted asylum, temporary protection or humanitarian status only when the documents certifying family ties are recognised under Bulgarian legislation. Unaccompanied foreign children and foreigners under 18 years old who entered Bulgaria with a guardian but who were abandoned may now receive a permit to stay until the age of 18.

Changes coming into force in February 2021 harmonised Bulgarian legislation with EU Directives on a single application procedure and intra-company transfers. 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. This change is designed to facilitate students’ mobility and have a positive impact on the Bulgarian education system. Foreign students who complete their education in Bulgaria will no longer need to return to their home countries in order to apply for a residence permit. This change should facilitate the integration of highly skilled third-country citizens who graduated in Bulgaria.

In 2021, a new Employment Strategy (2021-30) was adopted by the Council of Ministers. It includes labour migration in which policy will focus mainly on ensuring a balanced reception of third-country nationals in Bulgaria, including facilitating access for qualified third-country nationals and the promotion of bilateral intergovernmental agreements.

For further information: www.aref.government.bg | www.nsi.bg | www.mvr.bg

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