In 2018, 6 600 new immigrants obtained a residence permit longer than 12 months in Bulgaria (excluding EU citizens), 15.9% more than in 2017. This figure comprises 9.4% labour migrants, 21.8% family members (including accompanying family), 6.4% who came for education reasons and 62.4% other migrants. Around 800 short-term permits were issued to international students and 1 000 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 4 700 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2018, an increase of 33% compared to 2017. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

Turkey, Russia and Ukraine were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2018. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Turkey registered the strongest increase (700) and Syria the largest decrease (-1 000) in flows to Bulgaria compared to the previous year.

In 2019, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by 15.8%, to reach around 2 100. The majority of applicants came from Afghanistan (1 000) and Syria (500). Of the 1 300 decisions taken in 2019, 32% were positive.

In May 2018, Bulgaria extended the scope of its Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Law to cover the employment of Bulgarians abroad and the free movement of people in the European Economic Area. The social partners, namely business and trade union organisations are more involved in migration policy and must now be consulted in the Council on Migration – the coordination body where the employers’ organisations and trade unions are represented.

With a view to facilitating access to the Bulgarian labour market for non-EU citizens, legal amendments brought several changes. Applications for long-term residence permits in Bulgaria are reviewed within seven instead of 14 days. The procedure for obtaining a permanent residence status, particularly for applicants of Bulgarian origin, was facilitated and they no longer need to provide proof of available funds as one of the prerequisites for receiving such status. The fees for residence permits were also reduced for third-country nationals with Bulgarian origin.

Regarding the recruitment of migrant workers from abroad, Bulgaria has reduced the burden on employers by changing procedures and reducing resident labour market test requirements. This was done in two ways through amendments to its Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Law in 2018, which aimed to extend the access of third-country workers to the Bulgarian labour market. First, it increased the quota of third-country nationals for an individual employer from 10% to 25% and for small and medium enterprises to 35%. Second, the administrative burden on companies employing foreign workers was eased by reducing the time to issue a work permit from 30 to 20 days, as well as allowing the share of foreign workers in a company to increase. As with the Blue Card, no preliminary labour market test is now required.

Following a 9.5 and 10.9% increase in foreign workers’ minimum wage, the level increased again in 2019 by 9.8% to EUR 290. This does not apply to EU Blue card applicants subject to a threshold of 1.5 times the average salary in the relevant sector.

Bulgaria will no longer sign any international agreements for readmission of foreigners with an international protection status. Controls and restrictions on mobility have been imposed on foreign citizens who seek international protection and who reside outside the accommodation centres.

During the lockdown, long-term and permanent residence permits as well as documents issued to EU citizens and their families which expire from 13 March 2020 to 31 October 2020, were extended by six months. Return decisions, including voluntary return of third-country nationals have been suspended. All actions on applications for international protection, usually requiring the asylum seekers to attend physically, have been suspended.

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