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Foreign-born population – 2018

0.2 million, 51% women

2% of the population

Evolution since 2011: +98%

Main countries of birth:

Russia (18%), Syria (9%), Turkey (7%)

In 2017, 5 700 new immigrants obtained a residence permit longer than 12 months in Bulgaria (excluding EU citizens), 28.1% more than in 2016. This figure comprises 11.3% labour migrants, 23.5% family members (including accompanying family), 7.3% who came for education reasons and 57.9% other migrants.

Around 900 short-term permits were issued to international students and 1 200 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 3 500 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2017, a decrease of 9% compared to 2016. These posted workers were generally on short-term contracts.

Turkey, Russia and Syria were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2017. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Syria registered the strongest increase (800) and Russia the largest decrease (-300) in flows to Bulgaria compared to the previous year.

In 2018, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by 29%, to around 2 500. The majority of applicants come from Afghanistan (1 100), Iraq (600) and Syria (500). The largest increase since 2017 concerned nationals of Afghanistan (15) and the largest decrease, nationals of Syria (-400). Of the 2 100 decisions taken in 2018, 35.1% were positive.

Emigration of Bulgarians to OECD countries remained stable at 125 000. Approximately 65.7% of this group migrated to Germany, 4.8% to Spain and 4.8% to the United Kingdom.

In 2017-18, continuing economic recovery and labour shortages drove policies encouraging seasonal and short-term labour migration and return migration. The 2016 Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Law (LMLM) was amended to liberalise further access to the Bulgarian labour market for foreign workers. The limit on employment of third-country nationals by firm increased from 10% to 25% (35% for small and medium-sized enterprises). Conditions for EU Blue Card issuance were relaxed and the labour market test was abolished. The work permit application fee was reduced from BGN 400 to 100 (about EUR 50); supporting documentation may now be submitted electronically.

The transposition of the Students and Researchers Directive (2016/801) into Bulgarian law led to work permit exemptions for third-country trainees recruited by Bulgarian firms. In 2017, Bulgaria also implemented regulation 2016/589 on EURES reform. In May 2018, another amendment expanded the scope of the LMLM law to cover issues pertaining to Bulgarian workers abroad and free movement in the EEA.

In 2017, Bulgaria adopted two new regulations on the integration of refugees, focusing on access to education and integration contracts for beneficiaries of international protection. Moreover, intergovernmental co-ordination was put in place to ensure enrolment in compulsory education of unaccompanied minors and children of asylum seekers and refugees.

Efforts to support the labour market integration of beneficiaries of international protection continued under the national programme for education and employment of refugees. Among the new measures of the 2018 programme are special recruitment sessions for beneficiaries of international protection organised by the National Employment Agency (NEA) and incentives for employers to hire refugees. Beneficiaries must first register with the NEA, which may limit the reach of these initiatives. Bulgarian language courses have suffered from low participation, which may in part reflect lack of motivation among beneficiaries of international protection, for whom Bulgaria might be a transit country rather than the final destination.

A working group on Bulgarian Citizenship was set up by the Justice Minister in February 2018, in light of the results of the policy of easing access to citizenship for ethnic Bulgarians as a means to counteract demographic decline. This policy has not served settlement purposes as 90% of new Bulgarian citizens live abroad. The goal of the citizenship-for-investment programme, to increase the actual foreign investments and economic growth, had not been reached yet either.

The Ministry of Justice changed the procedures for obtaining Bulgarian citizenship through investment. Effective January 2019, tighter conditions apply to investments. Bonds could no longer be purchased through financing. Fast-track access to citizenship (after 18-24 months of residence rather than five years) remained available to investors, but an in-person interview in the Bulgarian language was added as a new requirement. In the five years prior to October 2017, about 300 foreigners acquired permanent residence through investment under the programme, and almost 200 citizenship applications were filed by September 2018. About 50 applications were granted.

However, in late January 2019, before a critical EU report was published, the government announced it would abolish the citizenship by investment scheme. A Bill to Amend the Bulgarian Citizenship Act which would eliminate the citizenship by investment provision was discussed on 30 January.

For further information:

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Key figures on immigration and emigration - Bulgaria
Key figures on immigration and emigration - Bulgaria

Notes and sources are at the end of the chapter.


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