Since acceding to the EU in 2007, Bulgaria has remained largely a country of emigration, though immigration increased with EU membership and economic trends. Recently, Bulgaria saw more international students, slightly more asylum seekers, but few non-EU migrant workers, despite government initiatives.

Newcomers to Bulgaria will find that policies are just half-way favourable for their integration. Bulgaria’s policies that best promote integration are in areas of European law. All residents can use some of the strongest anti-discrimination law in both Central Europe (along with RO) and Europe in general. Protections against ethnic, racial, religious and nationality discrimination apply in all areas of life with independent support and good possibilities to enforce rights. Bulgaria has implemented laws on family reunion and long-term residence, which score just below the European average. Favourable conditions in law can nevertheless be undermined by authorities’ wide discretion in procedures, a problem across Central and Eastern Europe. Beyond the negative effects of this insecurity on integration, newcomers critically lack many basic citizenship, education and political opportunities that are becoming best practice across Europe.

Timeline - What's Changed

0 June 2007
Labour market mobility
Law on Employment Encouragement 2001 is amended.
0 January 2007
Accession to the EU
Accession of Bulgaria to the European Union.
0 January 2008
Migration and integration
National Strategy on Migration and Integration (2008–2015) adopted
0 March 2009
Government introduces draft School Education and Pre-school Instruction and Preparation Act

Key Findings

  • Labour market mobility is an area of weakness. Bulgaria has lowest score on general support (with IE). 
  • Family reunion and long-term residence slightly below European average. Conditions are accessible but administrative discretion means lack of status security. 
  • Restrictive access to education and limited measures to target needs make Bulgaria the second lowest scoring country on education(after HU). 
  • Limited political participation and restrictive access to nationality. 
  • Robust and broad anti-discrimination laws in Bulgaria and a strong equality body. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Migrants enjoy slightly weak job opportunities in Bulgaria and most Central European countries, unlike in RO. Some temporary permit holders cannot immediately work. Once they can, all private and some public sector positions are open to them. Still, temporary workers risk spending years trapped in a job below their level because Bulgaria gives them the least access to general support, along with IE. Their foreign qualifications might not be recognised while their education and training opportunities are limited in Bulgaria. Although taxpayers, workers who are not long-term residents cannot access some social benefits; whereas, in contrast, the majority of MIPEX countries provide all residents basic equal general support and rights as workers.

  • Show Family Reunion

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    Bulgaria restricts the definition of the family more than most countries in the region or across Europe. Households cannot include dependent adult children or other relatives, unlike in 21 MIPEX countries, including RO. As in other Central European countries, sponsors have to fulfil rather accessible conditions in the law, but have just halfway security and rights, slightly below the European averages. Only in Bulgaria, DK and IE are families not entitled to an independent status before long-term residence, even where their sponsor dies or is abusive. As in most countries, families do however have equal access to the same rights as their sponsor, including employment, education and social benefits.

  • Show Education

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    At 15 points, Bulgaria scores 2nd worst on migrant education, just ahead of HU. Access is critically unfavourable for integration, since children of temporary and undocumented migrants pay fees to access education, unlike in 27 of the 30 other MIPEX countries. Half guarantee access at all education levels. For those lucky enough to attend compulsory education, trained language teachers are supposed to teach standardised Bulgarian programmes. Mother tongues can be taught. Other than that, schools are far less prepared than most in Europe to address new needs and opportunities. The Centre for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities helps schools implement intercultural education, but could guarantee more materials, guidelines and evaluations.

  • Show Political Participation

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    Non-EU residents are excluded from democratic life in Bulgaria, as in only several other Central European countries like RO. They cannot vote or stand in any election, unlike in 19 MIPEX countries including EE, HU, LT, SK and SI. Structural immigrant bodies are not yet part of integration governance, as they have become in several new immigration countries (e.g. IE, ES, PT). Neither does the State encourage new communities to organise and represent their civic and political interests, although the European Integration Fund finances ad hoc general projects. Political liberties fare marginally better, as migrants and nationals have equal rights to media and associations, but not political parties, as in only 8 other countries.

  • Show Long Term Residence

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    Standard in the EU, newcomers wait 5 years to apply for equal opportunities to integrate in economic and social life. The legal conditions are relatively straightforward, as in Central Europe. However, at €500, the cost of issuing the permit is among the highest in Europe and could be a major obstacle in practice. Apart from being issued with a 5-year permit, as required under EU law, a long-term resident does not get the security that normally comes with this status in most European countries. Permits can be lost on wide grounds, including insufficient resources (as in only 12 countries) and without consideration of some important personal circumstances (only 6).

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    Bulgaria (like other Central European countries) lacks fundamental citizenship principles, increasingly recognised in established and reforming immigration countries (recently GR). Fewer countries require applicants to renounce their previous nationality (only EE, LT, ES), which is a major obstacle to naturalisation and unlikely an incentive to integration. Few require as long a residence requirement (5 years as long-term residents can mean 10 in practice). Unlike RO, conditions are more professional than average in Central Europe, with attainable language levels (A2), free support and few vague requirements. Authorities have wide discretion, and applicants no right of appeal (as only 7 other countries). If accepted, new citizens will be relatively well protected from withdrawal and statelessness.

  • Show Anti-discrimination

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    Like RO, Bulgaria has enacted robust and broad anti-discrimination laws, which all residents and newcomers can better use to secure more equal opportunities in practice. The other leading countries (CA, PT, SE, UK, US) continuously improve anti-discrimination and equality laws to make it easier to use in practice. The 2004 Protection Against Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on all grounds, including nationality. Unlike RO, it covers discrimination based on association and has specific rules on multiple discrimination. Protection against discrimination extends to all areas of life, as in 14 other countries, and includes protection against victimisation. A victim has above average possibilities to enforce their rights.

    As in other leading countries like RO and HU, victims can access administrative and legal proceedings, are not always obliged to carry the burden of proof and can use both situation testing and statistical evidence in court. Judges have the full range of sanctions at their disposal in cases of discrimination. If victims cannot take the case themselves, they can look to NGOs for support and both class actions and actio popularis are available, as in 5 other countries. Still, victims may be discouraged by the length of the proceedings (unlike 11 MIPEX countries, especially NL).

    Victims can also look for support from one of the strongest equality bodies in Europe, the Protection Against Discrimination Commission. The Commission offers independent advice and investigative assistance, issues binding appealable decisions and instigates its own proceedings and investigations. It can also submit legally binding recommendations to the parliament and government to prepare bills and abolish discriminatory laws. Several government units work on anti-discrimination. All public authorities are obliged to take all necessary measures in their daily work, including positive actions, to secure the aims of the anti-discrimination law. However there is no explicit obligation on the State to promote equality through information campaigns and consultation (unlike in 13) or in public contracts (6).