Bulgaria

The legal and policy framework in Bulgaria has some positive aspects and some significant gaps. Bulgaria is state party to most relevant international and regional instruments, including three of the four core statelessness conventions. However, its definition of a stateless person does not align with international standards. De-facto exclusion provisions in law are not in line with the 1954 Convention as they require lawful residence. There is limited data on the stateless population in the country.

Bulgaria has recently introduced a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) with some positive elements, including appeal rights and some limited procedural rights. But there is a high standard of proof in statelessness cases and the burden of proof lies with the applicant. Access to free legal aid and the right to an interview are limited in practice due to language barriers and other setbacks. Although there is no lawful stay requirement to access the procedure, the law envisages the possibility to refuse stateless status to a person residing unlawfully on the territory. There is no automatic legal admission or support entitlement for applicants, who may be detained while their claims are considered.  Critically, the determination of statelessness does not guarantee protection status, legal residence or other rights such as to work, family reunion or a travel document.

Stateless people are at risk of arbitrary detention, due to gaps such as the lack of a requirement to identify a country of removal prior to detaining someone, and lack of a referral mechanism from detention to the SDP. Procedural safeguards, including legal aid and remedies as well as provision of information to detainees, are set in law, but rarely implemented in practice. Positively, there are safeguards in nationality law to prevent statelessness including in the case of children born in Bulgaria who would otherwise be stateless and foundlings, although there is a potential risk of statelessness during the adoption process for a foreign child adopted by Bulgarian nationals. Positively, withdrawal of citizenship is clearly prohibited by law where it would result in statelessness.

Last updated: 
Feb 2019
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2020
Country expert(s): 

Additional resources

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are state party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

Bulgaria has signed and ratified three of the four core statelessness conventions: 1954 Convention, 1961 Convention, and the European Convention on Nationality; but it retains important reservations to both the 1954 Convention and the European Convention on Nationality, which impact on the rights of stateless people in the country. Bulgaria is party to most other relevant instruments except for the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

  • Bulgaria is state party to the 1954 Convention, and it has direct effect. However, it retains a number of reservations that have an impact on the rights of stateless people in the country.
  • Bulgaria is state party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations, and it has direct effect.
  • Bulgaria has signed and ratified the European Convention on Nationality. However, it has made reservations which impact on rights of stateless people.
  • Bulgaria is not state party to the European Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • Bulgaria is state party to all other relevant international treaties with no reservations, except for the Convention on the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are effective measures in place to count stateless people in detention.

Bulgaria does not publish data on stateless people as a category in its national statistics, though there are some overlapping categories, such as ‘third country nationals, stateless persons and unknown citizenship’. Different government departments do collect and hold some data on asylum applicants, citizenship requests and lawful residents, which may be acquired through freedom of information requests. However, statelessness has never been comprehensively mapped in Bulgaria, there is no qualitative or quantitative analysis, and official figures are unreliable as, in practice, country of origin and nationality are often conflated by officials. Some data on the number of stateless people in immigration detention is collected and held by the Government but this is not published.

  • Bulgaria has no category for stateless people in the census. The only published information in national statistics is a category called "Non-EU third country nationals, stateless persons and unknown citizenship".
  • Some data on certain categories of stateless people and those with unknown citizenship is collected and held by the Ministry of the Interior, the State Agency for Refugees, and the Ministry of Justice, but it is not routinely published.
  • Through freedom of information requests it is possible to acquire data from the Migration Directorate on the number of lawful residents who are stateless or with unknown citizenship; from the State Agency for Refugees on the number of stateless asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, as well as persons 'from the Palestinian Occupied Territory'; and from the Ministry of Justice on the number of stateless persons who have acquired Bulgarian citizenship.
  • There is no quantitative or qualitative analysis of statelessness and no disaggregation of data by sex and age. Statelessness has not been comprehensively mapped in Bulgaria.
  • The number of stateless persons is likely to be underreported as stateless people without legal residence are not recorded in the statistics, and people may be assigned a nationality based on country of origin by the authorities when recording nationality status.
  • The Ministry of Interior holds data on the number of stateless people in immigration detention but does not publish this. The reliability of this data is questionable as there are inconsistencies and people may be assigned a nationality on entering detention based on country of origin or historical or cultural links.
  • There is no data on the number of stateless people released from immigration detention.

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a definition of a stateless person in national law that aligns with the 1954 Convention, and whether they have a dedicated statelessness determination (SDP) procedure; or, if not, whether there are other procedures or mechanisms by which statelessness can be identified and legal status determined. Countries are subdivided in four groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP in place, those with other administrative procedures, those with a status but no clear mechanism, and those without any status or mechanism. Where a procedure and status exist, these are assessed against norms and good practice, and the rights granted to recognised stateless persons are examined.

The wording of the definition of a stateless person and de-facto exclusion provisions requiring lawful residence mean that the interpretation of who is stateless under Bulgarian law is significantly narrower than the 1954 Convention. Bulgaria has a dedicated statelessness determination procedure, but no stateless protection status. Positively, there is no time limit for access to the procedure, no fee, there is a right to an interview and an appeal, free legal aid is provided by NGOs, and there is cooperation between asylum and SDP decision-makers. However, an application can only be made in writing in Bulgarian, the burden of proof lies with the applicant and the standard of proof is higher than in asylum procedures. Decisions are given in writing with reasons within six months, although in practice there have been cases of 'silent rejections' whereby no acknowledgement or extension is communicated within the timeframe. There is no protection during the SDP so applicants have no access to basic services and may be detained during the procedure. Recognition as a stateless person does not automatically lead to any legal residence or other rights (including family reunion or the right to work), so there is in effect no protection status solely on the basis of statelessness.

  • The Law on Foreign Nationals has a definition of a stateless person. However, the wording 'in accordance with its legislation' is narrower than the definition in the 1954 Convention (‘under the operation of its law’).
  • De-facto exclusion provisions in the Law on Foreign Nationals are not in line with the Convention as they require lawful residence.
  • Bulgaria has a dedicated statelessness determination procedure established in law.
  • The competent authority is explicitly the Director of the Migration Directorate at the Ministry of Interior. Applications may also be submitted regionally before the Regional Directorates of the Ministry of Interior.
  • Statelessness determination is the specific objective of the procedure.
  • The law states that applicants should be informed about their rights and obligations during the procedure and must sign a protocol to this effect. The information provided does not explain the application process.
  • Applications must be submitted in writing, in Bulgarian (or, if in another language, translated into Bulgarian by a certified translator), on a specific form and cannot be initiated ex-officio.
  • There is no fee envisaged in law, but in practice lawyers have reported a case in which a fee was requested by the authorities.
  • There is an obligation in law on the authorities to consider the application.
  • There is no lawful stay requirement to access the procedure, but the law envisages the possibility to refuse stateless status to a person residing unlawfully on the territory.
  • There is no time limit on access to the procedure.
  • Regular training is provided to staff responsible for examining SDP applications by UNHCR and statelessness is included in general training provided by UNHCR to Border Police and Directorate of Migration employees.
  • There is cooperation between agencies that may have contact with stateless people, and the law provides for the SDP to be suspended until a final decision on asylum determination is made.
  • The law requires the applicant 'to prove or justify his position as a stateless person', meaning that the burden of proof lies with the applicant, though it could be argued that the competent authority is obliged to clarify relevant facts before issuing a decision.
  • The standard of proof is higher than in the asylum procedure ('prove or substantiate'). In the Law on Asylum and Refugees, there is a provision recognising that lack of evidence cannot be grounds for refusal of protection, but this is not applicable in the SDP.
  • There are protective measures in place under the Law on Foreign Nationals and the Law on Child Protection for unaccompanied minors and minors, but not for other groups who may be disadvantaged in the procedure.
  • The Government considers the legal framework (Law and Implementing Rules) to constitute guidance for decision makers. There is no additional policy guidance in place.
  • Free legal aid is provided by NGOs and for certain aspects of the process by the Government, but access is hindered in practice due to language barriers, lack of awareness, and cumbersome procedures.
  • Applicants have the right to an interview and are informed in writing of the date, time and place of interview.
  • General administrative rules provide the right to an interpreter, but the applicant bears the cost. The Migration Directorate states that interpreters are provided to SDP applicants under the Law on the Ministry of Interior, but in practice, it is unclear.
  • Access to UNHCR is guaranteed during the procedure: UNHCR may access the applicant's file and attend interviews.
  • There is no evidence of the Government undertaking quality assurance audits.
  • There is no formal referral mechanism between the asylum procedure and the SDP, but the procedures are linked in law in order to protect from contact with authorities of the country of origin if an asylum procedure is initiated.
  • The Code on Administrative Procedure requires that decisions are given in writing with reasons. There is a time limit set in law of six months with a possible extension by two further months in complex cases.
  • In practice, positive decisions have been made within this timeframe since the SDP was introduced, but in other cases, no decision has been made within the timeframe and the applicant has not been informed of an extension, constituting 'silent rejection' under Administrative Procedure Rules.
  • There is no automatic legal admission for SDP applicants while their claim is being processed.
  • If applicants have no other right to legal residence, they have no right to work nor support.
  • If the applicant has no other right to legal residence, they may be detained for up to 18 months for the purpose of removal or for up to 30 days for the purpose of identification.
  • The applicant has the right to lodge an appeal before the court within 14 days of the notification of the decision, and then to appeal a first-instance court decision to the supreme court.
  • There is a fee for the appeal that can be waived if the applicant has no financial means, however, a new procedure before Parliament proposes to significantly increase the fee.
  • Legal aid for appealing a negative decision is envisaged in the law and NGOs provide legal assistance.
  • Recognition of statelessness does not lead to permission to stay or legal residence. Only already lawfully residing people can obtain residence status and a travel document. There is discretion in the law for the authority to grant status, but it prohibits issuance of a travel document to anyone without long-term or permanent residence, so even if discretion is used, the person would have no identity document to prove their status.
  • Under separate provisions, there is a legal possibility for regularisation of a limited group of people if they were born in Bulgaria or entered prior to December 1998, have stayed since that date, and are from a former Soviet Republic that does not recognise their citizenship.
  • A stateless person recognised under the SDP who already has long-term or permanent residence may only be issued a renewable travel document for a minimum of three months and maximum of two years.
  • There are no family reunion provisions specific to people recognised as stateless.
  • Stateless status may be withdrawn if there is written evidence that it was acquired under false pretences.
  • Stateless people recognised under the SDP have no right to work unless they have a right deriving from another status (as a long-term/permanently residing third country national, refugee, or asylum seeker after three months).
  • No rights to education derive from stateless status, although all children under 16 years-old in Bulgaria have a right to education; but without any identity documentation they would be unable to acquire any school diploma or certification.
  • The Law on Bulgarian Citizenship provides that stateless people are entitled to apply for citizenship after holding long-term or permanent residence for three years, which is reduced from the standard five years.
  • There are no other exemptions based on stateless status - income and a language test are required.
  • A criminal conviction for 'a premeditated crime of a general nature' may be an obstacle to acquiring citizenship unless the applicant is rehabilitated.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, focusing in on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, whether alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight and effective remedies, as well as protections on release and whether statelessness is considered juridically relevant in bilateral return and readmission agreements.

The grounds for detention in Bulgarian law include to effect removal, and to initially establish identity and assess administrative measures to be taken. There are limited safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless people, as the identification of a country of removal prior to detention is not required and there is no routine referral to the SDP. The law provides that detention should be a last resort, but in practice irregular migrants are almost automatically subject to removal and detention orders upon identification. Although alternatives to detention are established in law they are not considered in practice prior to detention. Some procedural safeguards are in place, but these are often not implemented in practice. For example, the law provides that detainees must be informed in writing of the reasons for detention, but in practice this is given in Bulgarian only and interpreters are rarely present, so there is a lack of awareness about legal aid and available remedies. People released from detention are not routinely issued with documentation and have no access to other rights. Provisions in bilateral return agreements explicitly allow for stateless people to be returned, but practice is unclear.

  • Powers for immigration detention are provided for in law, but since a new form of short-term detention (up to 30 days) was introduced in December 2016, the purposes allowed include 'conducting initial establishment of identity and assessing subsequent administrative measures to be taken'.
  • A proposed country of removal does not need to be identified prior to detention for the purpose of removal, and in practice the detention order mentions only the 'country of citizenship'.
  • The General Directorate of Border Police in a freedom of information request confirmed that a detention order may be issued to a stateless person, 'after taking relevant circumstances into consideration'.
  • Access to the SDP is in theory possible from detention, but referral mechanisms are not in place and stateless people are detained in practice.
  • The law provides that detention should be a last resort, but in practice irregular migrants are almost automatically subject to removal and detention orders upon identification.
  • Vulnerability assessments are carried out prior to detention, but statelessness is not considered to be a factor increasing vulnerability.
  • Alternatives to detention are established in law and consist of weekly reporting, a financial guarantee, or surrender of a valid passport or travel document as a temporary pledge.
  • Alternatives can be applied together or separately but are not subject to a proportionality test or time limit.
  • In practice, NGOs report evidence that alternatives are not being considered or implemented prior to issuing a detention order.
  • Bulgaria has relatively strong procedural safeguards in place in law, but there are gaps in implementation and practice.
  • A maximum time limit on detention for removal purposes is set in law at 18 months, and for 'short-term detention' it is 30 calendar days.
  • The law provides that detainees must be informed in writing of the reasons for detention, but in practice this is given in Bulgarian only and interpreters are rarely present. Detainees are provided with contact information for organisations providing legal assistance and UNHCR has produced a video with information about how to apply for asylum to be shown in detention centres.
  • The law states that the grounds for detention should be reviewed every month by the Migration Directorate, but in practice this rarely happens, and the burden of proof is often shifted onto the detainee to produce evidence for why they should no longer be detained.
  • The law provides for a right of appeal against the detention order within 14 days, but the timeframe starts from the date of detention rather than the date the detainee receives the detention order. In practice there are many barriers, including that the detention order is in Bulgarian, so there is a lack of awareness about available remedies.
  • A right to free legal aid is provided for in law but there are many practical obstacles, including lack of awareness, the need for detainees to seek legal representation, cumbersome procedures for accessing legal aid, and language barriers.
  • There is no guidance in law governing the process of redocumentation and ascertaining nationality.
  • In theory detainees have access to the SDP but there is no referral mechanism.
  • The state does not issue identity documents nor legal status to people released from detention, so they have no protection from re-detention, and no access to social security, housing, education or healthcare.
  • Cumulative time spent in detention does count towards the time limit of 18 months.
  • There are provisions in bilateral return agreements that explicitly allow for stateless people to be returned, though it is not clear whether this has happened in practice. The Migration Directorate identified one case in a freedom of information request, but the person had residence status in the EU country to which they were being returned.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, reduction measures taken by states to prevent statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions regarding withdrawal of nationality.

Bulgaria has relatively strong safeguards in its nationality law to prevent childhood statelessness. Children born on the territory automatically acquire Bulgarian citizenship if they would otherwise be stateless. Children born to Bulgarian parents abroad (and foundlings) also acquire citizenship at birth automatically. However, in the case of adoption of a foreign child by Bulgarian nationals, there is a potential risk of statelessness. The child does not automatically acquire Bulgarian nationality on adoption but must apply for citizenship before the age of 18 (with adoptive parents’ consent if under 14). Birth registration takes place within seven days of birth and late registration is possible in law and practice, although a court procedure is required if more than a year has passed since birth. Cases of health services reporting undocumented migrants to the immigration authorities may constitute a barrier to civil registration in practice for some high-risk groups. Withdrawal of citizenship is provided for in law and is not permitted if it results in statelessness.

  • According to the law, every person born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria who does not acquire another citizenship by origin, is a Bulgarian citizen by birth.
  • The provision is automatic ex lege so no application process is required and there are no conditions relating to the status of the parents or residency.
  • However, the child may need to prove that they cannot acquire another nationality and jurisprudence has established that notarised statements from the parents is not sufficient evidence.
  • Foundlings are granted Bulgarian citizenship automatically by law.
  • Bulgarian citizenship can only be withdrawn if acquired through naturalisation and not by birth as in the case of foundlings.
  • There is no provision in law relating to an age limit for foundlings.
  • Adoption does not change the nationality of the child.
  • A foreign child can apply for Bulgarian citizenship up to the age of 14 with the consent of the adoptive parents in the case of full adoption and will be exempted from the general requirements for naturalisation. The child can apply on their own behalf if aged 14-18 years. 
  • There is a risk of statelessness in the procedure if the child or parents do not apply or consent to apply for naturalisation, or there is a delay on the part of the authorities, and the child loses their former nationality or is stateless on adoption.
  • A child is Bulgarian if one of its parents is Bulgarian. There are no further conditions on acquisition of nationality by ius sanguinis (descent).
  • According to the law, a birth certificate must be issued by the authorities within seven days of the birth recording the names, dates of birth, personal identification number and citizenship of the parents.
  • In practice, if parents do not have a personal identification number, birth registration still takes place and the certificate is issued without the personal ID number.
  • There is no legal requirement on health authorities to report undocumented migrants, but there are cases of this happening in practice, which can constitute a barrier to civil registration.
  • Late birth registration is provided for by law and happens in practice even after the seven-day deadline.
  • If more than one year has passed since birth, the certificate can only be issued based on a court ruling upon request of the child or person in question, parents or public prosecutor.
  • The Government does not have any programmes in place to promote birth registration, though there is little evidence of high-risk groups.
  • Undocumented migrants in an irregular situation may be at risk of not accessing birth registration due to fear of contact with the authorities.
  • There is a provision in law providing a route to regularisation for long-term residents of Bulgaria who are former USSR citizens.
  • Provisions for loss, revocation of naturalisation and deprivation of citizenship are provided for in law and are not permitted where it would result in statelessness.
  • The President has competency for the withdrawal of nationality and has delegated these powers to the Vice President. Presidential decrees cannot be appealed in court.
  • Withdrawal provisions are applied in practice with 1062 cases of 'release from Bulgarian citizenship' and 103 cases of revocation of naturalisation issued between January 2012 to January 2017.

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