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 core statelessness conventions. However, its definition of a stateless person is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition. There is limited data on the stateless population in the country, but measures have been introduced to include stateless people in the forthcoming 2021 census.

Bulgaria introduced a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) in 2017 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 and other barriers. There is no lawful stay requirement to access the procedure, but there is no automatic legal admission nor support entitlement for applicants, so there is a risk of detention while their claims are considered.  The determination of statelessness does not guarantee protection status, but since 2019, there is the possibility for a recognised stateless person to acquire a residence permit and some minimal rights.

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 nationality is clearly prohibited by law where it would result in statelessness, but there are no remedies if the law is applied incorrectly, as refusal and withdrawal of Bulgarian nationality cannot be appealed.

Last updated: 
Mar 2020
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2021
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 is state party to three of the core statelessness conventions: 1954 Convention, 1961 Convention, and the European Convention on Nationality. It retains important reservations to both the 1954 Convention and the European Convention on Nationality, but the Bulgarian Government pledged to review its 1954 Convention reservations at UNHCR’s High Level Segment on Statelessness in 2019. 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 pledged to withdraw its reservation to Article 31 and consider withdrawing other reservations to the 1954 Convention at UNHCR’s High Level Segment on Statelessness in 2019.
  • Bulgaria is state party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations, and it has direct effect.
  • Bulgaria is state party to the European Convention on Nationality, but it retains reservations impacting on the rights of stateless people.
  • Bulgaria is not State Party to the Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to the 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.

Bulgarian national statistics do not currently report data on stateless people as a separate category, though the Government has included a new ‘stateless’ category in the 2021 census, and there is currently a category  ‘third country nationals, stateless persons & unknown citizenship’. Different government departments collect and hold some data on asylum applicants, acquisition of nationality, 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 does not currently report data under a separate ‘stateless’ category in National Statistics. The only relevant category is "Non-EU third country nationals, stateless persons and unknown citizenship". However, it will include a separate ‘stateless’ category in its 2021 census.
  • Some data on stateless people and people with unknown nationality is collected and held by the Ministry of the Interior, the State Agency for Refugees and the Ministry of Justice, but this 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 recorded as stateless or of unknown nationality’; from the State Agency for Refugees on stateless asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection; and from the Ministry of Justice on the number of stateless people who have acquired Bulgarian  nationality.
  • 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 people is likely to be underreported as those 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.
  • Under its partnership agreement with UNHCR, Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR) provided free legal aid to 50 stateless people in 2019.
  • 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 definition of a stateless person and exclusion provisions in Bulgarian law mean that the interpretation of who is stateless in Bulgaria is narrower than the 1954 Convention. Bulgaria has a dedicated statelessness determination procedure, but no dedicated 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 rights, but since 2019, a recognised stateless person may apply for a renewable one-year residence permit.

  • 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, although a cumulative condition was added to the law in 2019 to limit the de-facto exclusion of people who are considered stateless.
  • 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 and no lawful stay requirement or time limit to access the procedure, but access has been hindered in practice by the risk of detention faced by applicants.
  • There is an obligation in law on the authorities to consider the application.
  • 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, but there is no referral mechanism in place.
  • In practice, cases have been reported of the Migration Directorate discontinuing the SDP if the applicant cannot present documents within a very short given timeframe (usually three days).
  • 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'), whereas there is a provision in the Law on Asylum and Refugees recognising that lack of evidence cannot be grounds for refusal of protection.
  • 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.
  • 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. Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR) provides free legal aid to applicants for stateless status under a partnership agreement with UNHCR.
  • 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, the fee significantly increased in 2019 from 5 BGN (3 EUR) to 70 BGN (36 EUR) to appeal a court judgement and 30 BGN (15 EUR) to appeal a court ruling.
  • Legal aid for appealing a negative decision is envisaged in the law and NGOs provide legal assistance.
  • Recognition of stateless status does not lead to automatic legal residence. The possibility of applying for a one-year renewable residence permit was introduced in law in October 2019. However, to apply for the permit, in addition to being recognised under the SDP as a stateless person, an individual must also meet general requirements for residence, including paying a fee of 500 BGN (250 EUR) and providing proof of subsistence, accommodation and medical insurance.
  • If granted, the residence permit protects the stateless person from detention, but it does not grant access to other rights including the right to work or healthcare. After five years of continuous residence, the individual may apply for permanent residence.
  • Under separate provisions, there is a legal possibility for regularisation for 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 nationality.
  • 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, but stateless people holding a residence permit will be entitled to family reunion rights consistent with that permit.
  • Stateless status may be withdrawn if there is written evidence that it was acquired under false pretences.
  • No rights to education derive from stateless status, although all children under 16 years in Bulgaria have a right to education, but if they do not have a residence permit, 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 naturalisation 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 – an income and language test are required. The language test to determine proficiency in the Bulgarian language is free of charge for all foreign nationals. There is a fee to make an application for naturalisation of 100 BGN (50 EUR) for adults and 10 BGN (5 EUR) for children and students up to the age of 26.
  • A criminal conviction for 'a premeditated crime of a general nature' may be an obstacle to acquiring Bulgarian nationality 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.

There are limited safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless people in Bulgaria, 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 people with irregular migration status 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 go beyond ECHR 5(1)(f) and 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 people with irregular migration status 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.
  • Alternatives can be applied together or separately but are not subject to a proportionality test nor time limit.
  • In practice, NGOs report 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 or 30 calendar days for 'short-term detention'.
  • 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 counts 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 nationality if they would otherwise be stateless. Children born to Bulgarian parents abroad and foundlings also acquire nationality automatically at birth. In the case of adoption of a foreign child by Bulgarian nationals, there is a potential risk of statelessness as the child must apply for nationality before the age of 18. 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 nationality is provided for in law and is not permitted if it results in statelessness. However, there are no remedies in case of withdrawal and, therefore, no possibility for review as to whether the law was correctly applied.

  • According to the law, every person born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria who does not acquire another nationality by origin, is a Bulgarian national 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.
  • There is no obligation on the authorities to examine whether the child can acquire a nationality at birth and cases have been reported in practice of children who may be stateless not being identified when the mother cannot confer her nationality.
  • Foundlings acquire Bulgarian nationality automatically by law.
  • Bulgarian nationality 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 nationality 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 themselves 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 if 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 their parents is Bulgarian. There are no further conditions on acquisition of nationality by descent.
  • According to the law, a birth certificate must be issued by the authorities to all children within seven days of the birth recording the names, dates of birth, personal identification number and nationality 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 in law and possible in practice after the seven-day deadline, but if more than a year has passed since birth, the certificate can only be issued following a court ruling.
  • The child's nationality is recorded on the birth certificate, but the legal order for birth registration does not envisage an obligation for authorities to examine whether the child can acquire the nationality of the country that is recorded in the birth certificate. In most cases, the authorities automatically register the child with the same nationality as the mother. Some municipal authorities have adopted a practice requiring a notarised declaration signed by both parents in which they decide the nationality of the child. However, this is not based on law and practice is inconsistent.
  • There is a legal framework under the Code on Civil Procedure for determining the child's nationality and enabling parents to correct errors in the birth certificate later, but there is limited practice so far.
  • 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.
  • The Government has taken steps to improve law, policy and practice to protect stateless people and prevent and reduce statelessness in recent years, including introducing a provision providing a route to regularisation for long-term residents of Bulgaria who were formerly citizens of the USSR; introducing a statelessness determination procedure in 2018 and improvements to this in 2019; and pledging to address remaining gaps at the UNHCR High Level Segment on Statelessness in October 2019.
  • Provisions for loss, revocation of naturalisation and deprivation of nationality 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. There are no remedies against refusal and withdrawal of Bulgarian nationality, so if the safeguard against statelessness is not observed or the risk of statelessness is not identified, there is no way to challenge this.
  • Withdrawal provisions are applied in practice with 1062 cases of 'release from Bulgarian citizenship' and 103 cases of revocation of naturalisation issued between Jan 2012 to Jan 2017.

Latest news on Bulgaria

New INDEX thematic briefing: Birth registration and the prevention of statelessness in Europe

Read our new briefing on birth registration and the prevention of statelessness
5 May 2020 / Austria / Belgium / Bulgaria / Council of Europe / Cyprus / Czech Republic / European Union / France / Germany / Greece / Hungary / Italy / Latvia / Malta / Moldova / Netherlands / North Macedonia / Norway / Poland / Portugal / Prevention and reduction / Serbia / Slovenia / Spain / Switzerland / Ukraine / United Kingdom

Joint Submission to the Human Rights Council at the 36th Session of the Universal Periodic Review - Bulgaria

The European Network on Statelessness, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI) and the Foundation for Access to Rights have prepared a...
3 Oct 2019 / Bulgaria / Detention / Prevention and reduction / Statelessness determination and status

Bulgaria urged to stop locking up stateless people by detained heart doctor

A news report by Thomson Reuters highlights the absence of procedural safeguards and the lack of a requirement to identify a country of removal...
19 Feb 2019 / Bulgaria / Detention / Statelessness determination and status

Project funded by: