The Balkan nation of Bulgaria recently made amendments to its citizenship law, which could affect hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian descendants scattered across the world. Descendants will have to prove that they have a Bulgarian parent, grandparent, or great grandparent to be eligible for citizenship in Bulgaria through this route. If successful, they will also have the right to live in any of the 27 EU member states.
“It would be nearly impossible to calculate, but if we are going back three generations, there may be more than a million Americans, Canadians, Russians, etc. who today have some Bulgarian ancestry and, therefore, are eligible for citizenship in the EU,” says Christian Henrik Nesheim, founding editor of Investment Migration Insider.
Since World War II, the Republic of Bulgaria has seen a steady decline in its population. During the war, the nation prevented the deportation of nearly all of the 50,000 Jews living within their borders (although 11,000 Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied regions were deported and sent to camps). After the war, approximately 44,000 of those who had survived chose to leave Bulgaria and emigrate to Israel.
Many Turks also left the country; 155,000 were expelled in 1949–51 by the communist government, and about 300,000 emigrated in 1989, though almost half of the latter group returned after 1991, with the end of communism.
More recently, Bulgarians have been leaving their home in droves. By the end of the 1980s, Bulgaria’s population was around nine million but fell to fewer than seven million in 2018. According to the UN Population Division, Bulgaria will lose 23 percent of its population by 2050 – a projection so high that the country is neck-and-neck with Lithuania for the fastest shrinking population in the world.
During the pandemic, the nation saw a massive reverse migration. Approximately half a million Bulgarians returned home to be with relatives or due to job loss.
The amendment to the law could see an influx of Bulgarian descendants applying for citizenship because the benefits of Bulgarian citizenship include the right to live and work in the European Union.
What does the Bulgarian Citizenship Law say?
According to Section 15 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act, an individual who is not a citizen may acquire Bulgarian citizenship by naturalisation if they meet one of the following requirements:
- They are of Bulgarian origin
- A Bulgarian citizen has adopted them under the conditions of full adoption
- One of their parents is a Bulgarian citizen or has died as a Bulgarian citizen
In the 12 March 2021 amendments to the Bulgarian citizenship by origin procedure, the applicant must provide official evidence in documents issued by a foreign or Bulgarian government of their Bulgarian origin.
The applicant must present documents that contain the names of the ascendant and their relationship to the applicant. The relationship is limited to a Bulgarian ancestor up to the applicant’s great grandparents’ generation (i.e. to the “third degree”).
Previous to the amendments, applicants had to request a Certificate of Bulgarian origin from the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad. This time-consuming step is no longer part of the application.
“According to the new legislation the documents with which the person certifies that he/she is related to his/her ascendant up to the third degree inclusive, which is of Bulgarian origin are submitted directly with the application for acquisition of Bulgarian citizenship in the Ministry of Justice. As of March 16, 2021, the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad shall suspend the acceptance of applications for issuing certificates of Bulgarian origin,” the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad said.
How to Apply for Bulgarian Citizenship by Origin
Application forms and supporting documents need to be filed online with the Ministry of Justice, nearest Bulgarian embassy or consulate, or in person at the Ministry of Justice in Sofia. Once your application and documents have been submitted, an interview is conducted in Bulgaria by officials designated by the Minister of Justice. After, an expert check for the compliance of documents is carried out within 14 days.
What are the Benefits of Acquiring Bulgarian Citizenship?
- Bulgarian citizens are full citizens of the European Union and are entitled to ‘freedom of movement’, which includes visa-free travel to the remaining 27 member states of the EU.
- The right to establish or own a business in Bulgaria or any other EU or EEA state or Switzerland.
- The right to acquire land or immovable property in Bulgaria and several other EU countries, which may otherwise restrict access to foreign nationals.
- Various rights to access the education systems of Bulgaria and the member states of the EU.
- The right to obtain medical assistance in Bulgaria and elsewhere in the EU.
Dual Citizenship in Bulgaria
Bulgaria allows dual citizenship under certain circumstances, generally limited to, under Articles 12(1)6 and 12(2), native-born citizens, citizens of the EU, EEA and Switzerland, as well as spouses of Bulgarian citizens.
Individuals who want to naturalise and do not belong to at least one of the aforementioned groups must normally have be released from their previous citizenship or be released from it at the moment of acquiring Bulgarian citizenship. However, exceptions exist for those who obtain citizenship by investment of Bulgaria under Article 14a of the country’s citizenship law. These investors are made to fulfil the requirements stipulated in Article 12(1)1 and 12(1)3, but not Articles 12(1)6 or 12(2).