A Shore Never Reached – Bulgarian Integration Policies since MIPEX III

By Zvezda Vankova, researcher at the Open Society Institute Sofia, MIPEX national partner for Bulgaria**

Two years after Bulgaria has been assessed with the MIPEX for the first time, positive developments are registered only in two areas regulated by the acquis communautaire – family reunification and long- term residence. The legislative changes harmonizing Bulgarian legislation with the respective EU directives do not influence the overall MIPEX score of the country and have very limited impact on the integration policies for migrants in Bulgaria.

I prepared an unofficial MIPEX retrospective impact assessment for the conference Migration and Labour Market – European Practices organized by the Bulgarian academic institute CERMES on 1st of October 2012 in Sofia. Its results showed that Bulgarian integration policies have not improved significantly over the past two years since MIPEX III. Bulgaria’s policies remain only halfway favourable for migrant integration. Typical for the most Central European countries, the main driving force behind policy change is the harmonisation of national legislation with the acquis communautaire. As such, positive changes are registered only in areas regulated by EU law, namely family reunification and long term residence status.

EU family reunion law has slight impact

Bulgaria obtained 51% on MIPEX Family reunion mainly due to its narrow family definition, excluding adult dependent children and relatives, and lack of independent status for family members.

If assessed were MIPEX now, Bulgarian policies may reach the EU average score, with policies slightly favourable for integration of migrants (scoring 60% on family reunion), due to the amendments in the Law on Foreigners in Republic of Bulgaria (LFRB). The graph below compares the results for the average EU country and Bulgaria, according to my updated impact assessment (labelled as ‘2010’):

Under the new law, third country nationals now can benefit from clearer and broader definition of family (+30 on eligibility). Another positive change is the introduction of and independent status for family members (+8 on rights associated with status), which already exists in nearly all EU Member States. However, it is more limited compared to other countries because families are entitled to an independent status up to 1 year only in case of divorce, if they meet the general economic resources requirements and when the children are enrolled in a school or university until the end of the school year or until completion of the course of study. Acquisition conditions are also more restrictive after the last legislative amendments (- 17 ) because the general economic resources requirements are now applicable also in case of family reunion.

Long-term residence: harmonisation to the EU minimum

The legislative amendments for long-term residence permit holders prove once again that Bulgaria harmonises its legislation around the most restrictive options provided by the EU directives.

The status is now characterised by more flexibility due to the inclusion of periods of absence allowed before granting of status (+16 on eligibility). Still, for the long-term resident status holders, it will get even more demanding to be in a job, since the law now adds specific economic condition for the acquisition of status (-13 on acquisition conditions).


The candidates for the LTR permit need to prove that they have sufficient funds to maintain themselves without recourse to the social assistance system, in an amount not less than the minimum wage and minimum pension. Due to these more restrictive conditions, Bulgaria would obtain 58 %–or only 1 % additionally on Long-term residence.

Citizenship and other areas for improvement in Bulgaria

Beyond the current law, potential positive developments could be expected in naturalisation policy, where Bulgaria rates slightly unfavourable. According to the new draft law amending the Bulgarian Citizenship law, the following categories of foreigners will not be required to renounce their previous citizenship:

  1. citizens of member states of the European Union, of the Agreement on the European Economic Area and Swiss nationals;
  2. nationals of countries with which Bulgaria has signed agreements establishing reciprocity, i.e. the Bulgarian state will not require renouncement of  previous citizenship, if the contracting state does not require it from the Bulgarian citizens of their Bulgarian citizenship;
  3. spouses of Bulgarian citizens;
  4. when a person has applied for renouncement of  previous citizenship but objectively this is not possible to happen according to the laws of the state of origin. This concerns mostly citizens of Arab states – Syria, Iran.

This reform would be a small but important step towards the tolerance of dual nationality that MIPEX finds across the majority of EU Member States.

No other change has been observed in the rest of the public policies assessed by MIPEX. Targeted integration efforts continue to be invested mainly towards the long-term and permanent status holders, evident also by the measures included in the action plans for 2011 and 2012 for the implementation of the National Strategy in the Field of Migration, Asylum and Integration (2011-2020). Even though required to pay taxes, newcomers cannot still access general support and some social benefits. They also cannot benefit from the health system for free. Bulgarian policy-makers have still a lot to learn from the new countries of immigration like Spain and Portugal.

 

**Zvezda Vankova works for Open Society Institute Sofia, the MIPEX national partner for Bulgaria. While other national legal experts completed the MIPEX III questionnaire for Bulgaria, Zvezda is also an expert on migration and integration in Bulgaria. Using publically available documents, she made an unofficial MIPEX impact assessment of new laws, as can any user of the MIPEX online analysis tool.

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