Non-EU newcomers to Bulgaria face many obstacles to integration under Bulgaria’s slightly unfavourable policies. Bulgaria scores 40 on the MIPEX 100-point scale, while the average MIPEX country scores 50. Bulgaria’s approach to integration is classified by MIPEX as “equality on paper” only. As in most Central and Eastern European countries, immigrants in Bulgaria enjoy basic rights and security but not equal opportunities. Major obstacles emerge in nearly all areas of life, with the exceptions of the labour market, permanent residence and anti-discrimination.
Bulgaria’s approach to integration matters because its policies can influence whether or not integration works as a two-way process in the country. The way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact with and think of each other. Bulgaria’s current policies encourage the public to see immigrants as equal but also as strangers. Internationally, the ‘Top Ten’ MIPEX countries treat immigrants as equals, neighbours and potential citizens.
Restrictive policies like Bulgaria’s can create a ‘vicious circle’ of exclusion that reinforces fear and separation. Policies that treat immigrants as threats lead more people to see them as threats and treat them in ways that harm integration. Under restrictive policies, the public experiences higher levels of xenophobia and islamophobia and lower levels of social trust, which contributes to less contact and fewer positive experiences with immigrants.
Bulgaria’s policies are more restrictive than in the average EU country, and like the EU13 average. Its policies are similar to other “equality on paper” countries in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Croatia, Hungary, and Poland. In contrast, policies are slightly more advanced in neighbouring North Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.
- Labour market mobility: halfway favourable: General access to the labour market continues to be favourable for long-term residents and open to immigrant entrepreneurs. As of 2018 family members are also equal to Bulgarian citizens, with access to social security and assistance.
- Family reunification: slightly unfavourable: Sponsors can be joined by their spouse or their stable long-term partner since 2013. Only basic legal income and standard housing is required for migrants to reunite with their families. However, authorities can deny or withdraw their legal status through discretionary procedures with wide grounds (e.g. family breakup, economic resources, public security), without considering personal circumstances (e.g. violence, existing links with country of origin).
- Education: slightly unfavourable: The school system creates barriers to access for certain categories of immigrant pupils and largely ignores the specific needs and benefits they bring to the classroom. Immigrants and their children now face no impediments in their access to compulsory education and receive language support at school. Intercultural education at schools is part of state educational standards but remains critically unfavourable because of the lack of targeted measures in practice.
- Health: slightly unfavourable: In Bulgaria, as in most countries, legal migrants and asylum-seekers have basic entitlements to healthcare that may be undermined in practice. Migrants may find it harder to access healthcare entitlements in Bulgaria than in most countries in Europe or the region. Healthcare services are not at all adapted to migrants' specific health needs.
- Political participation: critically unfavourable: Political participation is still missing from Bulgaria’s integration strategy and remains a challenge for migrants in Bulgaria. Non-EU residents do not have the local right to vote or stand in elections, excluding them from the democratic process. Consultative bodies to inform and improve the policies that affect migrants daily are not yet part of integration governance at local and national levels in Bulgaria.
- Permanent residence: slightly favourable: Non-EU residents must wait 5 years before they can apply for equal opportunities to integrate in the economic and social life of most EU countries. Applicants and long-term residents in Bulgaria are uncertain about their futures as, like in other Central European countries, authorities retain wide discretion.
- Access to nationality: unfavourable: Most non-EU residents in Bulgaria are ineligible for citizenship, under some of Europe's most restrictive eligibility criteria. Applicants must also pass demanding income/job requirements compared to other countries.
- Anti-discrimination: favourable: The 2004 Protection Against Discrimination Act created favourable definitions protecting residents from all discrimination. Victims can also look for support from one of the strongest equality bodies in Europe: the Protection Against Discrimination Commission.