Bulgaria amends its citizenship law

On 26 February, the Parliament of Bulgaria approved amendments to the Law on Bulgarian Citizenship. Legislative changes, which were adopted with near unanimity, mostly concerned the existing provisions that allow third-country nationals to obtain Bulgarian passports in exchange for investment. Neither of the earlier routes for naturalisation on the basis of investment have been abolished; rather, the amendments merely raised the investor thresholds (from one to two million Bulgarian leva).

The original bill of amendments was put forward by the country’s Ministry of Justice in October 2019, in view of the Report of the European Commission on investor citizenship and residence programmes. This bill had proposed the abolition of the direct sale of passports through short-term investments, but had left the possibility for individuals to gain access to citizenship in exchange for investments certified under the Investment Promotion Act with a certificate for class A or class B or for a priority investment project. The rationale for this legislative proposal was that investments made for the sole purpose of obtaining a Bulgarian passport would be withdrawn shortly after the grant of citizenship.

The original amendments have been rejected, but another bill was tabled in February 2020. This document retained all the possible investment options, but introduced proposals for a greater control over the process. In late October 2020, simultaneous to launching the infringement procedure against Malta and Cyprus, the European Commission sent a letter to Bulgarian authorities, calling on them phase out the investor citizenship scheme, and giving the cabinet a month to respond to the measures it has taken on the issue.

Since the inception of the programme in 2013 until 23 February 2021, a total of 452 applications have been submitted to the Bulgarian authorities. Of these, 206 have been filed under article 14a of the BCA, foreseeing higher investment amounts and a single year of residence. Another 246 applications have been filed under article 12a of the BCA, enabling investors to obtain Bulgarian citizenship after five years of residence and a pecuniary contribution of 1 million Bulgarian leva. A total of 93 individuals were granted a passport, 84 under the first option, and 9 under the second; 186 applications have been rejected. The remaining 173 applications will be processed in view of the legislation applicable at the time of submission.

Further to amending the investor citizenship provisions, the February 2021 amendments concerned the circumstances of the British nationals who applied for Bulgarian citizenship and acquisition of citizenship on the basis of ancestry. British nationals who had filed their  naturalisation requests on or before 31 December 2020 would be treated the same as EU citizens, meaning that they would not have to relinquish their British passports if granted Bulgarian citizenship. As regards changes regarding naturalisation through ancestry, the amendments set up a State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, with the task of assessing ‘Bulgarian origin’ (language assessment, cultural belonging, ancestry). Bulgarian origin can be proven to the third generation back.

For more information on the citizenship legislation in Bulgaria, check out our country profiles.