Ivanova, V./Krasteva, A./Otava, I./Staykova, E.: A Bulgarian Migration Profile, 2011

Download PDF Document


Bulgaria is still a predominantly emigration country; the out-flows outnumber the in-flows. This migration profile focuses on the immigration.

Migration Panorama

According to the National Statistical Institute the migration balance is negative: -1,397 in 2007, -876 in 2008, - 933 in 2009.

The number of immigrants in Bulgaria is relatively small: 55,684, according to the National Strategy on Immigration and Integration (2008 – 2015). The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counts more immigrants and estimates that they comprise 1.4% of the population, i.e. 111,000 (IOM 2010). The methodologies used for these calculations are not known, which makes it difficult to compare the present data, but this clearly outlines the range of immigration as one of the lowest in the EU.

In 2008, 23,934 individuals were granted the status of permanent and long-term residents. Among these the largest number are the Turkish citizens: 4,853, followed by 4,647 Macedonians; 2,217 Russians; 1.505 English and 974 Ukrainian citizens.

The dynamics of the migration picture in Bulgaria can be seen by tracing the total number of foreigners who were granted the status of permanent and long-term residents in the past eight years: 17,564 in 2000, 21,569 in 2001, 17,978 in 2002, 16,635 in 2003, 16,545 in 2004, 19,427 in 2005, 21,249 in 2006, 26,702 in 2007, 23,934 in 2008 (Ministry of Interior. Source: Staykova (2010: 89). The trend clearly shows that after Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004, migration flows to the country started to increase. In 2007 when Bulgaria joined the EU, migration reached its peak: 26,702 foreigners were granted the right to long-term or permanent residence. The decrease of flows in 2008 could be explained by the slowing down of migration processes throughout Europe as a result of the economic crisis.

The number of Bulgarian citizens who obtained long-term residence status in Great Britain grows by 100% every year. The large number of German citizens remains constant and there is a definite trend for French and Italian citizens to seek long-term residence status in Bulgaria. Immigration in Bulgaria is predominantly an urban phenomenon, with the exception of British citizens most of whom prefer to live in villages, immigrants prefer the big cities: 35% live in Sofia, 9% in Plovdiv, 8% in Varna, and 5% - in Burgas (National strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on migration and integration (2008-2015).

The applications for Bulgarian citizenship increases steadily over the years: 7,184 applications in 2004, 12,870 in 2005, 14,468 in 2006, 23,200 in 2007, 29,493 in 2008(National strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on migration and integration (2008-2015). The migrants who have been granted Bulgarian citizenship come from: Macedonia (17,549, the data are for the period 2002 – 2008), Moldova (13,077), Russia (2,065), Ukraine (1,628), Serbia (1,528), etc.

Historic Background

Immigration is a relatively new phenomenon related to the democratic opening of the country and the transition to market economy.
During the communist regime, immigration was severely restricted and manifested itself in three forms:

• The main group were students from the so-called Third world, who were granted scholarships to study at Bulgarian universities;
• A very small group was formed by the political refugees – mostly people with leftist convictions from Greece and Turkey;
• There is a single example of economic migration – Vietnamese workers involved mainly in construction in the 80’s. Even this form, which seems as pure labor migration, combines economic and ideological intentions – the Bulgarian communist government responded to the call of its Vietnamese “brother” to provide employment to some of the surplus labor it had.

Migration Profile

If economic immigration was an exception during the communist period, during the post-communist period, the situation was completely reversed and became the rule. We will outline the structure and dynamics of labor immigration in two ways: mapping the major sending regions and countries; and outlining the professional and employment profile of immigrants.

The map of the regions sending immigrants to Bulgaria has six poles:
• The largest group with the longest tradition is immigration from Russia, Ukraine and other countries from the post-Soviet area;
• The most recent but growing group is comprised of EU citizens who, according to the European legal norms incorporated into Bulgarian legislation, are not considered foreigners and exercise the right of free circulation of labor;
• Immigration from the Near and Middle East is part of a tradition nearly half a century old: Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans etc.;
• African immigration is similar to the Arab group in relation to its half-century presence in this country; however numbers here are much lower; it is symbolically perceived as different because of the lack of any historical contact between Bulgaria and the African countries. It must be noted that immigrants from the Maghreb counties are very few and are part of the Arab community;
• Chinese immigration is one of the most recent; it practically started from zero after the opening of the country in the early 90s.
• In recent years new sending poles such as the United Kingdom emerged. A considerable part of Britons are representatives of the so-called retirement migration and are attracted by the affordable prices of real estate, mostly in the rural areas.

The basic profile of the immigrant in Bulgaria is self-employed or running a small family business. The two major areas of employment are trade and the restaurant business. This is true of immigration from China and the near and Middle East.

It is typical of many immigrants that they are mostly employed by companies owned by other immigrants, and not working for Bulgarian companies.
If in many immigration countries a large proportion of the immigrants are employed in construction and certain industries involving production, this is a relatively new tendency in Bulgaria, which started evolving in the period of upheaval preceding the economic crisis. This is mostly reflected in Turkish, Vietnamese, and Chinese workers. Employment in administration and education tends to be an exception and is typical almost only of the representatives of Russia and other countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

A new and interesting form of employment is offered by the call centres which profit from the language proficiency of immigrants. It is there that French and English-speaking African immigrants, as well as people from Western Europe such as the Dutch, find employment.

A specific group is the consultants, experts, and managers who find employment with foreign investors, Bulgarian institutions or large Bulgarian companies. They are mostly representatives of the Western countries (Krasteva 2007, 2008).

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Bulgaria signed the Geneva Convention in 1993. In the period 1993 – November 2011, 19,761 applications for asylum were received. Four main periods can be distinguished during this time:

• Period of fluctuations 1993 – 1998. The number of the applications varied. In 1994 it doubled compared to the previous year (561), to reach in the next two years the starting point and to rise again at the end of the period – 429 in 1997. It has to be underlined that these fluctuations were in small numbers –between 250 and 550 per year.
• Period of rapid growth 1999 -2001. During the first year the numbers are four times higher than in 1993. Each year the growth is between 400 and 670 applications; at least as much as or more than the overall number of the applications for the previous period. The highest point was 2002: 2,888 applications were received, ten times higher than the beginning of the recorded statistics. But even then the scale of the flow is not exceeding the capacity of the country and the existing institutional structure to handle it.
• Period of smooth decrease 2003 – 2006. 2003 marks a rapid decrease of 1,339 applications compared to the previous year. The applications decrease by 422 in 2004, 305 in 2005 and 183 in 2006.
• Period of new increase after 2007, connected with the accession of Bulgaria to the EU: 975 applications received in 2007, in 2009, there is a small decrease down to 746 applications, followed by a rising trend again; 853 in 2009 and 1,025 in 2010 (State Agency of Refugees).

The top 10 countries with the majority of applications for asylum are Afghanistan – 5,714, Iraq – 4,899, Armenia – 1,865, Iran – 936, without citizenship – 909, Serbia and Montenegroа – 775, Nigeria – 518, Algeria – 444, Turkey – 385, Syria – 350.


Krasteva, A./Staikova, E./Otova, I./Ivanova, V.: Labor Migration in Bulgaria, 2004 – 2009 (2011).

Krasteva, A./Staikova, E./Otova,I./Ivanova, V.: Temporary and circular migration in Bulgaria, 2004 – 2009 (2011).

Krasteva A./Kasabova A./Karabinova D. (eds): Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe (Ravenna: Longo editore, 2009).

Krasteva A. (ed): Immigration and Integration: European Experiences (Sofia, 2009).

Krasteva A.: Post-Communist Discovery of Immigration: The Case of Bulgaria, In: Berggren E./ B. Likic-Brboric/G. Toksoz, N/ Trimikliotis (eds) Irregular Labor and Community: A Challenge for Europe. Maastricht: Shaker Publishing, 104-117, 2007.

Staykova, Е./Trifonova, T.: Immigrants in Bulgaria, In: Tendencies in Trans-Border Migration of Labor and the Free Movement of People – the Implications for Bulgaria. Sofia: Open Society Institute (in Bulgarian), 2010.

Documents and Reference Materials

Annual Report on the Action Plan for 2009 for the Implementation of the National Strategy for Migration and Integration of the Republic of Bulgaria 2008 – 2015 January 2010 (in Bulgarian).

CITUB Protocol for Cooperation between CITUB and the General Confederation of Workers in Greece, 2009, (in Bulgarian).

CITUB Cooperation Agreement between CITUB, LC Podkrepa and TUC – UK. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Towards a common immigration policy, Brussels, 5.12.2007.

ESC (2008) Position of the Economic and Social Concil of the Republic of Bulgaria the National strategy for migration and integration (in Bulgarian).

Hanbook for the Coordination of Institutions Responsible for the Integration Processes in Bulgarian Society (2008) (in Bulgarian).

MLSP (2008) Updated Strategy for Eemployment in the Republic of Bulgaria, 2—8-2015, (in Bulgarian).

National Strategy for Migration and Integration of the Republic of Bulgaria (2008-2015) (in Bulgarian).

Stelianova R.: Information and Statistics from the Employment Agency, 2010 (in Bulgarian).

Zahariev, I.: Information Provided by CEIBG to Migration Directorate of the MoI with regard to Meeting Labor Demand through Migration, December 2010 (in Bulgarian).

Anna Krasteva, Evelina Staykova, Ildiko Otava, Vanya Ivanova, December 2011, CERMES Bulgaria, Center for European Refugees, Migration and Ethnic Studies.