UK citizens with “Art. 50 residence permit” in Bulgaria
At the time when Brexit happened, many Brits were living long-term in Bulgaria. Luckily for them, they got the opportunity to obtain long-term residence permit under the Law on the entry, residence and departure of citizens of the European Union and their family members.
This law also applies to citizens of the UK and their family members who, as of February 1, 2020, have entered and reside legally in Bulgaria or possess a valid Bulgarian residence document.§ 1a, par. 1 of the Law
The Law for the EU citizens vs the Foreigners Law
And in fact, this was great news for the Brits. If they had to obtain residence permit as per the Foreigners Law, the majority of them wouldn’t qualify and would need to leave the country. The “better” Law (for the EU citizens) is much easier to comply with than is the Foreigners Law. Most importantly though, the Law for the EU citizens doesn’t require from the applicant for Bulgarian residence permit to have any valid reason to remain in the country. Basically this is the right of all EU citizens, to live in any EU member state, without any restrictions. And this right was also granted to the Brits, who were already settled in Bulgaria, prior to Brexit. So far so good.
What if the Bulgarian residence permit has expired and has not been renewed?
We will today analyze an interesting real-life hypothesis. What if a UK citizen has obtained long-term residence permit under the Law for the EU citizens, but has forgotten to prolong it on time. As result, the residence permit has expired, while the UK citizen is still in Bulgaria. So what are the consequences?
We will try to give an answer to the following quetions:
- Is the stay of the UK citizen in Bulgaria legal, after his residence permit has expired?
- Can the British citizen return to Bulgaria and how can he legalize his long-term stay again?
Please note that there is virtually no case law yet, so the answers to these questions may be dependent on future practice of the Supreme Administrative Court.
Is the stay in Bulgaria of a UK citizen still legal if his Art. 50 residence permit has expired?
British citizens enjoy visa-free entry in Bulgaria. UK passport holders can remain legally for 90 days in the country within each 180-days period. This means that if the residence permit of the UK citizen has expired, he should be able to remain in Bulgaria for another 90 days, on basis of the visa-free regime. After these 90 days, the British passport holder should leave the country and must wait for another 90 days before he may return to Bulgaria.
Can the UK citizen return to Bulgaria? How can he legalize his long-term-stay?
As we wrote above, the British citizen can return to Bulgaria on basis of his visa-free rights. The 90/180 days rule must be observed though.
In case the British citizen has stayed in the country for more than 90 days after his resident permit has expired, then it is possible that he will be banned to re-enter for another 2 years. While the 2-year ban may have devastating consequences, the most important question is:
How to obtain Bulgarian residence permit again?
Here there are two possible answers. The first answer is the one that the Bulgarian immigration authorities will be advocating. They will certainly demand from the British citizen to first obtain visa D and after that, residence permit, as per the Foreigners Law. But what will be the legal ground to obtain all that? Most probably there will be none.
The other answer is much more controversial, but – legally correct. We are absolutely certain that the immigration authorities will not share our opinion, but chances are that the Bulgarian courts will.
The main question is whether the UK citizen with expired Art. 50 residence permit will need to re-apply as per the Foreigners Law or the Law for the EU citizens. In our opinion, UK citizens who have initially obtained residence permit under the Law for the EU citizens, should be able to reapply under the same Law, even if they have failed to renew their permits in time.
§ 1a, par. 1 of the Law, as quoted in the beginning of this article, states that the right to apply under the Law for the EU citizens is derived from the fact that the UK citizen has been residing legally in Bulgaria prior to 01.02.2020. The law doesn’t stipulate any conditions, under which, these rights would be forfeited.