What will change in the Bulgarian Citizenship Law in 2023-2024?
Today, 21.09.2023, the Bulgarian Parliament voted several bills to amend and supplement the Bulgarian Citizenship Law (BCL). The MPs were surprisingly unanimous, which makes us think that the Bulgarian Citizenship Law changes will be adopted at the second reading.
But what are the MEPs actually proposing? What are the changes that future applicants for Bulgarian passports will have to take into account? And what does our team think of the proposed* amendments?
* the proposed changes have not yet entered into force
Today we will analyze in particular the bill submitted by Kostadin Kostadinov and other MPs, file number 49-354-01-34 / 10.05.2023.
An end to the “quick marriages” in order to retain previous citizenship
In the current version of the BCL, renunciation from the previous citizenship of spouses of Bulgarian citizens is not required (Article 12, paragraph 2, item 1). With the proposed wording of the law, only those spouses of Bulgarian citizens who were married for not less than 3 years will be able to retain their citizenship.
Apparently, the proposed amendment aims to put an end to the vicious practice of foreigners marrying Bulgarians before submitting their naturalization papers, with the sole purpose of retaining their former citizenship. We fully support this proposal.
Clean criminal record not only in Bulgaria, but also abroad
The amendment proposes that a candidate for Bulgarian citizenship should not only provide clean criminal record from a Bulgarian court, as is the case now (Article 12(1)(3)), but should also provide evidence of non-conviction by “a foreign national court in his/her country of origin or a court in another country if the person is a permanent resident there“. We see several problems with this proposal.
First of all, if this amendment is adopted, we will deprive of the opportunity to obtain Bulgarian citizenship many citizens who are “unjustifiably persecuted” abroad. Dissidents and opponents of totalitarian regimes who are convicted in their home countries will never be able to obtain Bulgarian citizenship, even if their acts are “approved” in Bulgaria. Citizens of countries with questionable judicial systems and democratic norms will not be able to obtain Bulgarian citizenship. Also, many non-convicted foreigners may not be able to obtain a document from their countries proving their clean criminal status.
Another problem is that it will be difficult to define the concept of “country of origin” as well as “country of residence”. What is the “country of origin” of persons of Bulgarian origin born and living abroad, for example?
Introduction of an 18-month time limit for renunciation of previous citizenship
In Art. 6, paragraph 1, it is proposed to add that the applicant for Bulgarian citizenship must submit a document that he is released from his previous citizenship within 18 months after the approval of the Citizenship Council. It is commendable that this requirement is written into the law rather than a by-law. Currently, BCL provides for a mandatory renunciation of former citizenship, but without offering a mechanism for proof. Such a mechanism is provided for in the Ordinance to the BCL. Specifically, in Art. 1(12), the Ordinance stipulates that a document proving renunciation of the former citizenship shall be submitted within 3 years.
In other words, the period for renouncing citizenship is halved – from 36 to 18 months. But is this realistic? In our opinion, NO. After an analysis of the legislation of various countries, in many of them it is almost impossible to renounce citizenship within 18 months. Even in Bulgaria, renunciation of Bulgarian citizenship, although the time limit for the ruling is 6 months, actually takes (much) longer.
We understand the legislature’s desire to avoid naturalizing aliens before they have renounced their former citizenship. But this should not be a hurdle for the naturalization altogether.
Bulgarian language proficiency will be required and a “facilitated” procedure is defined
The current version of the Bulgarian Citizenship Law stipulates that persons of Bulgarian origin, adoptees and children of Bulgarian citizens acquire citizenship without the need to know Bulgarian (Article 15 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Law). The legislator now proposes that the procedure for naturalization under this article of the law be called “facilitated procedure”, which is also currently used in practice.
More importantly, unlike before, the proposed amendment now proposes to require Bulgarian language proficiency for naturalization. We fully support this proposal. We believe that knowledge of the Bulgarian language is one of the basic attributes of Bulgarian citizenship. A Bulgarian citizen who does not speak Bulgarian will never be able to fully integrate into society and therefore be “fully Bulgarian”.
Knowledge of Bulgarian language at naturalization for special merits
Moreover, we believe that the naturalized for “special-merits” under Article 16 of the BCL should also be proficient in Bulgarian. If “the Republic of Bulgaria has an interest in their naturalization”, then the state should be able to provide them with fast, effective language courses as well.
What if the applicant’s parent has been forced to renounce his Bulgarian citizenship?
The proposed text is worded extremely vaguely. We really don’t understand what is meant by:
A person who is not a Bulgarian citizen may acquire Bulgarian citizenship if…:
one of his parents is a Bulgarian citizen or has died as a Bulgarian citizen, except in cases where he was obliged by foreign law to renounce Bulgarian citizenship in order to acquire foreign citizenshipthe proposed wording of Article 15 of the BCL
As the proposed text is written, we dare say that few would understand what the legislator has meant. We understood only after reading the explanatory notes to the bill, namely:
A significant restriction should be removed that has existed so far for those wishing to apply for Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of their Bulgarian origin. Under the current law, their ascendant had to have died as a Bulgarian citizen. There are, however, hypotheses in which he may have been obliged to renounce his Bulgarian citizenship under the legislation of another country whose citizenship he subsequently has obtained. This does not change his Bulgarian ethnic origin and accordingly, his descendants should be able to obtain Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of the Bulgarian origin of their ascendant.from the motives to the Bill
After a careful reading of the reasoning, the wish of the deputies becomes clear. However, if this meaning is to be enshrined in the law, the proposed text should be rewritten entirely. The problem however lies elsewhere.
Moral and “Bulgarianness”
First of all, we wonder why those who have renounced their Bulgarian citizenship in order to acquire a foreign one are privileged? These are in fact those who have essentially exchanged their Bulgarian citizenship for a foreign passport. However, Bulgarian citizenship may have been lost for a number of other, far more “noble” reasons. See, for example, our article – We urgently need special legislation to enable Bulgarian Jews to obtain fast-track citizenship!.
Does this mean that the heirs of those who renounced their Bulgarian citizenship in order to take another one should be able to obtain citizenship through a facilitated procedure? And the others not? In our opinion, if a distinction is to be made, the heirs of the Bulgarians who renounced their citizenship have the least right to call themselves Bulgarians. And the heirs of those who have lost their citizenship for other reasons, on the contrary, should be more easily naturalized.
The Bulgarian Constitution
In our view however, the law should not distinguish in the first place. The heirs of anyone who was once a Bulgarian citizen should be (at least) of Bulgarian origin. We have written repeatedly on the subject. Bulgarian ancestry is determined at the time of birth and cannot be changed later. That is why the text of the law should read:
A person who is not a Bulgarian citizen may acquire Bulgarian citizenship if one of his parents is or has been a Bulgarian citizen.
However this, as well as the current text and the proposed amendment, are all in conflict with the Bulgarian Constitution. The Constitution reads:
A Bulgarian citizen is anyone at least one of whose parents is a Bulgarian citizen or who was born on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, if he/she does not acquire another citizenship by descent. Bulgarian citizenship may also be acquired by naturalisation.Art. 25, para. 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria
We’ve written a million times about this collision between Constitution and law. In short – anyone who has a parent – Bulgarian citizen, is a Bulgarian citizen under the Constitution. But under the BCL, he must be naturalized to become a Bulgarian citizen. And this is a legal absurdity!
Naturalization for special merits becomes more justified
A new text is proposed in Article 16, which specifies Bulgaria’s interest in the naturalization of the foreigner. In principle, this text does not change much the existing provision, except that it requires “justification of specific facts or data” for Bulgaria’s interest in naturalization. Whether this new provision will make special merit-based naturalization more transparent remains to be seen if the amendment is adopted on second reading.
As we wrote above, we would like to see an additional requirement for those naturalized for special merits, namely knowledge of the Bulgarian language.
Release from Bulgarian citizenship only if there are no public obligations
The legislator proposes that release from Bulgarian citizenship is possible only if the person has no outstanding public debts. We do not believe that if a debtor to the Bulgarian state renounces his Bulgarian citizenship, this will help him avoid paying his debts. Instead, proving the absence of debts will take time and prolong the procedure for release from Bulgarian citizenship.
Revocation of naturalization in case of fake marriage
It is proposed that naturalization be revoked when there is sufficient evidence that the marriage with a Bulgarian citizen was entered into solely for the purpose of circumventing the legal norms for acquiring Bulgarian citizenship. We don’t believe this proposal is a good one.
The fictitiousness of marriage is generally difficult to prove. We are not speaking about a voidable marriage under Article 46 of the Family Code. In principle, a sham marriage is also a ground for refusal of a visa or residence permit to a foreigner. However, a far more serious sanction (revocation of naturalization) is proposed here, and this with regard to Bulgarian citizens. In our opinion, this is inappropriate and will lead to extreme legal uncertainty for the “new” Bulgarians regarding something so important – their Bulgarian citizenship. After all, in order to acquire citizenship, they have first obtained a D visa and a residence permit. At that stage, the Bulgarian authorities have had the opportunity to assess whether their marriage was a sham or not.
Revocation of naturalization in the absence of durable ties with Bulgaria
This is perhaps the most outrageous proposal. The legislator suggests the following text:
Naturalization may also be revoked in cases where it is established that the person has not established any lasting bonds with the Bulgarian state for five years after acquiring citizenship and has used the acquisition of Bulgarian citizenship solely to circumvent immigration regimes and reside abroad.Proposal for Article 22(6)
We find this text vague, subjective and populist. Who will define “lasting bonds”? Bulgarian citizens must have a sense of “legal certainty”. It is unacceptable for someone to be deprived of citizenship because he has no lasting bonds with Bulgaria. The very process of acquiring citizenship requires some kind of “lasting bond” with Bulgaria. It is these “lasting bonds” that are the basis for acquiring citizenship. How is it possible that such lasting bonds are not established?
The next hypothesis is even more startling. Revocation of naturalization if the Bulgarian citizen resides abroad? What shall we do with the European principles of free movement of people?
The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime.Art. 3, par 2 of the TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION AND THE TREATY ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
And how can Bulgarian citizenship and passport be used to “circumvent immigration regimes”? Legal absurdity in its pure form. Absolutely unacceptable! If this text is adopted, we are absolutely convinced that the Constitutional Court will annul this norm. But the institution of Bulgarian citizenship will suffer a serious reputational blow!
No restoration of citizenship after renunciation
The following text is proposed:
A person who has voluntarily renounced his or her Bulgarian citizenship loses the right to request restoration.Proposal for Article 26
We fully support this amendment. A Bulgarian citizen who has voluntarily renounced his citizenship should not be able to regain it. It is strange however, that in the same bill (see above), it is proposed to restore citizenship under a simplified procedure to the heirs of Bulgarians who have renounced their citizenship and “exchanged” it for a foreign one.
Existence of conditions at the time of issuance of the Presidential Citizenship Decree
It is proposed that the conditions that an applicant for citizenship is required to meet at the time of application are also present at the time when the Presidential Decree is issued:
A person who wishes to change his/her citizenship (acquisition by naturalization / restoration / renunciation) must meet the conditions both at the time of the application for change of citizenship and at the time of issuance of the decree of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria.Proposal for a new paragraph 3 in the Additional Provisions
This condition is not feasible. It is not possible to know in advance at what precise moment the President will sign the decree. How can the candidate secure the necessary documents (e.g. a criminal record) at that time? Instead of introducing such requirements, it would be better for the administration to make sure that the legal deadlines are respected in the naturalization process. Then, the difference from the time the documents are submitted to the issuance of the Presidential Decree would be negligible.
For questions and comments on the planned changes to the BCL
Our opinion on the proposed changes to the BCL is, of course, subjective. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us.