Given the new migration realities, more and more women and girls, representatives of vulnerable communities, are becoming potential and / or actual victims of trafficking in persons for the purpose of forced marriage (regardless of their consent) with a third-country nationals. Since 2015, to date, there are increasing signals of human trafficking for the purpose of marrying abroad. According to official figures, the most often marriages are with nationals of Pakistan and India. These marriages are concluded in order for the latter to legalize their stay in different countries in the European Union.

Human trafficking with the purpose of marriage is a crime

marriage with Bulgarian in Cyprus

In our previous article, we looked at human trafficking (in Bulgarian) in general. Trafficking of people in order to force them to marry a foreigner is referred to as a “new fashion”. The crime is a “lucrative business”, however, the same is extremely dangerous, and the Bulgarian Criminal Code imposes a penalty, in general, of imprisonment of three to twelve years and a fine of ten thousand to twenty thousand levs (roughly 5 to 10 thousand EUR)

How is the crime usually comited?

The (human) hunt

Usually, trafficking for the purpose of a fictitious marriage begins with the recruitment by promising, giving or receiving benefits to the victims. With such an act, the crime is complete and constitutes a “committed” crime.


After the recruitment, the next step is the transport and trans-border trafficking of the victim. These actions are according to art. 159b from the Bulgarian penal code.


After the transportation, and when the marriage is concluded, the victim is usually held in forced custody. She is forced to fill in and sign different documents, address registration and other related documents to her residence and work formalities, regardless of her consent and in the context of a continuing crime.

The crime in Bulgaria

The latest crime was reported in mid-May 2019, by an organized crime group operating since June 2015. The participants recruited women, predominantly of Roma origin, who were lured with good pay. Not all of them received their promised pay. The women were transported mainly to Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Cyprus, where they were forcibly held until they agreed to marry there or in Bulgaria with foreigners. The group members are currently serving their sentence of imprisonment.

Prior to that, at the end of 2018, an information was revealed about a “channel” for fictitious marriages in Cyprus.

Where in Europe, fake marriages are the most common?

According to the DPA agency, the Balkan countries, Cyprus, Ireland, Belgium and Denmark are best suited for marriages, as there is no close examination of the newlyweds. Denmark, in particular, has the reputation of being a “haven for illegal marriages” because there are the least administrative requirements.

Criminal responsibility for declaring false information

According to Art.313 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code, whoever confirms a false statement or conceals a truth in a written declaration or communication sent electronically, which, by a law or decree of the Council of Ministers, is given to an authority for verifying the truth of certain circumstances, shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or by a fine of one hundred to three hundred levs.

It can be concluded from the legal text that criminal responsibility under Art. 313 of the Criminal Code is borne for giving false information in declarations required by law as an annex to the applicant’s application for residence, namely that the marriage is not fictitious. Such declarations are required of both the applicant and his spouse. If the marriage is a sham, criminal liability will be borne by both (ie the Bulgarian spouse and the foreign husband).

Criminal liability for polygamy

According to Art. 179, para. 1 of the Criminal Code, whoever, in the presence of a lawful marriage, marries another person, shall be punished for versatility by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. Usually the act of this crime is committed with direct intent, and the perpetrator is aware of the public danger of his behavior and the consequences of it and aims directly at their occurrence.

The latest media case of such a crime was committed by a Bulgarian woman of Roma origin, who, within three months, got married twice – in Cyprus and Northern Macedonia.

Our opinion…

On European scale, Member States are constantly reporting that the number of victims of sham marriages is increasing, regardless of their consent. Most often, such marriages aim at legalizing third-country nationals in the EU. Europol has linked these trends to the growth in recent years of the number of illegal immigrants trying to switch to legal residence status after receiving an application for international protection.

Being aware of the social dangers of human trafficking for the purpose of marriage, in practice we observe overcautious attitude by the immigration authorities. Often, they presuppose the fictitiousness of marriage when it is concluded in the Balkan countries, Cyprus, Ireland, Belgium and Denmark. Fictitiousness is also presumed for marriages between Bulgarian woman and an Indian or Pakistani. When attempting to legitimize the stay of a third-country national, the Bulgarian migration authorities often refuse, without indicating that the marriage is fictitious, moreover, even after declarations from spouses that it is not fictitious. This violates a fundamental human right – the right to family life.

The questions How can my husband enter Bulgaria? and How can my husband stay in the country? we have already answered in our previous articles (in Bulgarian). However, please note that Marriage with a Bulgarian citizen is not always a guarantee for legalizing the stay of a third-country national, despite the legal option provided. The latter is because of the frequent fictitious marriages. For us, preserving family integrity is of the highest value. If you are legalizing the stay of your spouse – a third-country national – do not hesitate to contact us, we will help you to protect your rights.


  1. In order to bring my girlfriend/wife to be into Bulgaria from Thailand, to live here permanently with me, what are the documentary and financial requirements? I am a retired British citizen with full residency rights in Bulgaria.

    1. Author

      Hi Geoffrey,
      Two things need to be clarified first:
      1. Wife or girlfriend? This makes a hell of a lot of difference;
      2. There is no such thing as “full residency rights”. What exactly is the type of residence permit that you hold?

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