If you can prove that you have a Bulgarian parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent, you are eligible for citizenship in Bulgaria – and, by extension, the right to live in any of the 27 member states – thanks to a recent change to Bulgaria’s citizenship law.
The change is of considerable consequence for the hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian descendants in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Russia, and elsewhere who now have a practical route to citizenship in the European Union.
Legal basis of Bulgarian citizenship by origin applications
Bulgarian Citizenship by Origin is based on provisions in the Bulgarian Citizenship Act. In March this year, the Bulgarian Parliament partially amended the legislation governing Bulgarian citizenship by origin.
Pursuant to Section 15 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act, a person who is not a Bulgarian citizen may acquire Bulgarian citizenship by naturalization if he/she meets one of the following requirements:
- is of Bulgarian origin; or
- has been adopted by a Bulgarian citizen under the conditions of full adoption;
- one of his parents is a Bulgarian citizen or has died as a Bulgarian citizen.
Subsection 1 of Section 15 of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act is thus the provision that entitles a person of Bulgarian origin to naturalize as a citizen.
Bulgarian citizenship by origin – 2021 amendments
The 2021 amendments envision that as part of the Bulgarian citizenship by origin procedure, the applicant must provide official evidence of his/her Bulgarian origin. These must be documents issued by Bulgarian or foreign government bodies.
Pursuant to the amendments in the Citizenship Act, the relationship is now limited to a Bulgarian ancestor up to the applicant’s great-grandparents’ generation.
The documents the applicant presents must contain information about the names of the ascendant and his/her relationship to the applicant.
In essence, this means that a Certificate of Bulgarian origin issued by the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad is no longer part of the application set. The Certificate was previously an inevitable and time-consuming step, which however did not guarantee approval, and was duplicated by subsequent procedures. Its removal is therefore to be welcomed.
FAQs about Bulgarian citizenship by origin
- Do I qualify for Bulgarian citizenship by origin?
Bulgaria applies a broad criterion to determine who qualifies on the basis of origin. Generally, if you are aware that you have Bulgarian ancestors, you are likely to qualify.
- What are the steps to acquiring Bulgarian citizenship by origin?
The process of acquiring Bulgarian citizenship based on origin and collating the necessary documents can be daunting.
Applying for Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of your origin is generally a matter of long-term planning rather than something you can hope to benefit from immediately (though there are situations of restoration of citizenship or where Bulgarian nationality had not been lost, and in which a travel document is available much sooner).
Тhe decision on granting citizenship can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months, though this can be shortened in special cases. Such cases are those where the use of nationality may be required by the applicant as a matter of genuine urgency and applications may combine origin with merit (under art. 16 of the Citizenship Act) to result in an accelerated review (eg, where there is a humanitarian reason or the applicant has contributed to Bulgaria – scientifically, economically, culturally or otherwise and is of Bulgarian origin).
- Can I reside in Bulgaria even before obtaining citizenship?
This is possible under certain circumstances.
- Can my family also obtain Bulgarian citizenship?
Your children, of any age, can also obtain Bulgarian citizenship once you become one. Your spouse can also become a Bulgarian citizen. Your spouse will be able to live, work, and study in any of the 27 EU member countries. However, the spouse of a Bulgarian citizen can only obtain Bulgarian citizenship by residing, or by investing, in Bulgaria.
Mrs Nevena Bekyarova is a Senior Associate at NBLO and head of the Private Client department. Among her main practice areas are Immigration and Private Clients. As head of the NBLO Private Client department, Nevena is involved in advising clients, public policy issues and in the context of immigration and nationality is versed in the investor application process in Bulgaria.