Bulgarian migration profile

From a closed to an open State, from asylum seeking to labor emigration, from a sending to a destination country, from a Balkan to a European migration profile – numerous and radical changes have occurred in just two decades. The article analyzes them in several steps: the communist biopolitics as a total control on population mouvements, the postcommunist discovery of both emigration and immigration, the multiplication and diversification of migration forms and types, the Bulgarian migration profile, the politisation of migration in terms of both policies and politics.

Krasteva A. Bulgarian migration profile.- Medved, Felicita. Proliferation of migration transition. Selected new EU member states. European liberal Forum, 2014, 189 – 211.


Democracy, market economy and civil society – such is the triple essence of the postcommunist transition. R. Darhendorf establishes the schedule: six months to democratic institutions, six years for the transition to the market economy, six years to build a strong civil society, independent and vital. All these priorities present the transition from the perspective of the state. The citizens’ perspective is summed up in three words: migration, migration, migration. Many post-communist individuals (every tenth in Bulgaria) have chosen to unravel their projects from their states; voting with feet preceded and still prevails on voting in urns; networks happened to be more effective that institutions; individual temporalities have withdrawn from state temporality.

Migration was one of the first freedoms citizens enjoyed. It also helps to better understand a major sociological phenomenon: the emergence of the figure of the post-communist individualist who is no longer shaped and guided by the state authorities and socializing institutions, but becomes social actor inspired much less by the public good and major societal challenges than of his own project, his desire to self-fulfillment, his determination to live in his own temporality without paying the price of slow reforms.

From a closed to an open State, from asylum seeking to labor emigration, from a sending to a destination country, from a Balkan to a European migration profile – numerous and radical changes have occurred in just two decades. The article analyzes them in several steps: the communist biopolitics as a total control on population mouvements, the postcommunist discovery of both emigration and immigration, the multiplication and diversification of migration forms and types, the Bulgarian migration profile, the politisation of migration in terms of both policies and politics. The article is based on the studies of author of the Bulgarian migration phenomenon in a comparative – Balkan – and European – perspectives  (Krasteva 2004, 2005. 2005a, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, in print).

A major problem faced is the lack of access to reliable up-to-date information: “Bulgaria is the only EU country that does not have comparable annual statistics on migration” (OSI 2010: 52). A number of local institutions have data on certain aspects of the migration situation – number of work permits issued, visas, long-term residence permits, etc., but there is no publicly accessible centralized system for data collection on migration flows.

A report of the Open society institute emphasized that irregular data collection brings forth certain statistical paradoxes which are hard to explain to international observers and are of no use to the local ones: for example, in 2001 Bulgaria reported huge emigration rate of over 25‰ after years of zero migration (OSI 2010: 52). What caused this boom in migration? In fact, there was no boom in migration in 2001; the event had nothing to do with mobility, but with statistics – this was the year when the census was taken.

Another year, in which emigration reaches considerable figures, is 2009. Again, the data do not reflect any real migrational dynamics, but the peculiarities of the administration calendar – identity cards expired in 2009 and upon renewal many people specified an address abroad: “They did not emigrate in 2009, they just renewed their identity cards in that year” (OSI 2010: 53). The OSI informs that the requests processed were as follows: 19 000 requests for changing the address of residence from Bulgaria to one abroad and over 3 000 – from abroad to Bulgaria (OSI 2010: 53).

Data is collected in line with different methodologies which make it hard to compare. It is hard and time consuming for state institutions to access data collected by other state institutions. Public access to such data is even more restricted and difficult. In 2008 the NSI presented information from an interesting study[1] that served as the basis on which the emigration flow was estimated as 10 000, and immigrants as 6 000, i.e. net migration was -4000. After 2008 the NSI has not published any public information although it continues monitoring the traffic of those who travel (OSI 2010: 54).

The lack of reliable, long-term, and comprehensive statistical data on migration is a major deficit and a challenge when formulating and implementing an effective policy on migration. No clear measures to overcome this information deficit have been taken yet.


Bulgaria during communism:

minimum migration, maximum migration policy

The conception of biopolitics of Michel Foucault shows the key importance of the population control for any modern state. It is even more valid for communist societies. Migration used to be top political priority for three reasons:

  • The subjects of the state have been conceived politically not in individual terms as citizens with rights nd duties, but as a collective body, i.e. population
  • The first and final word in deciding the individual mobility[2] belongued not to the individual but to the State;
  • All types of mobility and migration, including the labor ones, have been conceived as political (Krasteva 2007).

The double lack – of freedom and of mobility, and their combination as the lack of freedom of mobility – have been established as the rule. Three exceptions for the movements out and in confirmed the rule.

The outflows are of three types – ethnic, refugees, labor. The first has not been stimulated, but has been tolerated, the second has been strictly forbidden and the third one has been limited, but encouraged by the regime.

Migration in Bulgaria’s modern history is predominantly ethnically driven; in the communist period the emigration of Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin to Turkey dominated.  In this regard, the communist regime marked a continuation of a series of waves of Turkish emigration which continued even after Bulgaria’s democratization. These waves can be characterized as the following:

  •  From 1878 to 1912, about 350, 000 Muslims (Turks, Pomaks, Circassians, Tatars) emigrated from Bulgaria to Turkey;
  • From 1934 to 1939, 10,000 persons emigrated annually from Bulgaria under international treaties;
  • From 1934 to 1939, the number of emigrants varied from 70,000 to 90,000 according to different sources;
  • During the second World War, (1940 to 1944), approximately 15,000 persons left the country for Turkey;
  • Forcible land collectivization drove some 155,000 Turks to emigrate to Turkey in 1950 and 1951;
  • After signing the Bulgarian-Turkish agreement for the reunion of divided families, more than 130,000 people left for Turkey from 1968 to 1978(Zhelyazkova 1998: 302).

Because out migration was banned under communist rule, the emigration of Bulgarian citizens could but take the form of refugees: about 20,000 Bulgarians left the country from the end of the 1950’s until 1989.  In contrast to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe that experience dramatic outflows of refugees, the figures for Bulgaria show that refugee migration was relatively stable over time – about 370 persons per year. UNHCR lists the following figures of applications for asylum of Bulgarian citizens in the 1980’s (Soultanova 2006):

  • 1980 – 379;
  • 1981 – 401;
  • 1982 – 352;
  • 1983 – 284;
  • 1984 – 331;
  • 1985 – 339;
  • 1986 –390;
  • 1987 – 326;
  • 1988 – 562.

The increase of refugees in 1988 is 150% of the refugee flow of the early 1980’s; this was in contrast to increases in 1988 of refugee flows in the other east European countries of up to 440%. The main destinations of asylum were the Federal Republic of Germany (44% of applications for asylum[3]), Austria (27%), Italy (9%), Sweden (4%) and Switzerland (3%) (Soultanova 2006).

The labor migration concerned only highly qualified experts – doctors and medical personel, engineers, etc. – whom the communist regime ‘exported’ to brotherly countries of the Thrid world – Lybia, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.. It has been temporary and strictly controlled by the State under bilateral agreements. The State played an ambiguoud role: from one side, facilitated the emigration within the agreements, from another side, took considerable part of the salary the receiving country paid to the experts.

Preventing free emigration was a top priority: there were several willing to emigrate and few inclined to immigrate. The rare exceptions were politically inspired – – students, refugees, labor migrants.

  • Students from Third World countries with the specific purpose of providing higher education to left intellectuals as a part of a long-term strategy for the preparation of a world revolution;
  • Activists with leftist ideological beliefs from neighboring countries such as Turkey and Greece;
  • An exception to this dominating political logic was the acceptance of economic migrants from Vietnam during the 1980’s in response to the demand for labor in certain economic sectors like construction. The Vietnamese remained the only figure of “gastarbeiter”during the communist period. Even in this case, the political considerations were crucial – the “international” solidarity with the brotherly country of Vietnam.

The post-communist society:

minimum migration policy, maximum migration


periods and charactheristics

The Bulgarian migration policy can be summarized in three characteristics and three periods:

  • First period. The 90s – withdraw of the State
    • From a top priority migration of the communist regime becomes more marginal political issue, the initial postcommunism degared it from high politics to low politics;
    • The positive side of these developments is that from total control and restrictions one passes to more open and liberal migration regime;
    • A second positive dimension is that the individual is given more freedom to define the individual and family migration strategiest.
    • There are nor specialized institution with the exception of the Agency for Bulgarians abroad and the State Agency for refugee. The latter expreses a paradox in instutionalization of migration policy – the lesser the migrants, the better institutionalized the respective polcy. The number of refugee was very limited, much less than the number of immigrants, but only the former enjoyed a specialized governmental agency.
    • The political discourse is concerned with the brain drain and the massive emigration of young Bulgarians, but appropriate policies are not developed, either applied.
    • Second period. Begining of 10s – 2007 – institutionalization:
      • The institutionalization is build on two main pillars:
        • Ministry of interior – Directorate on migration
        • Ministry of labor and social policy – Directorate on integration
        • Increasing attractiveness of Bulgarian citizenships, especially for citizens of Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine.
        • Third period. 2007 – increasing political importance of migration policy
          • From no strategic document to two national strategies in a few year
            • 2008 – 2015
            • 2011-2020
            • Typical for the way several postcommunist public policies are conceived no explanation has been given why only two years after the adoption of the first national strategy for migration and integration a working group for a new strategy has been created,which leads to the hypothesis that the reasons are not of public interest.
            • A National Council for migration policy has been set up
            • The current government (2009 – 2013) highly prioritized the country’s entry in Shengen. The discrepancy between this top political priority and the unwillingness of some EU member states to accept Bulgaria’s application is one of the main frustrations in the foreign policy of Boyko Borisov cabinet.
          • The passage from ministerial to top political level illustrates the increasing importance of migration policy:
            • A debate on the national policy on the Bulgarian Diaspora has been initiated by the vice president of the Republic Margarita Popova and chaired by the president Rossen Plevneliev in summer 2012. It has been followed by a meeting in Brussels in the fall of the vice president and representatives of Bulgarian authorities with members of the diaspora.

Three characteristics of Bulgarian migration policy should be emphasized:

  • Late entrance into government priorities. It was almost twenty years after the transition that migration was given the status of public policy for which the state has a strategic vision. The year 2008 was the time when the first Strategy for Immigration and Integration was adopted;
  • Rapid acceleration in carrying out the strategic vision development process. As early as 2010 working on the development of a new migration strategy started; which has been adopted in the beginning of 2011;
  • Redefining the main priorities in migration policy. While the 2008 strategy focuses mainly on economic emigration and integration of foreign citizens in Bulgaria, the stress in the new one is chiefly on security problems.

National strategies

National Strategy for Immigration and Integration 2008 – 2015

This is the first complete document showing how the Bulgarian state sees the migration situation in the country, its vision for an optimum migration profile and the governance mechanisms for the transition from reality to the optimal. It is also the first document summarizing reliable official data concerning both emigration and immigration.

The document defines two strategic aims:

  • Attracting individuals with Bulgarian citizenship who live on the territory of other countries as well as individuals of Bulgarian origin with foreign citizenship – for permanent return to the Republic of Bulgaria.
  • Adopting and carrying out adequate policy on accepting and integration of foreigners and effective control on migration flows.

The strategy defends the vision of optimum migration where the centerpiece is the return of the new emigration and the attracting of foreign citizens of Bulgarian origin. Immigration itself is defined as part of a more general trend where the key points are the Bulgarian origin and the contacts with the country: “Immigration, return and permanent settlement in Bulgaria with subgroups: 1/Bulgarian citizens; 2/Individuals applying for Bulgarian citizenship; 3/Individuals of Bulgarian origin – citizens of third countries; 4/ Individuals of Bulgarian origin – citizens of third countries, graduates from Bulgarian universities” (Strategy 2008: 2).

The argument for this approach is a cultural one. The representatives of the historical Diaspora are considered to be linguistically and culturally the closest, hence their integration is taken as natural: the individuals of Bulgarian origin are “integrated by origin and their integration presents no problem because of their knowledge of the Bulgarian language, customs, and culture” (Strategy 2008: 19). This approach is positive but seems more in the sphere of wishful thinking than being analytical. It unfolds in the primordial perspective, and stems from the premise of strong identities by origin and individual migration projects whose aim is to manifest these identities – for the Diaspora representatives who want to settle in Bulgaria in order to return to their land of origin and contribute to its development. However, from theory we know, and practice proves it, that the chief motivation for migration is pragmatic; that identities are instrumentalised for achieving not cultural but economic goals. Independent observers point out cases of citizens of third countries like Moldova who receive Bulgarian passports without knowing Bulgarian language and use them for free movement in Western Europe. Some of them belong to the criminal contingent and damage the image of Bulgaria (Gotev 2011: 15). What is more essential is that the hypothesis of easy integration is not confirmed because integration in Bulgarian society is nonexistent. The cultural approach has another weakness – it underestimates integration on the labor market as an effective integration mechanism: a Palestinian doctor or a Syrian businessman who graduated in Bulgaria and married local women, having a good mastery of the Bulgarian language and successful professional realization, could be more convincing examples of integration.

As we have already shown, in the first place, the Strategy formulates optimal migration in ethnic and cultural terms.

Second come the economic considerations: the second target group is defined as “citizens of third countries having qualifications corresponding to the need of sectors in Bulgarian economy where there is shortage of labor” (Strategy 2008: 20).

The Strategy puts more stress on the direct foreign investments[4] than on economic immigration. Leading countries according to DFI are Cyprus, USA, Germany, Austria, the UK, and Italy (Strategy 2008: 13). For the 1996 – 2006 period they amount to 16.96 billion Euro. Foreign companies form over 95% of the total value of DFI. They invest predominantly in medium and large enterprises. Foreign physical entities invest mainly in small and micro enterprises. Individual investors come chiefly from Turkey, Russia, Macedonia, Greece, China, Syria, and Armenia. Over the last year there is a noticeable interest in investing in real estate by citizens of the United Kingdom (Strategy 2008: 14). For most of the individual investors the primary aim of the investment is to live in Bulgaria, where they find conditions for business and life more favorable. The Strategy defines them as a type of economic migrants[5].

The Strategy determines the hierarchy of economic migration and clearly defines the groups given priority by the policy: labor from other EU member states, EEA, and Switzerland; foreigners of Bulgarian origin; students who have a Bulgarian degree, research workers and highly skilled specialists.

Three groups of implicit considerations determine these priorities: the European commitments made by Bulgaria; the ethnic and cultural logic of the strategy; the need for highly-skilled labor.

It is necessary to specify that here we are analyzing the political vision about migration. We need to add that it is far from being implemented on a government level, especially as far as attracting highly skilled workers is concerned. And yet the Strategy 2008 envisages some instruments for optimizing the connection between the needs of the labor market and the migration policy such as determining annual branch quotas for accepting workers from third countries, and the participation of social partners in identifying the deficits of labor with specific qualification.

In conclusion several characteristics of the strategy for migration and integration can be summarized:

  • It presents a cautious first attempt at defining migration policy which does not cover a decade but only seven years (2008 – 2015);
  • For the first time it outlines the migration profile desired by the state. It is definitely reserved to cultural diversity and lays emphasis on language and cultural premises for integration which are expected to be the highest among the representatives of the historical Bulgarian Diaspora. Attracting them, as well as the representatives of the new economic emigration, are the indisputed favorites of this strategic document.
  • The strategy was written during the time of economic upheaval and shortage of labor in certain sectors which determines its second focus – economic immigration, the necessity to react to the deficit of certain types of qualifications (Krasteva et al 2011).

National Strategy for Migration, Asylum and Integration 2011 – 2020

The new migration strategy defines three objectives:

  • Preventing and combating illegal migration;
  • More effective management of economic migration and integration;
  • Migration and mobility as positive factors for development in economic and demographic plan.

Illegal migration, trafficking, border control and visa policy are the key words of the new strategy which clearly illustrate the securitarian turn in the Bulgarian migration policy. Two reasons explain the shift from integration to security:

  • European – the emphasis on security issues and apporaches is a major trend in EU migration policy;
  • National, connected to the current government. The two strong figures – the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov used to be secretary in chief of the Ministry of interior and the deputy Prime Minister Tzvetan Tzveytov is also minister of interior – have expertise and experience in security policies and prioritize them in all connected fields.


lack of antiimmigration politics, lack of immigrant political participation

Politization of migration is still to come to Bulgaria. In opposition to numerous EU countries with strong antiimmigration parties and crucial role of discourses on immigration in political campaigns, new migration countries like Bulgaria do not face these challenges. There are no extremist or right wing parties exploiting migration themes. The extremist party with the symptomatic name “Attack” mobilizes anti-minority rethorics against Roma and Turks, not against migrants. The paradox is that Attack’s activists even support some migrant communities – i.e. the Kurdish one, because sharing with them anti-turkish attitudes.

The political dimension of migration in terms of politics could be summarized in four trends and phenomena:

  • Emergence of the first party – “The Other Bulgaria” – aimed at representing Bugarians abroad and “Bulgarians who feel abroad in Bulgaria”. This first attempt is not successful, because the party does not have any political influence;
  • Political initiatives of Bulgarians abroad. Some active members of the diaspora launch initiatives for better political representation of emigrants, such as Social councils for Bulgarians abroad or special constituency for emigrants so that they elect their deputes ;
  • Emigration is the easiest and fastest way to enter the top political elite. Several ministers of finances, including the current one, are huppies without a day of political activity. The most spectacular case was the former king Simeon who directly from emigration sat in the seat of prime minister.
  • Lack of favorable conditions for the political participation of immigrants. MIPEX report is very critical in this regard: “Non EU-residents are excluded from democratic life in Bulgaria, as in only several other central European countries like Romania. They cannot vote or stand in any election, unlike in 19 MIPEX countries. Structural immigration bodies are not part of integration governance. Neither does the State encourage new communities to organize and represent their civic and political interest” (MIPEX 2011, p. 41).


end of out-flows, beginning of in-flows

Two opposite trends characterize the asylum seeking:

  • the flows of Bulgarian refugees decreases and practically stops at the end of the first decade after the democratic transition;
  • an important new trend emergenced – applications for refugee status granted according to the Geneva convention.

The communist refugees used to the ideal migrants – not numerous, illustrating the superiority of liberal democracy and well received by western governments. The refugee flows continued for a while after the transition, but with oposing characteristics from the previous period.

  • They became more numerous:
    •  1989 – 7,263
    • 1990 – 16,082
    • 1991 – 19,260
    • 1992 – 34,845 (Soultanova 2006)

During the communist period, asylum seekers were very likely to acquire refugee status. After the democratic changes, the ratio of satisfied demands deceased more rapidly than the flow. The percentages of emigrants granted refugee or other kinds of humanitarian status dropped from 27% to 0 in a few years:

  • 1989- 27% of applications were successful;
  • 1990 – 14%
  • 1991 – 4%
  • 1992 – 1%
  • 1992 – 0 (Soultanova 2006)

As Bulgaria’s democracy strengthened, and the number of successful asylum applications declined, the number of applications decreased:

  • 1994 – 6 344 asylum claims were made by Bulgarian nationals
  • 1995 – 4 123
  • 1996 – 4 068
  • 1997 – 3 892
  • 1998 – 2 057
  • 1999 – 2 308
  • 2000 – 3 086 (Soultanova 2006)

At the moment when Bulgarians stopped asking for asylum, they started granting ausym. Bulgaria is party to the Geneva Convention since 1993. In the past 20 years[6], 21,009 people have requested asylum in Bulgaria. Refugees in Bulgaria have both similarities and differences from refugees in neighboring countries.

The first peculiarity is that their movement has not been constant, but refugees have arrived in waves. Four periods can be distinguished:

  • Period of fluctuations:  1993 – 1998. The number of applications varied. In 1994 it doubled in comparison to the previous year (561), for reaching the initial figure two years later and getting higner again at the end (429). These fluctuations are very low – between 250 and 550 applications per year.
  • Period of rapid growth: 1999 г. – 2002.  The number if asylum seekers in the first year is 4 times higher than in 1993, every year the growth is between 400 and 670, more than the total amount during the previous period. The pic in 2002 г. – 2888 applications – is 10 times higher than at the beginning of statistics. Evem then the figures are not threatening.
  • Period of progressive decrease:  2003- 2006.  The year 2003 marks an important decrease – 1339 applications less than the previous year, afterwords the speed gets calmer and the applications decrease with 422 in 2004 and 305 in 2005.
  • Period of European integration afther the adhesion to the EU in 2007 – the forecast for a brusque and considerable increase of refugees waves have not been validated by the number of applications which maintain moderate figures fluctuating around 1,000 (2007 – 975, 2008 – 746, 2009 – 853, 2010 – 1,025, 2011 – 890, 2012 – 1,129).[7]

With respect to the demographic and cultural characteristics of the refugee flows, men are more numerous than women[8]: only one woman has sought asylum for every 5 male asylum seekers[9]. For 30 countries of origin, there, there ware no applications from women. Children seeking asylum were comparable to the number of women, with the exception of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, where asylum-seekers are 2.5 times more likely to be children than women.

The cultural diversity of the refugee community is impressive – 78 countries of origin. The most numerous applications come from Afghanistan (5,821), followed by Irak (5,257), Armenia (1,885), apatrides (1,026), Iran (976), Serbia (776), Syria (711). The top countries changed in 2012 because of the crisis in Syria which comes first with 353 applications, followed by Iran (305), apatrides (112) and Afghanistan (104).[10]

The refugee profile is similar to the EU countries – the asylum seekers originate from distant countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Somalia and differs from several countries of former Yugoslavia where the refugees originate predominantly from neighboring countries.


Emigration as a postcommunist freedom

Migration was among the first and most visible expressions of freedom postcommunist citizens enjoyd in great numbers. Mass emigration is a typical phenomenon for the PECOs in transition, Bulgaria being at the middle of the ranking with about about 10-15% of the population.

In the introduction I have explained the deplorable situation with statistics, one institution –e.g. National Statistcal Institute blaming another one, the Ministry of Interior (OSI 2010, p. 54-55), a vicious circle without clear solution and enormous problems for both research and policy. I’ll compensate this lack by a more qualitative approach focusing on the main types and destinations.

The structure of Bulgarian emigration has five poles:

  • Two of them concern the mobility of the two biggest minorities – Turks and Roma;
  • One represents the worst example of forced migration  in peaceful times, the modern form of slavery – trafficking;
  • The other two represent the two poles of labor migration – highly qualified (‘mobile brains’) and low skilled (‘3D’ – difficult, dirty, dangerous).

Migration of Bulgarian Turks. 350,000 Bulgarian Turks have been expelled from Bulgaria in 1989, the biggest migration wave in Europe after WWII and prior to the wars in former Yugoslavia. An estimated 150,000 of these citizens later returned. The emigration of Bulgarian Turks has continued, however in much lower numbers, due to economic rather than political reasons[11]. If at the threshold of the transition citizens of Turkish origin were expelled by the communist state as part of the violent politics of names change[12], only a few years later, the economic crisis and unemployment that disproportionately affected areas populated by the Turkish minority pushed additional persons to join their families in Turkey and to try their chances in a more dynamic economic environment. Others prefer to migrate to EU countries, mainly to Germany because of the strong Turkish networks.

The Turkish migration is an interesting example of the transition from ethnic and forced to economic logic.

Roma are the most visible and politicized form of minority migration from Romania and Bulgaria in several EU countries, and especially in France and Italy. There are three crucial policies for managing ethnic diversity in the Balkans: exchange of populations[13], assimiltion, and toleration. None has been applied to Roma. Moreover, they have been transformed in the scapegoat and blamed for the all types of transition malaise. For most of them migration is the only alternative to unemployment, discrimination, extremely high negative attitudes.

Trafficking is the fastest growing global crime, more profitable than drugs trafficking, because a person can be bought, used and sold several times. The democratic paradox of this modern form of slavery is that it did not exist during the communist regimes; the later was efficient in preventing the positive forms of mobility, but also the negative ones. Trafficking emerged during the postcommunist transition. Additionally, PECO happened to be very efficient in the very competitive market of human bodies and succeeded in getting a major role, pushing to the margins other important players from Africa, Asia, Latin America. The Balkans is the beginning or a step of important trafficking and smuggling routes: from Balkans through Greece and Italy to other EU; from Turkey through Balkans to Italy and Austria. Bulgaria is a case in point, being both a sending and transit country. In opposition to other Balkan states like Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria is (almost) no a destination country.

3D is the most typical and numerous migration. It has two forms: permanent and seasonal or temporary; the former prevailed the first decade of postcommunist mobility; the latter tends to become more attractive the last years.

Dual labor market theory convincingly explains the less paid, the less secured, the less attractive jobs are the ones most often offered to immigrants. There is no surprise that most migrants work in the field construction, care chain, restaurant and hotel sectors. Bulgarians are but a confirmation of the rule.

The main destinations for postcommunist migrants are quite similar with small national variations, the Bulgarian preferences going mainly to traditional migration countries like Germany and US, as well as to new ones like Spain, Italy and Greece; UK is increasingly attractive.

Two opposite, equally important trends should be emphasized:

  • Dequalification – several migrants work under the level of their qualification – a symbolic lost for the migrant, the sending and the receiving country;
  • Despite the 3D jobs most migrants are satisfied. This paradox has two explanations:
    • economic –  because of high unemployment home, poor social security system, salaries much lower than the 3D ones, the 3D job remains the better alternative;
    • sociological –what the migrants loose in terms of qualification, they gain in terms of agency: they are the authors of their migration project; they decide of their work and life and this new democratic freedom of self determination is highly appreciated.

The higly qualified migration is the most painful for any government, including to the Bulgarian authorities. The polirical discourse varies in the gamut from lamentation to general appeals to return, but no concrete policies are developed. The Minsitry of labor and social policy organizes regular fairs in a few EU states with high concentration of Bulgarian migrants to informing them of the possibilities of the labor market in Bulgaria.

The highly qualified are among the most dynamic, practicing a variety of forms – temporary migration, high mobility, transnational patterns.



or the attractiveness of an emigration country

The migration balance is negative; the outflows have dominated and still determine the Bulgarian migration profile. The table illustrates the negative migration balance after the EU integration, reinforced by the economic crisis.

Migration balance





– 1397




Source: Kalchev 2011

Emigration still prevails on immigration and exactly because of that the latter becomes so important. If numerous Bulgarian citizens prefer to look for better jobs, education and realization abroad, for some foreigners the country has an attractive potential. The radical postcommunist innovation is expressed in the fact that both emigration and immigration become mainly labor migration.

Economic immigration to Bulgaria after the democratic transition emerged not as much as a result of purposeful state policy but more as a spontaneous phenomenon, based on migrants’ own migration projects. The three major pull factors were the transition to market economy, the existence of numerous free niches and the opportunity to start a business with a relative small amount of initial capital.

Economic immigration in the beginning of the 90s had two main sources. The first was the transformation of education migration into economic. Many citizens of the Near and Middle East who graduated in Bulgarian universities during the communist regime, chose to settle in the country and work as businessmen, doctors, journalists,etc..

The second source was new migrants who came from completely new destinations such as China, as well as individuals from the same countries from the Near and Middle East whose relatives and acquaintances had already settled in Bulgaria. They started their own small or medium business or found jobs in trade or the restaurant business, primarily in the companies of other immigrants.

Gradually an invisible change took place on a symbolic and political level: the numerous Russian community which during communism has never been analyzed neither as a minority, nor as migration, began to be perceived as a migrant community (Krasteva 2005). Russian immigration is both family and labor: its representatives are spouses in mixed marriages and are well integrated into the Bulgarian labor market.

The approach for the formation of the major contingent of economic immigrants is chiefly bottom-up. The state regulates the process by stimulating not guest workers but business instead; it requires of newly-registered companies to employ at least 10 Bulgarian citizens. Foreign investment and the europeanization of the Bulgarian institutions stimulate a new source if migration – experts, managers, advisors, investors from the EU and other developed countries.

The number of immigrants in Bulgaria is relatively small: 55,684, according to the Strategy of 2008. The International Organization for Migration counts more foreigners and estimates that they comprise 1.4% of the population, i.e. 104,000 (according to IOM). 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 which is one of the lowest in the EU.

Immigration in Bulgaria is an urban phenomenon; migrants prefer to settle in the capital and the big cities: 35% in Sofia, 9% in Plovdiv and the region, 8%  in Varna and the region, and 5% – in Burgas and the region.[14]

The map[15] illustrates the uneven distribution of immigrants: some peripheral regions are considered as non attractive and migrants prefer to concentrate in the most developed regions with important urban centres.

Data from the Ministry of Interior.

Source: Staykova (2010: 91)


The map of the regions sending immigrants to Bulgaria has five poles:

  • The largest group with the longest tradition in immigration is from Russia, Ukraine and other countries from the post-Soviet area. Three of the top 5 sending countries are from this region: Russia – 21, 309; Ukraine – 5,350, Moldova – 2,303[16] The new immigrants join the respective well integrated communities. A case in point is the Armenian community;
  • 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 freedom of movement. The EU citizens are of two types: highly qualified mobility – experts, consultants, investors, from one side; leisure and pension mobility – from another side. The first group is diverse in national terms, the second is exemplified mainly by Britons;
  • Immigration from the Near and Middle East is part of a tradition more than half a century old – Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans[17] etc.;
  • African immigration is similar to the Arab group[18] 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 considered as 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 and is an expression of the country’s entry into global migration flows.

The basic labor profile of the immigrant in Bulgaria is self-employed or running a small family business. The two major areas of employment are petty commerce and restaurant business. Arabs, Chinese, Afgans, Kurds and other migrants from Near and Middle East occupy these ethnic niches.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 phenomenon had an ephemeural existence in Bulgaria, strating in the period of economic upheaval preceding the crisis and ending with its beginning. Mostly interested here were 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 interesting form of employment is offered by the call centers which need 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 are the consultants, experts, and managers who find professional realization with foreign investors, Bulgarian institutions or large Bulgarian companies. They are mostly representatives of the western countries (Krasteva 2007, 2008).

The level of unemployment (14%) is close to the national average. It is important to emphasize that unemployed immigrants are more numerous among refugees than among immigrants. A surrvey conducted before the crisis showed that 44% of all immgrants have a full time job, 11%work part time, 6% are students, 4% are housewifes, and 9% are retired[19] (Georgiev 2006). The vast majority of immigants are actively employed in the workforce; several of them are self employed and many also create jobs for native Bulgarians. The professional status profile of immigrants is also very interesting: entrepreneurs – 13%, managers – 4%, “white collars” – 36%, free lance – 8%, workers – 31%[20] (Georgiev 2006).

In opposition to typical immigration countries, the level of education in Bulgaria is similar to the the one of natives. The educational structure of immigrants is also positive; 24% have a university degree and 59% have secondary education. Several migrants are highly educated, because most have arrived during the 70-80s for studying and later settled.

Immigrants in Bulgaria are quite young – 75% are under 50, and only 13% indicated being over 50[21] (Georgiev 2006). The demographic structure of the immigrant community is very different from the one of the Bulgarian population, which is ageing.[22] With the exception of the Russian migration, the other forms are relatively recent. It explains why migrants are younger than the national average.

In cultural terms, the majority (57%) are Christians. All denominations are present: 41% of migrants subscribe to orthodox Christianity, 7% are catholics, and 9% are protestant. One fifth (21%) of immigrants are Muslim. Almost the same number (18%) did not answer the question and only 4% indicate other religious beliefs. One quarter (26%) of immigrants identify themselves as deeply religious; this percentage is highest among Muslims (67%) and the lowest among orthodox Christians (14%), with Protestants (30%) and Catholics (26%) being in between (Georgiev 2006).


Migration policy has three major characteristics:

  • late prioritization. Immediately after the democratic changes in 1989 there was a widespread process of emigration; many Bulgarians chose to “vote with their feet” instead of voting at the ballot boxes. The new political freedom was consumed first and foremost as freedom of mobility. At the same time immigration to the country began. Despite of these intensive migration processes, the first National Strategy for Migration and Integration was adopted as late as 2008. The same late-coming accent on immigration is found in its institutionalization: the Migration Directorate at the MoI was set up in 2004.
  • European logic of institutionalization. It is exactly institutionalization that can explain the seeming paradox that asylum seekers and refugees are incomparably fewer that economic migrants, but it is the first two that are the subject of the first institution dealing with migration – the State Agency for the Refugees (SAR) which was set up as early as 1992. Its aim is to implement Bulgaria’s commitments as one of the countries that have signed the Geneva Convention. Despite the fact that economic migration is much more numerous, there is still no centralized institution that is similar to SAR. Migration Directorate at the MoI was set up 12 years after SAR in 2004 as part of the roadmap for Bulgaria’s EU accession. A National council for migration policy has been set up for coordinating the activities of the various ministries.
  • intensification of the political effort for rethinking and redefining of migration policy. In the initial 17-year period between 1990 and 2007 Bulgaria did not have a migration strategy. In the short period between 2008 and 2011[23] two strategies were adopted.

Satisfying labor demand through immigration.. Immigration was defined as a response to the deficit of qualified workers in the public debates in the few years before the crisis – 2006-2008. This discourse which was relatively new for this country was initiated by the employers and had two functions. The first was the basic and decisive one – to find a reliable solution of the need of workers in construction and some industry sectors. The second function has not been made explicit; sometimes probably employers are not even aware of it; but it has a disciplining effect over local labor, who is clearly informed that it can be replaced if it does not meet the requirements of the business.

Public discourse on immigration as a means of satisfying the lack of labor has almost completely faded away at the times of economic crisis. Even in this situation employers’ organizations state that there are sectors where there is shortage of qualified labor. Both employers and analyzers expect the theme to become topical once again in the not so distant future.

The Bulgarian migration phenomenon can be summarized by its three peculiarities:

  • Emigration still prevails over immigration, but the processes of European integration are likely in the mid-term to de-emphasize emigration and to reinforce immigration.
  • Immigrants in Bulgaria are economically active, several are self-employed. In terms of economic activity, employment, education, they are close to the avarage of the Bulgarian population and for some indicators like age in a better position.
  • Immigrants undoubtedly have increased the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity of Bulgaria, while avoiding cultural clashes. Everyday racism does exist and a new and vociferous xenophobic party has emerged on the political scene, but its main target remains the traditional minorities like Roma and not the migrant communities.

The Bulgarian citizens who enjoy emigration as freedom, better opportunities for employment and education, vote with feet, look for selfrealization aborad, de-territorialize the country. The immigrants who come because of love and family reunion, work and business, invest their energy, connect their life and professional projects with Bulgaria and thus re-territorialize the country.

BC (2011) Migrant integration policy Index III. Brussels: BC and Migration Policy Group.

Discrimination problems in employment, education, access to goods and services amongst refugees, immigrants and other groups of foreigners residing in Bulgaria, national representative study of MBMD commissioned by the Commission for protection against discrimination, 2009 (in Bulgarian)

Georgiev, Yasen (2008) Immigration to Bulgaria – Preconditions and Possible Developments. In: The Implication of EU Membership on Immigration Trends and Immigrant Integration Policies for the Bulgarian Labor Market. Sofia: EIP. pp.12-13

Immigrants and refugees in Bulgaria and their integration. Guidelines for a new migration policy (2005), in: Demographic development of Bulgaria. Sofia: National Council for Demographic Issues. (in Bulgarian).

IOM (2003) Migration trends in selected applicant countries. Vol. 1. Bulgaria. The social impact of seasonal migration. Vienna: IOM.

Ivanov, L. (2006) The role of immigration in the demographic and national development of Bulgaria in the 21st century. In: Towards a new migration policy of Bulgaria. Sofia: Manfred Worner Foundation (in Bulgarian)

Kalchev V. (2012) Migration policy on labor migration and integration of immigrants in a European context. Paper at the international conference ‘Labor migration and integration’, Sofia, 1.10.12.

Krasteva, А. (ed) (2004) From ethnicity to migration. Sofia: NBU. (in Bulgarian)

Krasteva, А. (ed) (2005) Immigration in Bulgaria. Sofia: International centre for the study of minorities and cultural interactions. International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations. (in Bulgarian)

Krasteva А. (2005a) Chinese and Lebanese: two models of migration.- The European future of Bulgaria and the development of the population. Centre for the study of the population, 2005, 426 – 437. (in Bulgarian)

Krasteva, А. (ed) (2006) The figures of the refugee. Sofia: НБУ. (in Bulgarian)

Krasteva A (2007) 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.

Krasteva A. (2007a) L’immigre chinois en Bulgarie. Le “protestant” de l’economie post-communiste.-In: Roulleau-Berger L. (dir) Nouvelles migrations chinoises et travail en Europe. Toulouse: Presse Universitaires du Mirail, 71 – 88.

Krasteva A. (ed) (2008) Immigration and integration: European experiences. Sofia: Manfred Worner Foundation.

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

Krasteva A., I.Otova, E. Staikova, V. Ivanova (2011) Labor migration in Bulgaria. http://www.cermes.info/upload/docs/Labor_Migration_2004_2009_CERMES_Occasional_papers_En.pdf

Krasteva A., I.Otova, E. Staikova, V. Ivanova (2011a) Temporary and circular migration in Bulgaria.


Krasteva A. (ed) (2012) Bulgarian and Balkan migrations and mobilities. Vol. 1-2 of Sociological problems (in Bulgarian)

Krasteva A. (ed) (in print) European migrations and mobilities. Thematic vol. of Europeana (in Chenes and English).

MANRED WORNER FOUNDATION (2003) Immigration policy of Bulgaria in the perspective of europenization. Sofia. (in Bulgarian)

MANRED WORNER FOUNDATION (2006) Bulgarian immigration practices in the context of the creation of the common European immigration policy. Sofia. (in Bulgarian)

OSI (2010) Tendencies in transborder migration of labor and the free movement of people – implications for Bulgaria. Sofia: Open Society Institute. (in Bulgarian)

Pamporov, А. Social distances towards some ethnic groups and national minorities. In: Policies. Issue 11/08 Open Society Institute Sofia (in Bulgarian)

Russian migration in Bulgaria. History and present (2009) Sofia: Russian Academic Council In Bulgaria.

Staykova, Е., Т. Trifonova (2010) 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)

UNHCR (2004) Refugees in Bulgaria. Building the national system for refugee protection 1993 – 2003. Reference book. Sofia: UNHCR, etc.

UNHCR (2005) Refugee protection and integration in Bulgaria. Sofia: UNHCR.

Soultanova A. (2006) Bulgarians as refugees.- In Krasteva A. (ed) Figures of refugees. Sofia: NBU, 151 – 178. (in Bulgarian).

Zheliazkova A. (1998) Turks.- In: Krasteva A. (ed) Communities and identities in Bulgaria. Ravenna: Longo editore, 287 – 306.

[1] Every month, for the period of one week, they observed 8 border points where 80% of the traffic to and from this contry is concentrated.

[2] This is valid even concerning the individual labor mobility within the country and even more so for the international one.

[3] For the period 1980 – 1989.

[4] Any foreign participation that exceeds 10% of the capital of a company is considered DFI.

[5] They illustrate the most typical profile of the migrant in this country, which will be discussed later.

[6] 1.01.1993 – 31.11.2012. Data provided by the State Agency for refugees. http://www.aref.government.bg/?cat=8

[7] Data provided by the State Agency for refugees on 1.01.13. http://www.aref.government.bg/?cat=8

[8] In global refugee flows women and men are equally represented.

[9] Men – 70%, women – 17%, children – 13% 1.01.13. http://www.aref.government.bg/?cat=8

[11] The Turkish minority has a political repreasentation. The Movement for Rights and Rreedoms – the Turkish party – is an influential political actor.

[12] In the winter of 1984-85 the communist regime of Todor Jivkov launched a campaign of forcible change of the Turkish and Arab names into Bulgarian ones. This is the most repressive expression of the assimilation policy.

[13] After FWW, mainly between Greece and Turky.

[14] National strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on migration and integration (2008-2015).

[15] based on the number of long-term residence permits issued upon application at the respective regional directorates of the Ministry of Interior (in the period 2007 – 2008).

[16] The other two are Macedonia – 4,375 and Turkey – 3,828 (National strategy for migration, asylum and integration, 2011 – 2020, p. 25).

[17] The representatives of these groups of nationalities have different status – some are permanent residents, others – refugee, yet another have already acquired Bulgarian citizenship.

[18] The Arabs are the majority amongst the immigrants from the Near and Middle East, amongst whom, of course, there are representatives of other nationalities such as Afghans, Kurds, etc.

[19]3% – else, 9% – didn’t answer.

[20] No answer – 8%. The figeres should be interpreted with caution, because presenting the situation before the crisis.

[21] 9% didn’t answer the question.

[22] Bulgarian population has a negative demographic growth.

[23] It is expected that the new strategy will be finalized in the beginning of 2011. It is part of the analysis only on the basis of public debate during its preparation. The final text of the policy on migration 2011 has not yet been published at the time of the completion of the present report.


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