Basic rights and access to them
Short introduction: After receiving asylum or protection in Bulgaria, knowing your rights and the way in which you can exercise them is an important condition for your active integration in the host country.
If you have been granted refugee protection or asylum, you have the rights and obligations of a Bulgarian citizen, except for the right to vote in general or local elections and national or local referendums, the right to foundation and membership of political parties, the right to be appointed to offices, which require Bulgarian citizenship and the right to serve in the Bulgarian army. In addition, you may be subject to certain other limitations expressly envisaged by law.
If you have been granted humanitarian protection, you have the rights and obligations of a foreign national who has received a permanent residence permit in Bulgaria.
2) Right to information
You have the right to be informed of your rights and obligations arising from your legal status in a language that you understand.
3) Civil registration
Not later than 14 days from the date of receiving the decision granting you international protection or asylum, you must visit the municipality in which you plan to reside in order to register yourself and your family members in the population register (and obtain a Personal Identity (EGN) Number) and make your address registration. In advance you must find a place to live and obtain the consent of the landlord to be registered there.
Attention: Do NOT provide a false address in order to accelerate registration!
You must first notify the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) of the address and the town in which you plan to reside. The SAR will prepare a letter that you must take to the municipality. At the time of your registration, you must bring the letter from the SAR, the decision granting you international protection and your registration card. You must also present the rental agreement for the house/apartment and a written consent from the owner (based on a standard form to be filled in by him/her and submitted in person to the municipality) or a notarised statement. At the time of your address registration, you will be asked to pay administrative fees, which can differ, depending on the municipality. You can search for detailed information about the necessary documents and the procedure on the webpage of your municipality.
Within 7 days you will receive a personal identity number (EGN). The service is provided free of charge.
Attention: Without having an EGN you cannot receive any identity documents!
4) Issuance of identity documents
Identity documents are issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The following types of identity documents are issued in Bulgaria:
– refugee card (valid for 5 years);
– card of a foreign national to whom asylum has been granted (valid for 5 years);
– card of a foreign national to whom humanitarian protection has been granted (valid for 3 years);
The specified time period indicates the period of validity of the document and should not be confused with the period for which protection has been granted. After the document expires, it must be renewed. The type of protection granted is not limited by a time period. Regarding cessation and withdrawal of the protection status, see point 14 below.
Attention: All persons aged 14 years and more to whom international protection has been granted must obtain a valid identity document.
In order to travel abroad, depending on the type of protection granted, you will need, respectively:
– a passport for travel abroad issued to a refugee;
– a passport for travel abroad of a foreign national to whom asylum has been granted; or
– a passport for travel abroad of a foreign national to whom humanitarian protection has been granted.
The maximum period of validity of the passports for travel abroad cannot exceed that indicated on the identity card issued (see above).
In order to obtain the documents, you must file an application with your local directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (police) in person. You must attach the following documents: the decision granting you protection/asylum, your registration card from the SAR, a certificate of address registration issued by the municipality and a receipt in respect of payment of the requisite fees. After the documents have been submitted, the responsible official will take your biometric data (a photograph and fingerprints). The documents must be received in person or, by way of exception, by another person who has a notarised power of attorney expressly authorising him/her to receive the documents on your behalf.
The fees for the issuance of documents depend on their type and the period in which you wish to receive them (10 or 30 working days).
No identity cards are issued to children below the age of 14 years, although they may obtain a document enabling them to travel abroad. To obtain such a document (passport), an application has to be submitted by a parent or legal guardian.
All children aged 14 years or more must obtain an identity card. Applications must be submitted in person, in the presence of a parent or legal guardian, who signs the application. Applications for passports for travel abroad of persons aged 14 years or above but below 18 years must be filed in person and the parent/legal guardian must state his/her consent by signing the application. The ready documents must be received in person by a parent/legal guardian or, by way of exception, by another person who has a notarised power of attorney expressly authorising him/her to receive the documents.
Attention: If you change your permanent address, not later than 30 days you must file an application for the issuance of a new identity card. In the event of loss, theft, damage or destruction of an identity document, a written statement must be filed with the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Bulgarian diplomatic mission abroad within a period of 3 days. A failure to comply with this requirement may result in a fine.
5) Travel abroad
Make advance enquiries by looking up the webpage of the embassy of the country to which you wish to travel to ensure that you are familiar with the requirements for the entry and stay of foreign nationals to whom international protection or asylum has been granted in Bulgaria. If your trip involves crossing another country/countries in transit, you must check the relevant entry requirements.
6) Right to family reunification
After you have been granted refugee or humanitarian protection or asylum, you may submit an application to be joined by your family members in Bulgaria. This requirement applies to the following family members:
– your spouse or a person with whom you are in a verifiably stable and long-term relationship;
– children below the age of 18 years, who are single, except in rare circumstances when the best interest of the child is connected to his/her initial family;
– children aged 18 years and more, if single, but solely provided that they are unable to support themselves for serious health reasons;
– the parents of each of the spouses, but solely if they are unable to live independently due to advanced age or serious disease that requires them to live in the household of their children.
You must submit an application to the SAR to which you shall attach relevant evidence of family ties, for example a marriage certificate or birth certificates of the children. If these documents are not available, you may present a notarised statement containing the names, dates of birth and location of your family members.
After you receive a permission to be joined by the members of your family, the information will be sent on an ex officio basis to the embassy of Bulgaria in the country where your family members are (if in the country in question there is no embassy, the information will be sent to the Bulgarian embassy in the country responsible for that in which Bulgaria does not have a diplomatic mission). Your family members must visit the embassy in order to receive visas in their passports that will enable them to travel to Bulgaria. If they do not have passports, the Bulgarian authorities may issue them with an appropriate travel document. Following their arrival in Bulgaria, they will be issued with a long-term residence permit valid for one year, which may be renewed for a period that does not exceed the validity of your residence permit.
If you are unaware of the location of your family members, you may approach the Bulgarian Red Cross, which has a special service providing assistance to individuals seeking to be reunited with their families.
If the SAR rejects your application to be reunited with your family, you may appeal the decision before a court within 14 days from the date on which you received it. The judgment of the first administrative court may be appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court.
7) Health insurance
During the procedure for review of your application for international protection, your health insurance is paid by the SAR. After you are granted international protection/asylum and obtain Bulgarian identity documents, you must apply to the SAR to obtain a certificate indicating the health insurance payments made to date. In order to create a link between your respective Personal Identification Numbers (LNCh and EGN) in the information system of the National Revenue Agency (NRA), you must visit the local Department of the NRA and present the certificate received from the SAR.
After obtaining international protection/asylum you become responsible for the payment of your health insurance contributions. If you are employed under an employment or service contract, your health insurance will be paid by your employer/service contractor. If you register as a self-employed person (for example as a freelancer—medical doctor, craftsman, trader, agricultural producer, etc.) you must submit an application to the NRA within 7 days from the date on which you start or resume work.
If you are unemployed, before you start paying your health insurance yourself, you must file Model 7 Declaration with the local department of the NRA in the area where you live. The statement must be filed before the 25th day of the month following that for which the first health insurance payment is due. The payment must be made within the same time period. If you are a self-employed person within the meaning of the Social Insurance Code and have filed a statement of discontinuation of work, you must also submit a Model 7 Declaration.
As the amount of the social insurance payment differs and may change, you must obtain up-to-date information about the amount you must pay. In 2015, the minimum health insurance contribution is BGN 16.80 per month.
If you do not pay more than three health insurance payments during 36 month period prior to the beginning of the month in which you receive medical aid, your health insurance is suspended and you must cover the cost of your medical treatment yourself. In this case you can renew your health insurance rights by paying the health insurance contributions missed, but the medical treatment costs already paid will not be reimbursed. You can check whether your health insurance has been discontinued and the time period for which you owe payment on the website of the National Revenue Service (NRA) http://www.nap.bg/, section ‘E-Services with Free Access’.
Each insured person has the right to choose a general practitioner (GP). If you have not selected a GP during the period when your application for international protection/asylum was under review, do so as soon as possible. You have the right to change your general practitioner between 1 and 30 June and between 1 and 31 December each year.
If your health insurance is not discontinued, you have the right to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). With this document you can use emergency medical and dental assistance during the time of your visit to another Member State of the European Union. The EHIC is issued free of charge. More information is available on the following website http://www.ezok.bg/
In Bulgaria school education until the age of 16 years is compulsory.
In order to enrol or continue your education in а Bulgarian school, you must know Bulgarian language. The SAR has powers to organize language learning courses in Bulgarian, as well as some non-governmental organizations provide such opportunities. Look up the different available possibilities.
In order to have your level of education from grades I up to VI recognised in Bulgaria, you must apply directly to the director of the Bulgarian school where you wish to continue your education. Regarding recognition of education completion from Grade VII up to the last year in secondary school, and regarding recognition of completion of primary, secondary or secondary vocational education, you must submit the documents to any Regional Inspectorate for Education. Regarding recognition of completed education within the system of higher (university) education, obtaining a higher degree, including a doctoral degree, the requisite documents must be submitted to the respective higher education institution (university).
You can apply to become a student at a University in accordance with the general rules and procedure for Bulgarian nationals.
You have a right to full access to the Bulgarian labour market.
For the purpose of recognition of higher education (university) degrees, you must contact the National Information and Documents Centre www.nacid.bg, tel. 0700 44 849. For the recognition of the completion of individual stages in school education or educational/vocational training degrees, see point 8 ‘Education’ above.
If you have been issued with a driver’s licence by a foreign country, in order to have it recognised in Bulgaria, it must satisfy certain requirements. You can seek information from the local Traffic Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs where you live. If your driver’s licence does not satisfy the stipulated requirements, you can obtain a Bulgarian driver’s licence after taking an exam. You will also need a document attesting to the completion of at least primary education, and if you have completed your education in a different country – a certificate attesting to the recognition of at least primary education (see point 8 ‘Education’ above).
One of the possibilities to find a job is to register as a job seeker with the Job Centre of the Employment Agency in the area where you live on a temporary or permanent basis. Registering with a Job Centre is a requirement for submitting an application for social assistance. In order to register, you must submit an identity document at the time of submitting an application. The Job Centre assists your efforts to find a job by providing information about available job vacancies, possibilities to join training, vocational education and professional orientation courses. The addresses of Job Centres and more information about their work is available on the webpage of the Employment Agency http://www.az.government.bg/
The SAR can also organise language learning courses in Bulgarian and vocational training. Look up information about currently available possibilities.
If you have already been offered a job, insist that you sign a contract – an employment one (if you have specified working hours and a workplace) or a service contract (if you have been hired in order to provide a specific service). The contract clearly stipulates your rights and obligations—deadlines, salary, type and nature of work, etc.
If you become a victim of exploitation (for example, you do not receive the salary agreed or the employer does not meet the requirements for health and safety at work), you can file a complaint with the Labour Inspection Service (http://www.gli.government.bg/) or hire a lawyer who will file a lawsuit with the local trial court on your behalf.
In Bulgaria employing a person under the age of 16 years or between 16 and 18 years without an expressly obtained permission is punishable as a crime committed by the employer. By way of exception, an employer may request permission from the Labour Inspection Service to employ a person between the ages of 15 and 16 years, provided the work is not strenuous or harmful to the health of the employee and does not have a negative impact on the child’s development or a barrier to school attendance or the completion or vocational training or professional orientation courses.
10) Social assistance
Each individual is responsible for satisfying their basic needs. If, due to various reasons, you are unable to look after yourself or your family, you may submit an application for social assistance. Benefit payments differ in type and may be paid on a monthly basis, as a lump sum or for a particular purpose.
You or your family members are entitled to monthly social assistance if your income for the previous month was lower than a certain minimum income. That minimum income is different, depending on your personal situation or that of each member of your family (in addition to your income, your property situation, marital status, health condition, work occupancy, educational commitments and age).
For any incidental healthcare, educational, residential or other vital needs you may receive one-off social assistance once a year.
For example, you may apply for social assistance that covers the cost of obtaining an identity card.
Social assistance applications must be submitted to the Social Assistance Directorate of the Social Assistance Agency in the area where you live. You and all members of your family older than 16 years and younger than the retirement age must register with the Job Centre within 3 months from the date on which you received refugee/humanitarian protection or asylum. For this purpose you must present an identity card (if you are applying for social assistance for the issuance of an identity card—the decision granting you protection). In addition, you may be asked to provide a marriage certificate or the birth certificates of your children, etc. If these are not available, please turn to the SAR for the issuance of substitute documents.
Not later than 20 days after submitting an application, a social worker will visit your home and prepare a social report. Within 7 days from the date of the report a decision will be made on the grant or refusal of social assistance. You will be notified of the decision within 14 days. Refusals can be appealed before the Director of the Regional Social Assistance Directorate. The decision of the Director can be appealed before a court of law.
The addresses of Social Assistance Directorates and more information about their work is available on the webpage of the Social Assistance Agency www.asp.government.bg
11) Long-term residence permit in the European Union
If you have resided lawfully and continually in Bulgaria for 5 years you may apply for a long-term residence permit in the European Union. The permit is issued for a period of 5 years and must be renewed after expiry by submitting an application. A long-term residence permit in the European Union allows you to travel freely to other countries in the European Union for periods that are longer than three months for the purposes of work, education, etc.
How to calculate the five-year period of residence? The five-year period of residence is calculated from the date on which you submitted an application for international protection. However, if less than 18 months have elapsed between the date of submitting an application and the date on which you obtained a Bulgarian identity card, half of that period would count towards residency. For example, if the period between the date on which you submitted an application for protection and the date on which you obtained a Bulgarian identity document is 10 months, only 5 will count towards residency. However, if the interim period is longer than 18 months, the entire period between the date of submitting an application for protection and the date of issuance of Bulgarian identity documents would count as a period of lawful residence in the country.
What does continual residence mean? The length of each period you spend outside of Bulgaria must not be longer than 6 consecutive months and the total length of your trips outside of Bulgaria during the five-year period must not be longer than 10 months. If the length of your trip outside of Bulgaria exceeds 6 months or, if during the five-year period you have been outside of Bulgaria for more than 10 months, your application for long-term residence may be refused on the grounds of non-compliance with the requirement for continual residence.
When submitting an application for a long-term residence permit, you must present evidence that you are able to support yourself and the members of your family and that you have the requisite health insurance.
12) Bulgarian citizenship
By acquiring Bulgarian citizenship, you automatically become also a citizen of the European Union. In order to apply for Bulgarian citizenship, you must satisfy certain requirements. If you have been granted asylum or refugee status, you may submit an application after at least 3 years from the date on which you were granted protection have elapsed. If you have been granted humanitarian protection, you may submit an application after at least 5 years from the date on which you were granted protection have elapsed.
You must be at least 18 years old, have a clean criminal record (no convictions for public prosecutable offences by a Bulgarian court) and not be investigated on suspicion of having committed a crime (unless you have been fully rehabilitated), you must have a job or an occupation that allows you to support yourself, and be proficient in Bulgarian. You are NOT required to give up any other citizenship that you have.
A refusal to grant you citizenship cannot be appealed before a court of law. You can submit a new application for citizenship without limitations.
More information about the requirements and procedure for applying for Bulgarian citizenship is available on the webpage of the Ministry of Justice http://www.justice.government.bg/
13) If you are under age or a minor (you are below 18 years of age) and are in Bulgaria without your parents
In order to obtain a Bulgarian identity document (see point 4 ‘Issuance of Bulgarian identity documents’ above) you will need the consent of your legal guardian. If you have been placed in institutional care (a children’s home), your legal guardian is the Head of the institution. You have the right to be placed in a children’s home. For this purpose, you must contact the social worker who handled your case during the procedure for obtaining international protection or asylum.
In Bulgaria, you have the right to be reunited with your parents or, if your parents are deceased or missing, with another adult member of your family or adult responsible for your welfare by law or custom. For this purpose, you must submit an application to the SAR (see point 6 ‘Right to family reunification’ above).
14) Cessation of the international protection/asylum
Being granted international protection or asylum is not a permanent solution that addresses the reasons, which forced you to leave your country of origin. The permanent solution is your integration in the host country (Bulgaria), for example by obtaining a long-term residence permit or citizenship. Another permanent solution is your return to your country of origin if a substantial improvement in the domestic situation occurs. International protection is essentially temporary as it replaces the lacking protection, which the country of which you are a citizen, has a duty to extend to its citizens. For this reason, the law contains grounds (reasons) for cessation of international protection, which are as follows:
– you have voluntarily requested protection from the country of which you are a citizen; or
– if you have been granted citizenship by another country and you receive protection by that country; or
– if you have returned voluntarily in order to settle in the country, which you had left; or
– you are no longer in a position to maintain your refusal to obtain protection from the country of which you are a citizen, after the reasons on the basis of which you were granted international protection by another country no longer exist and the change in circumstances that has occurred is sufficiently significant and not of temporary character.
You may appeal the decision on the discontinuation of your international protection before the competent court within 14 days from the date on which you were informed of the decision.
The contents reflects the legislation and its practical implementation as at June 2015.
Author of the brochure is a team of professionals on a commission from the Foundation for Access to Rights – FAR (www.farbg.eu) within the framework of the project ‘Improving the access to rights of refugees in Bulgaria by raising awareness and knowledge’ (www.refugees.farbg.eu).