If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.Winston S. Churchill
Some confusion in the Bulgarian citizenship legislation
Citizenship is one of the building blocks of our society. It is basically the relation between the state and the individual person. And therefore, the legal definition of citizenship should be crystal clear, without any trace of doubt or confusion.
We all know that some laws may be complicated. And there is nothing wrong with that. There are hundreds of laws in Bulgaria and nobody should expect that each and every law will be easily understood by everybody. Citizenship is a different beast though. We believe that citizenship, as most basic concept, should be defined in a way that even a 10 year old should be able to comprehend. But is this so?
Who is Bulgarian citizen?
So who is considered to be Bulgarian citizen? Let’s start with the most fundamental legal act – the Bulgarian Constitution. All other laws have to be compliant with the Constitution. If this is not the case, the Constitution can be applied directly, overriding all other legal provisions.
Bulgarian citizenship as it is defined in the Constitution
The relevant texts that apply to what Bulgarian citizenship is, can be found in chapter II, Art.25 of the Constitution. Basically, the Constitution defines clearly who is Bulgarian citizen and how can one acquire citizenship. It also foresees certain rights for the citizens and of those who are of Bulgarian origin. We will analyze these in detail below.
Bulgarian citizen is anyone whose at least one parent 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 origin. Bulgarian citizenship can also be acquired by naturalization.Art. 25 (1) of the Constitution
Persons of Bulgarian origin acquire Bulgarian citizenship through an simplified procedure.Art. 25 (2) of the Constitution
Bulgarian citizen by birth cannot be deprived of Bulgarian citizenship.Art. 25 (3) of the Constitution
From the legal analysis of the texts, the following becomes evident:
How is Bulgarian citizenship acquired
- Bulgarian citizen is a person who’s father or mother (or both) is Bulgarian citizen.
- If a person is born in Bulgaria, he becomes automatically Bulgarian citizen, but only if he doesn’t get other citizenship by origin. This is very different than the so called “citizenship by birth”, as is the case in the USA for example. This is so, because virtually everyone becomes citizen by origin through his parents. So for example, if a Mexican mother gives birth to a child in Bulgaria, the baby will not become Bulgarian citizen, as it will get automatically Mexican citizenship. The same applies to almost all other nationals, with very few exceptions. Worth noting is that babies of stateless persons, born in Bulgaria, will get Bulgarian citizenship under this norm.
- Bulgarian citizenship can be acquired through naturalization, for example through investment. There are also other routes to be naturalized in Bulgaria of course.
Some constitutional rights of the citizens and of those of Bulgarian origin
- Persons of Bulgarian origin acquire citizenship through simplified procedure. The Constitution doesn’t specify what “Bulgarian origin” (more on that later) or “simplified procedure” is.
- Bulgarian citizens by birth can not be deprived of their citizenship. The Constitution doesn’t specify what “citizenship by birth” is, but it is obvious that it is when a person is born and obtains citizenship immediately. For example citizenship by naturalization is not citizenship by birth.
The Constitutional norms in a nutshell
So we can state with confidence that a Bulgarian citizen is automatically anyone who has at least one Bulgarian parent. Such person doesn’t need to be Bulgarian citizenship at birth, because if he is, he can be not deprived of his citizenship. It is also clear that a person of Bulgarian origin is not automatically Bulgarian citizen (he can only acquire citizenship through simplified procedure).
So far so good. But now we will analyze the Law on the Bulgarian citizenship and things will get a bit messier.
Bulgarian citizenship as per the Law on the citizenship
The Constitution has set the general rules and now it is up to the citizenship Law to define the rules in more detail. And here is where things become complicated. Because the citizenship laws first states, that:
A Bulgarian citizen by origin is anyone whose at least one parent is a Bulgarian citizen.Art.8 of the Bulgarian citizenship Law
So far, this definition seems logical. It is expanding the definition of the Constitution, without to contradict it. It is basically stating that the “citizen with at least one parent” is called “citizen by origin“. Perfectly logical.
But then we move further to Art.15 of the Law and we read that:
A person who is not a Bulgarian citizen may acquire Bulgarian citizenship by naturalization without the conditions under Art. 12, para. 1, items 2, 4, 5 and 6 if it meets one of the following requirements:
– one of his parents is a Bulgarian citizen or has died as a Bulgarian citizen.Art.15(1), p.3 of the Bulgarian citizenship Law
So now it suddenly appears that it is possible that a person may NOT be Bulgarian citizen, even though his parent is a Bulgarian citizen. And not only is that possible, but this person, in order to obtain Bulgarian citizenship, would need to go through the process of naturalization. But this is in direct contradiction with the Bulgarian Constitution. And not only with the Constitution, but also with Art.8 of the same law! Ridiculous, right? But bear with us, because it gets even worse.
The Supreme Administrative Court – more oil in the fire
The Law on the Bulgarian citizenship doesn’t stop at that. In its “additional provisions”, it stipulates:
“Person of Bulgarian origin” is a person to whom at least one of the ascendants is a Bulgarian.§ 2 of the Bulgarian citizenship law
And if you think that the wording “ascendant” may be interpreted broadly, then think again. According to the Bulgarian Supreme Court decision 3444/05.03.2020 (see also this article /in Bulgarian/), the wording in the law suggests that by “ascendant” it is meant a “parent”. But wait, wasn’t a person with one Bulgarian parent defined as Bulgarian citizen by the Constitution? And even as Bulgarian citizen by origin by Art.8 of the Bulgarian citizenship law?
When a child is born in Bulgaria to Bulgarian parent(s), everything seems fine. The hospital where the baby is born is registering the birth and the baby becomes Bulgarian citizen by birth (and by origin). If a child is born to Bulgarian parents abroad, the procedure is also quite straightforward. The parents can register the birth at some point later in time and get Bulgarian birth certificate for the child. This will automatically grant Bulgarian citizenship to the child, as per the Constitution and as per Art.8 of the citizenship Law.
But imagine the following situation: A foreign divorced mother (or father) moves to Bulgaria with her foreign child. At one point, the mother marries Bulgarian man and after some time she becomes eligible for Bulgarian citizenship by standard naturalization. After obtaining citizenship, what would be the status of her child? By Constitution the child is Bulgarian citizen, as his mother is Bulgarian citizen. As per Art.8 of the citizenship Law, the child is even defined as “Bulgarian citizen by origin“. But as per Art.15 of the citizenship Law, the child of the Bulgarian (naturalized) mother has to undergo the procedure of naturalization as person with Bulgarian parent. So theoretically, the child can be denied Bulgarian citizenship, for whatever reason. But the child is Bulgarian by the Constitution! So how can Bulgarian citizen apply for Bulgarian citizenship?
Confusing? It certainly is. If you have fallen in the trap of this legal controversy, we strongly recommend you to contact our offices for assistance. We will definitely be in position to help you.