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New Balkans Law Office: Bulgarian Lawyers

Why Bulgaria should retain its citizenship by investment scheme

Background

On 22.01.2019 and 23.01.2019, the Government of Bulgaria (GoB) announced intended amendments to Bulgaria’s citizenship law. These will, if passed in Parliament, abolish investment citizenship and align Bulgaria with the 17 EU member-states which the European Commission in its simultaneous report (Report) classifies as offering solely investment residence. GoB intends to introduce a draft Bill to Parliament as soon as the end of this month. It is as yet unclear when it is intended for the change to take effect.

Commissioner Jourová, sponsor of the Report, has welcome the policy turnaround.

GoB has expressly stated that this policy change is the result of an internal review carried out over 11 months by a working group convened for this reason (Working Group) and denied that it was forced by the Report. The policy change is explained as part of a drive for administrative simplification in home affairs and it is said that investment has been more anaemic than expected.

There has unfortunately been no transparency on the activities of the Working Group, its composition; evidence it has heard or used; and whether it has conducted any form of external consultation.

Bulgaria has to date allowed investment citizenship through investments in government bonds, listed shares, private companies and intellectual property since 2013.

More generally, reported problems in the area of grant of citizenship in Bulgaria have exclusively concerned completely different processes: mainly citizenship on the basis of origin through which more than 100,000 have become Bulgarian citizens.

Bulgaria’s current process

As Bulgarian legal service providers specialising in private client matters, New Balkans Law Office wish to clarify the following.

  • In Bulgaria, citizenship-by-investment applicants are subjected to much more rigorous checks than other applicants for naturalisation. Applicants are thoroughly vetted by over 15 state bodies and agencies, including the Ministry of Interior’s State Agency for National Security and the General Directorate for Combatting Organised Crime – which are specialised in financial crime including money laundering, and organised crime. Applicants pass through at least 4 stages of vetting and are interviewed by officials at least twice. The process typically takes just over 2 years giving the authorities sufficient time to perform security checks and for information on their backgrounds to be sourced.
  • According to statistical data released previously by the Ministry of Justice there are around 40 new Bulgarian citizen-investors as of mid 2018.
  • There are about 300 investors granted permanent residence.
  • To date, GoB has not invested in promoting or popularising these routes to citizenship.
  • Applicants make investments of at least EUR 512,000 each, and some double their investment to fast-track their citizenship process to 2 years.
  • Bulgaria has received investments of between EUR 150,000,000 and EUR 200,000,000 since 2014, against the background of minimal GoB effort.
  • Residence and/or citizenship by investment is offered by 20 out of the 28 Member States of the European Union and worldwide by developed economies such as the USA, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
  • It is clear that applicant due diligence functions well. If there have been only 40  approvals, this is partly due to cautious processing and to refusals for some of the candidates. There have been reported cases of individuals identified as a threat to the national security, who have been denied citizenship despite making the requisite investment.

The Report’s findings and Bulgaria

  • While covering both CBI and RBI schemes, the Report focuses on CBI in Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria.
  • It does not call for the termination of citizenship-by-investment schemes but recommends generally robuster controls during the application process.
  • The Report correctly accepts that granting citizenship is a matter of sovereign national competence – citizenship is outside the remit of EU law.
  • Perhaps the main significant to Bulgaria finding in the Report is that the process of citizenship is insufficiently transparent - it is unclear what weight is placed on various factors in deciding to grant or deny citizenship or why certain applications take more time to process. However, this is a complaint that may be levied against all work in administering nationality and immigration matters and is not specific to CBI/RBI.
  • The complaints on the basis of particular or special risks of money laundering or organised crime appear to us unfounded and counterintuitive: investor-applicants are exposed to much more and longer scrutiny than others (see above). E.g. those forced to flee armed conflict and admitted in a humanitarian hurry or non-EU citizens joining a recently married spouse cannot be subjected to as much scrutiny as they cannot be delayed.
  • It is unclear that affluent applicants are more likely to participate in economic crime or organised crime than those who are economically disadvantaged.
  • Given the above and given that the route to citizenship has been of significant net benefit to Bulgaria, it is unclear what if anything the country has to gain from offering a concession that it has not been and cannot be requested to make.

Benefits to Bulgaria from the investment citizenship route

  • Bulgaria has received investments of between EUR 150,000,000 and EUR 200,000,000 since 2014 against the background of minimal GoB effort.
  • Some of the investors (in our experience as much as 25%) have actively explored or started new business ventures in Bulgaria alongside their investment in Government bonds. The bonds serve as a low risk, taster investment as all investors visit Bulgaria and are able to explore its business opportunities.
  • An important intangible benefit is that the programme advertises Bulgaria to investors and entrepreneurs who would not otherwise associate with the country and diversifies Bulgaria’s investment base.
  • All investors and their family members pay state fees. The 400 investors to date have contributed around BGN 2,000,000 in fees to the GoB budget.
  • Investors are also required to make health insurance contributions, although they rarely draw down on the national health insurance fund. This is a direct surplus to the national health care system that helps other Bulgarians.
  • The government bonds which are currently the favoured investment instrument choice allow Bulgaria to raise funds more advantageously in the international markets. The funds thus raised can feed projects designed to bolster the economy including (if so desired) manufacturing (e.g., through training schemes, infrastructure funding (within the limits of state aid rules)).

Who are the typical investor-citizens?

According to GoB data, about 45% of investors are Russian or Russian-speaking citizens of the former USSR.

In our experience and understanding, these people are not wealthy oligarchs, most are entrepreneurs. Investing in government bonds is a way to save money while planning for the future and for their children and avoiding the difficulties of travel on a low-prestige passport.

Passport desirability as a resource?

The Bulgarian passport has only recently become desirable and given that Bulgaria boasts relatively fewer natural resources, it seems to us that given that security requirements are maintained, a viable CBI scheme can only help increase Bulgaria’s attractiveness.

Equally, if Bulgaria is perceived to respond to general Report recommendations by  urgently renouncing its national policy, there is a risk of loss of prestige including among its European partners.

At the same time, it seems to us right for Bulgaria to optimise and adjust its CBI law as its economic circumstances change. If the move by the GoB helps open an informed discussion of what form of investments are best and how they are best utilised, this would be welcome.

If you have any enquiries about the topic, please write to us at CBI@newbalkanslawoffice.com or via our Contact Us page.



FAQs about Bulgaria’s Citizenship by Investment Program

We wish to provide all interested investors with the relevant information so that they can rest assured that choosing Bulgaria’s Citizenship by Investment Program will be the best option.

The following is a recopilation of our clients’ frequently asked questions.

For more information, please contact us at sofia@newbalkanslawoffice.com or by our Contact Form.

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

General Questions

  • Who can apply for the Immigrant Investor Programme in Bulgaria?
    Any foreign citizen of legal age and with a clean criminal record who is not considered a threat to national security and can invest a minimum of 1,000,000 BGN, thus making him or her eligible to apply for Bulgarian citizenship.
    As of September 2018, almost 200 people applied to obtain Bulgarian citizenship on the basis of an investment.
     
  • Am I required to be able to speak Bulgarian?
    No. Speaking Bulgarian is not required.
     
  • What’s the difference between the Standard Track Application and the Fast Track Application?
    On the Standard Track, the applicant can acquire permanent residence after making the investment, and would hold the investment for a period of 5 years. At the end of the 5 years the applicant can apply for citizenship. On the Fast Track, the applicant can make an additional investment of 1,000,000 BGN (approximately 513,000 EUR) one year after the initial investment and he/she is immediately eligible to apply for citizenship.
     
  • Can my spouse and children obtain citizenship as well?
    Spouses and children of the applicant are eligible to acquire permanent residence. Though, they will not be granted citizenship at the same time as the applicant.
     
  • Do I ever have to travel to Bulgaria?
    Yes, but only for 2 times.
    The applicant will have to travel only to apply for his Permanent Residence Permit, and later to apply and obtain his ID card, which can be done in a short trip of 4 business days to apply and obtain it 3 days later.
    The applicant can apply for citizenship at a consulate abroad.
     
  • Am I required to have previous business management experience?
    No. No previous business management experience is required.
     
  • Are there any minimum educational requirements?
    No. There is no minimum educational requirement.
     
  • Are any job creation requirements like for the US EB-5 Investment Programme?
    No. There is no requirement for job creation, like the US EB-5 Investment Programme.
     

About the Investment

  • What’s the minimum investment amount?
    The minimum investment size is relatively low - 1,000,000 BGN (approximately 513,000 EUR).
     
  • What kind of investment profiles are there?
    There are a number of different qualifying investments, including but not limited to: government bonds, shares of a corporation admitted to trading on the Sofia stock exchange, investments in the capital of unquoted companies (a higher threshold applies).
     
  • What is the safest investment profile?
    Government bonds are usually seen as a low-risk safe investment.
     
  • Can the investment be financed by borrowing?
    Yes. The investment can be financed by borrowing. However, evidence of source of funds might be required.
     
  • How long do I have to wait for the investment verification?
    The investment verification usually takes 14 working days.
     

About the Process

  • How long will it take me to obtain Bulgarian citizenship?
    Depending on the track chosen the time varies. The Standard Track qualifies an applicant for naturalization after 5 years of holding a permanent residence permit. Citizenship under the Standard Track can be obtained after appoximately 6 years. The Fast Track qualifies an applicant for citizenship immediately after making a second eligibile investment provided that the applicant has held the permanent residence permit for at least one year. Citizenship under the Fast Track can be obtained in as fast as 2 years.
  • What's the difference between the Standard Track Application and the Fast Track Application?
    On the Standard Track, the applicant can acquire permanent residence after making the investment, and would hold the investment for a period of 5 years. At the end of the 5 years the applicant can apply for citizenship. On the Fast Track, the applicant can make an additional investment of 1,000,000 BGN (approximately 513,000 EUR) one year after the initial investment and he/she is immediately eligible to apply for citizenship.
     
  • When do I have to enter the country after obtaining the visa?
    The validity of the visa is 6 months after the date of issue. The applicant can enter the country when he or she wishes within this 6 months.
     
  • How long is the permanent residence permit ID card valid for?
    The permanent residence permit ID card is valid for 5 years. In case the validity of the applicant's passport is less than 5 years then the ID card has the same validity as the passport.
  • Should I apply for a permanent residence permit, ID card and citizenship in Bulgaria or at a Bulgarian diplomatic mission abroad?
    The applicant must apply for a permanent residence permit and ID card in Bulgaria. If eligible, the investor can apply for citizenship in Bulgaria or at a Bulgarian consulate abroad.
     
  • After obtaining a permanent residence permit, do I have to reside in Bulgaria for the whole process?
    No. Applicants are not required to be in Bulgaria during the whole process. However, when applying for a permanent residence permit and ID card the investor is required to be present in Bulgaria.
     
  • What kind of documents do I have to prepare?
    There are a number of documents that have to be prepared and legalized including, but not limited to, criminal record certificate, marriage license, proof of funds, etc.
     
  • Are there any additional legal fees or application fees?
    Standard application fees include visa fees (approximately 130 EUR), residence permit and ID card application fees (approximately 650 EUR), legalisation fees, etc.
     
  • How long do I have to wait for my citizenship application to be approved?
    The citizenship application is usually approved within a period of 8 months, but additional background checks and due diligence can lengthen the process a bit.
     


For more information, please contact us at sofia@newbalkanslawoffice.com or by our Contact Form.



Improvements to the procedure involved in applying under the Bulgarian citizenship

Further improvements to the transparency of the procedure involved in applying under the Bulgarian citizenship by investment programme.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice has published on its website lists of supporting documents, which in its view are expected from applicants for citizenship by investment under both the standard and fast tracks to citizenship by investing.

Each category of document in the list is broadly related to a requirement in the Bulgarian Citizenship Act(BCA) and the Decree-Law on the application of Chapter Five of the BCA: e.g., the requirement to provide a criminal record check is fleshed out by the need to demonstrate that the applicant has clear criminal past and is not a threat to public order and national security.

The MoJ advises that each supporting document should be listed in the application form, duly legalised and translated.

These official lists contribute to the transparency of the programme and the smooth completion of the process.

Read on this link more information about the Citizenship by investment programme.



EU Citizenship by Investment and Residence by Investment in Bulgaria

Overview

Bulgaria is one of several EU member states which offers a citizenship by investment (CBI) and a residence by investment (RBI) programmes.

To qualify for citizenship on the Fast Track, you need to:

  • Invest approx €1,000,000 (approx €500,000 on the Standard Track)
  • Invest in bonds issued in euros or one of another three investment classes
  • Travel to Bulgaria up to three times over the ~2-year application period

You do not need to:

  • Make Bulgaria your residence (though you could)
  • Learn to speak the national language
  • Meet other requirements which may apply in other EU CBI/RBI countries

Once a Bulgarian and therefore an EU citizen, you benefit from:

  • Visa-free travel to an estimated 169 countries
  • Freedom of movement rights within the EU and its 28 members, the EEA, and Switzerland
  • A range of economic and social rights

Your family

  • Your husband/wife can apply for citizenship, too. Your children and any child of your children in perpetuity can also apply at any time in the future - each of them without further investment. 

Next steps/Applying

Please review the information below – or call us on: +359 2 950 6239 or +44 20 7183 0262 for more information, to request advice or to apply. We are available Monday to Friday between 08:00 and 16:00 UTC/GMT and by e-mail cbi@nblo.net within 24 hours at all times. 

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Our experience and advantages: why NBLO?

  • NBLO can advise if your investment is eligible (government bonds always are - but other investments are possible), help with documentation, liaise with government bodies, and assist at each step.
  • We are a law firm with a wealth of experience in nationality law and private clients generally. We deal with applications for citizenship both involving investment and not.
  • To date, we have a 100% success rate in our citizenship by investment work.

Download our brochure Citizenship by Investment in Bulgaria

Frequently Asked Questions about Bulgarian CBI

200 applicants to obtain Bulgarian citizenship by investment

For more information about the Bulgarian programme and to start the process of obtaining citizenship, please Contact Us



No more a requirement to renounce existing nationality for naturalising spouses

A recent amendment to Bulgarian nationality law allows the spouse of a Bulgarian national to naturalise as a Bulgarian citizen without abandoning his or her existing nationality. This amendment came into effect in December 2013.

A spouse will still need to meet the requirements of continuing residence in Bulgaria, continuation of the marital relationship and passing a test of knowledge of the Bulgarian language.

It should be noted that on the face of the law, the entitlement to naturalise as a Bulgarian national does not at this stage extend to informal partners (irrespective of the length and nature of the relationship), nor to same-sex partners.

In relation to the language requirement, although a waiver of it has been discussed as a prospective further amendment of the law, it has not been adopted in this round of legislation. For now, the requirement of knowledge of the Bulgarian language can be met by either passing a simple test or by completing a special class in Bulgarian (in which case no test is required).

We regularly assist individuals and couples in the various circumstances of applications for naturalisation and will be happy to offer advice, support and representation. Should you wish to receive this, please contact us via our office telephone or e-mails.



Improvement to right to citizenship by investment

Recent legislative changes in Bulgarian investment laws now do indeed provide a direct route to citizenship.

Foreign nationals who have obtained permanent residence on the basis of participating in an investment programme, may acquire Bulgarian citizenship via an accelerated route. They become eligible for citizenship after one year from the date of issuance of their permanent residence permit.

This is contradistinction to the more usual case, in which the qualifying period is five years.

To qualify through the new routes, candidates must make additional qualifying investments after obtaining a residence permit.

The options are as follows:

Option 1

Investing BGN 1,000,000 (approx. EUR 513,0001) or more in the shares of 1 or more companies traded on the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. Upon obtaining a permanent residence permit on this basis, investing an additional BGN 1,000,000 in the equity of a Bulgarian company, undertaking a priority investment project certified as such by the relevant agency of the Bulgarian Government (“a certified investment project”);

Option 2

Investing BGN 6,000,000 (approx. EUR 3,070,000) or more in the share capital of an unlisted Bulgarian company and upon obtaining a permanent residence permit on this basis, investing a further BGN 1,000,000 in the equity of a Bulgarian company, undertaking in a certified investment project;

Option 3

Being either:

(1) a holder of 50% or more of the shares in the capital of; or

(2) the registered Managing Director

of a Bulgarian company (“the SPV”), engaged in a certified investment project. On obtaining a permanent residence permit, the foreign national must continue to be a holder of shares in the SPV;

and

(3) the SPV completes investments during its first year, amounting to more than BGN 20,000,000 (approx. EUR 10,260,000).

A new Bill was proposed to Parliament in July, intended to amend the currently applicable Foreign Nationals in Bulgaria Act and particularly is very likely to add the following option (Option 4) to the above list:

Option 4 (proposed)

Depositing BGN 1,000,000 (approx. EUR 513,000) or more in an account held with a regulated banking institution in Bulgaria under an discretionary funds management agreement for a term of at least 5 years. After obtaining a permanent residence permit on this basis, investing an additional BGN 2,000,000 in a similar account, OR BGN 1,000,000 in the equity of a Bulgarian company, engaged in a certified investment project.

Under all accelerated options above (existing and proposed), investors may apply for naturalization without having to meet the requirements of knowledge of the Bulgarian language or of renouncement of their existing citizenship.

The application process for permanent residency could take between 3 and 5 months. Citizenship applications on the above grounds are required to be treated with priority and to be reviewed within 6 months.

Family members of permanent resident foreign nationals or of newly-naturalized Bulgarian citizens may apply for residence on the ground of their Bulgarian resident/national’s status. Certain new changes introduced in the new Bill intend to facilitate the processing of family member applications by the members of the families of investors in Bulgaria.

At present family members can apply for residence permits on separate grounds and apply for citizenship after 5 years of residency in Bulgaria.

Lastly but perhaps no less importantly to planning, investors and their family members are also excluded from the categories of permanent residents who are obliged to reside physically in Bulgaria.

We will be happy to advise in further details about residence permit application process and Bulgarian citizenship acquisition procedure as well as to assist with any of the stages.



Recent work:

Sale of licences for EMMIS Communication

NBLO provides a multitude of legal services to USA media company EMMIS Communications which has several operations in the radio broadcasting, television broadcasting and magazine publishing markets. Specifically in Bulgaria, the company currently runs one of the largest radio station networks which includes such popular stations as FM Plus, Fresh FM, and Star FM. NBLO has fostered a close relationship with the company. NBLO handled all legal matters arising from the sale of their various licences and continues to provide commercial advice in this area as well as general corporate law advice on their Bulgarian operations.

© New Balkans Law Office 2019