PROTECTION AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR UKRAINIAN CITIZENS
*With the Tz&P team, as specialists in immigration and labour law, we have prepared this handbook on the protection and work of Ukrainian citizens. In this way, we aim to clarify and provide assistance to all those people whose lives are affected and who find themselves on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. We believe that the guidelines, details and everything described below would also help employers who want to provide assistance by employing Ukrainian citizens, as well as anyone else who would like to help.
- General information for the types of protection in Republic of Bulgaria
The protection granted by the Republic of Bulgaria to foreigners includes: a) asylum, b) international protection and c) temporary protection. For each of them there is an individual procedure, an individual competent authority, and they are granted on different legal grounds.
In Bulgaria, asylum is the protection granted under the Constitution to foreigners who are persecuted for their beliefs or activities in defence of internationally recognised rights and freedoms. The President, as the head of state and the country's representative in international relations, has the power to grant asylum upon written application by the foreigner. By law, foreigners granted asylum by the President acquire the same rights as foreigners granted refugee status by the Refugee Agency.
With respect to asylum, however, there are several key features that distinguish it, and which are important to keep in mind.
- Despite the fact that the foreigners meet the grounds for asylum set out in the Constitution, they may not be granted asylum in Bulgaria because the granting of asylum depends entirely and solely on the personal discretion and judgment of the President.;
- There is no legal right to obtain a response from the President, as he is not obliged to respond to requests made to him;
- People who have applied to the President for asylum do not have the rights that people who have applied for protection and status to the Refugee Agency have.
Asylum as a legal institution is not a means of protecting violated rights or freedoms of ordinary citizens, but rather it is regulated in order to grant it to prominent personalities and human rights activists.
2. INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION
International protection is granted under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, done at Geneva on 28 July 1951, and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967, ratified by law, international human rights instruments and the Asylum and Refugee Act. International protection includes the possibility of being granted refugee status or humanitarian status, which are granted by decision of the Chairman of the State Agency for Refugees under the Council of Ministers (SAR).
2.1. Regugee status
The grounds on which a foreigner may claim and be granted refugee status are:
A presence of well-founded fears of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group
the foreigner is outside his or her country of origin and for those reasons is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country or to return to it.
Persecution can be carried out by the state through its bodies and institutions - for example, by taking various legal, administrative, police or judicial measures to discriminate against certain people or groups. But it may also be by a non-state organization-for example, a terrorist or paramilitary group that the state authorities, army, police or courts cannot sufficiently effectively resist or resist to stop the human rights violation being committed.
2.2. Humanitarian status
Under Bulgarian law, humanitarian status in Bulgaria is granted to an foreigner forced to leave or remain outside his or her country of origin because he or she faces a real risk of serious harm in that country, such as the death penalty or execution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Humanitarian status is also granted in the event of war, where people from a particular country face grave and personal threats to their lives or persons as civilians due to violence arising from internal or international armed conflict..
3. TEMPORARY PROTECTION
In the event of a mass influx of foreigners who are forced to leave their country of origin because of armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression, human rights violations or large-scale violence in the territory of the country concerned or in a particular region thereof, and who cannot return there for these reasons, temporary protection shall be granted. It shall be granted by a decision of the Council of Ministers. Its duration shall be determined by decision of the Council of the European Union.
Temporary protection is group protection. It is not granted on an individual basis, but only in the event of a mass influx of foreigners who are forced to leave their country of origin due to armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression and human rights violations or large-scale violence.
In this sense, the decision to grant temporary protection is taken in respect of foreigners from one particular country - when people from that country flee en masse because of war.
This means that if foreigners from a particular country enter Bulgaria en masse and flee the war there, the Bulgarian government must make a request to the Council of the European Union to declare temporary protection. However, if the Council of the European Union does not agree, then Bulgaria must examine each application individually and carry out individual procedures for each foreigner from the designated country.
It is important to note that while benefiting from temporary protection, foreigners are not allowed to make an independent application for humanitarian or refugee status, even if they have reasons to fear personal persecution. However, when the period of temporary protection expires, foreigners have the right to submit an independent application for protection and status in Bulgaria, to be examined in an individual procedure. If foreigners do not make such an application after the expiry of the period and the termination of temporary protection, they will be considered illegal immigrants and may be subject to deportation procedures back to their country of origin by the immigration police
II. Stay and residence for citizens of Ukraine as of 1st of March 2022.
Bulgaria, as a member state of the European Union, on the one hand, and Ukraine, on the other hand, have a visa-free travel agreement in force since 2017. It allows all Ukrainian citizens to enter the territory of our country only with their biometric passports. After their initial entry, they have the right to stay on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria for a period of no more than three months within each six-month period.
If Ukrainian citizens do not have a biometric passport, their entry into Bulgaria will be subject to the general regime for non-EU citizens and will require a valid visa (type "C", type "D", Schengen, etc. By way of exception, all applicants for international protection can also obtain a special residence permit without meeting the usual requirements for legal immigration - a regular passport, a visa or crossing the border only through designated points. In this case, as well as when they have no documents at all, Ukrainian citizens must apply for international protection in the first country they manage to enter.
In summary, Ukrainian citizens currently have two options: to enter the territory of Bulgaria with a biometric passport with a maximum allowed stay of three months every six-month period or to apply for international protection, which grants humanitarian status (as refugee status would be inapplicable in the current situation).
In the following, we will examine the possibilities of obtaining humanitarian status, as this legal institution is currently the only one applicable in the context of the military conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
It is recommended that if they do not have a valid passport, adults present other documents with a photo (ID card, driving license) at the border, which can undeniably establish their identity and that they are indeed Ukrainians. For children under 14 years of age who are together with a parent or other adult relative and who do not have a passport and another document with a photograph, a birth certificate or other official document from which the relationship between the child and the adult can be established must be presented. Children aged 14 to 18 may, in the absence of a passport, produce an identity card and, if they do not have one, an official document showing their relationship to the parent or other adult relatives with whom they are travelling. Children under 18 years of age who are travelling alone (unaccompanied children), i.e. without their parents or relatives, or who are travelling with other adults with whom they have no family relationship and declare at the Bulgarian border that they wish to enter Bulgaria to seek asylum and international protection, must be admitted to the territory of the country and handed over to the social services regardless of these circumstances.
In order to apply for international protection, the foreigner should personally submit an application (in a foreign or Bulgarian language) to the Chairman of the State Agency for Refugees in one of the refugee centres in Pastrogor, Harmanli or Sofia (Ovcha Kupel district). It can also be submitted to the Immigration Police at the Migration Directorate. In the application, the person should indicate the addressee, the circumstances of the request and contact details.
After submitting the application, the staff of the Refugee Agency will contact the person and set a date for registration of the foreigner as a candidate for protection and status.
For registration, the person must provide identity documents (passport, visa) and other documents at his/her disposal - e.g. medical, criminal record, etc.
Within 6 (six) months from the date of submission of the application, the Agency should issue a decision granting or refusing the foreigner international protection.
RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS DURING THE PROCEDURE
While the procedure is ongoing, applicants for protection are entitled to:
- be accommodated in a refugee centre (camp) of the Refugee Agency;
- work with the Agency's permission (including registering companies, working under a civil contract), which can be obtained after 3 months from the registration and the start of the procedure;
- the assistance of a psychologist;
- a translator or interpreter;
- medical assistance,;
- social assistance in the manner and to the extent determined for Bulgarian citizens;
- free education for children in a Bulgarian public or municipal school;
RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF FOREIGNERS GRANTED HUMANITARIAN STATUS
A foreigner who has been granted humanitarian status acquires the rights and obligations of a foreigner with permanent residence permit - the right to education (minors); to health insurance, accessible medical care, free use of medical services; access to the labour market, including participation in programmes and projects funded by the state budget or through international or European funding.
These persons may also acquire Bulgarian citizenship under the terms and conditions of the Bulgarian Citizenship Act. They also have the right to request to be reunited with their family on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. Permission for family reunification is again granted by the President of the State Agency for Refugees
II. EMPLOYMENT OF UKRAINIAN CITIZENS ON THE TERRITORY OF THE REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA
The ability to employ foreign nationals depends on their status as well as the specific situation at the time of entry into employment.
First of all, it is important to mention that all procedures that existed up to that point could be initiated, including:
1. EU Blue Card - for highly skilled workers
2. A single residence and work permit - for all others who do not meet the conditions in point 1.
3. Intra-corporate transfer - for subsidiaries of foreign ones who would like to undertake a temporary transfer and possible return after expiry
4. Various types of secondment - who would like to undertake a temporary transfer without changing employer
Each of these procedures is initiated by a Bulgarian employer wishing to employ or accept Ukrainian nationals, which procedure will be preferred and chosen depends on the employer, the employee, the position, the remuneration, the documents that can be submitted, the duration of employment, etc
In general, after obtaining positive opinions, citizens of Ukraine may apply for a type "D" visa at any neighbouring embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria upon permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is possible that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will issue a general opinion granting such possibility without the need for individual consultation of each citizen. After obtaining a D visa, the Ministry of the Interior, represented by the Migration Directorate, finalises the procedure by issuing the relevant residence and work permit.
The procedure for obtaining a residence permit, which includes a work permit, takes about two (2) months, which results in faster access to the labour market and possibly faster entry into force of the employment contract. Thus, becoming part of the social system, of the team of a Bulgarian company and receiving a regular monthly income would undoubtedly help the integration of them and their families.
Further, Ukrainian nationals who have already been granted asylum or international protection in Bulgaria can be employed on a work contract by employers without the need for a work permit, as with this type of protection they receive special rights, including the right to work.
As the procedure for obtaining such status may take some time, Ukrainian nationals who have applied for international protection or are in an asylum procedure and for whom the procedure has not been completed within three months of the application for reasons beyond their control may also exercise employment in Bulgaria without a work permit. In addition to access to the labour market, they can also participate in programmes and projects funded by the state budget or through international or EU funding. However, there is a special requirement for them, namely that their employment must be declared within 7 days of starting work. It should be pointed out that the obligation under the preceding sentence is incumbent on the employer, who is obliged to submit a declaration in a form to the Directorate of the Labour Office of the worker's place of work and to attach the relevant employment documents.
In recent days, at the European level, the relevant acts for granting temporary protection to Ukrainian citizens are being considered and are expected to be adopted any moment, applicable in cases of mass inflow of foreigners, as explained in detail in the article above. The EU has already confirmed its intentions to make this happen, with the same expected to be clothed in legal form in the next few days.
As for foreign citizens, owners of foreign companies, they could register a subsidiary, a branch or a completely new company on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria without any obstacles.
The team of Tz&P Law Firm
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