Hiring foreign employees in Bulgaria

With its accession to the European Union, back in 2007 Bulgaria undertook obligations to observe the rules for free movement and establishment of people across the European Union, pursuant to which access to the employment market needed to be facilitated for EU citizens.

In addition, the globalisation of commercial markets has led to an increased movement and exchange of qualified specialists not only across the EU, but also between countries from all around the world. Specifically, in light of the booming IT industry in Bulgaria, local employers were encouraged to start seeking qualified specialists coming from both EU and non-EU countries. This raises the following question:

How do I hire(1) a foreign employee?

In order to provide a general overview of the different applicable procedures, we will divide the specifics of the hiring process into three different groups – hiring EU employees, general cases for hiring non-EU employees and exemptions for hiring non-EU employees.

1. Hiring an EU citizen

When joining the EU, Bulgaria agreed to open its borders and to comply with the free movement of goods, free movement of capital and free movement of people across Member States. As a result, EU citizens cannot be subject to a different or discriminatory treatment compared to Bulgarian citizens. Consequently, EU employees may be hired by Bulgarian employers without being subject to obtaining a work permit in Bulgaria. This is further confirmed in Article 49 of the Bulgarian Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Act, which states that EU citizens who have exercised their right to free movement have all rights (and obligations) as per Bulgarian laws.

The right to work without the need of a permit also applies to non-EU family members of EU citizens. However, they are subject to a notification regime. In case such a notification has not been filed, the respective employer may be subject to an administrative fine.

2. How to hire a non-EU citizen?   

Non-EU citizens do not fall within the protection of the Bulgarian Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Act and are thus subject to a different procedure involving various regulatory authorities. Their path towards employment in Bulgaria goes through obtaining a work permit, applying for a type “D” visa and obtaining residence permit in Bulgaria prior to being entitled to work under an employment agreement.

The procedures applicable to non-EU employees may vary depending on the respective employee. The main difference between procedures lays in the qualifications of the respective employee - whether he/she is highly qualified - possessing a university degree). In cases of highly qualified employees, the gross remuneration under the employment agreement is required to be at least 1.5 times higher than the average salary in the country in the preceding 12 months.

In cases of non-EU employees who are not highly qualified, employers should conduct a market test aiming to prove that there are no Bulgarian or EU job candidates, who are willing to take the position. This market test is not required for highly qualified non-EU employees. Still, in both cases the employer is obliged to justify the reason for hiring a non-EU employee.

In addition, employers willing to hire a non-EU employee who is not highly qualified, should also comply with a proportion requirement between non-EU employees and Bulgarian/EU employees (and their family members). The exact proportion varies between 20% and 35% depending on the type of company – small, medium or large enterprise. 

3. Non-EU employees who are exempt from the work permit requirement

The requirement for non-EU employees to obtain a work permit is not an absolute one. The Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Act allows for certain exceptions, which are often applied in practice. Such categories include third-country nationals who have already obtained long-term or permanent residence permits, family members of EU citizens, as well as family members of Bulgarian citizens (who are not EU citizens). In these specific cases, employment would be subject to a notification regime. The employer is required to submit a notification to the respective Labour Bureau within 7 days as of the beginning of employment. Late submission or lack of notification within the said term would result in an administrative fine for the employer.

(1) For avoidance of doubt, please note that the term “hiring” in the present article has the meaning of entering into an employment agreement.