With the latest amendments to the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act (“FRBA”) promulgated in State Gazette on 12 March 2021, the Bulgarian Parliament adopted changes aiming to foster the growth and competitiveness of local innovation companies as well as to reinforce Bulgaria’s position as the leading regional IT Hub.
The first step towards achieving this goal is facilitating all initial visa applications allowing applicants to submit them electronically by using qualified electronic signatures. This novelty could be seen more as a natural continuation of the e-governance policy of Bulgarian immigration authorities, rather than solely as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Secondly, in the past decade, Bulgaria has built up a profile of an IT-oriented country, attracting developers from all around the world. These developers are often being hired at research and development centres established in the country by international corporations. The FRBA introduces the long-awaited “start-up visa”, thus addressing another important group of foreigners - entrepreneurs and high-risk investors, who may either sink a company or make it the new technological Goliath.
The start-up visa is not a standard visa sticker in one’s passport. It is a project certified as “high-tech” and “innovative” by the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy. This certification results in the issuance of a formal document in the name of the potential investor/entrepreneur. As a result, this document serves as a main legal basis for obtaining a long-term visa (a.k.a. type “D” visa) by the respective entrepreneur.
After the project has been certified as high-tech and innovative by the Ministry of Economy and the entrepreneur has obtained a long-term type “D” visa, the next step would be for the entrepreneur to actually "enter" a company in accordance with the relevant certified project. This “entrance” is made by subscribing for or purchasing at least 50% of the shares of a company with a scope of business as described in the start-up visa application to the Ministry of Economy.
Once all of the requirements are fulfilled, the entrepreneur is entitled to apply for a prolonged residence permit in Bulgaria. This would allow him/her to remain close to the business where the investment was made while considering the Bulgarian start-up ecosystem in general. For the avoidance of doubt, it has to be mentioned that holding a prolonged residence permit issued by the Republic of Bulgaria does not allow free travel across the EU.
The procedure for issuance of a start-up visa requires the implementation of internal rules and procedures within the Ministry of Economy. These rules will regulate the issuance, extension, and revocation of a certificate for a high-tech-innovation project. All these processes will be laid out in a separate Ordinance of the Ministry of Economy, which is to be adopted in the near future.
With the latest amendments in the FRBA Bulgaria joined many countries on their path towards distinguishing themselves as leading IT hubs in their respective regions. The newly adopted provisions put investors and entrepreneurs who have the potential to foster growth and innovation in the spotlight, thus creating the prerequisites for a strong engine in the context of the local economy.