10 Years in EU: Migration Trends in Bulgaria


An estimate of 1.1 million people, who were born in Bulgaria now live abroad, according to statistics of the receiving countries. Between 600,000 and 700,000 left for economic reasons. Those who left Bulgaria are residing mainly in the EU, Turkey and the USA. This says a new analysis on trends of migration in Bulgaria carried out by the Open Society Institute – Sofia. The analysis is based on comparison of data by the National Statistical Institute (NSI), Eurostat, the United Nations and other data from population censuses in Bulgaria and the receiving countries.

For the entire period from 1985 to 2016 the population of Bulgaria has declined by 1.85 million people, according to the NSI. According to the national statistics, more than half (over 52%) of the decrease is due to the negative natural growth (the difference between birthrate and death rate), while close to 48% is due to net migration.

In the last three decades, the largest number of people left the country in the end of the 1980s (due to the expulsion of the Bulgarian Turks) and the crisis-ridden 1990s of the last century, but since then the net migration has been decreasing substantially. Between 1985 and 1992 the population declined entirely because of outmigration, while in the next period the dominating role was of the negative natural growth. The share of net migration in the population decline decreases to 39% for the period between 1992 and 2001, to 31% for the period 2001-2011 and under 10% for the period from 2011 until now.

The largest number of people left Bulgaria when there were visa restrictions, when the country was in the negative Schengen list and there were considerable difficulties in labor migration. The EU membership provides visa free travel to about 150 countries in the world and free access to the EU labor market. Despite this, after the start of EU membership there was no registered increase in people leaving the country, but rather legalization of those who already left it.

In the last four years, about 35,000 people returned to Bulgaria according to NSI. This is the beginning of a process of reversal of outmigration and return to Bulgaria. According to the authors of the analysis – Georgi Angelov (Senior Economist) and Marin Lessenski (European Policies Program Director) – the rate of return could be increased if there is higher economic growth, lowering the income and standard of living gaps between Bulgaria and the Western European countries. There are already examples of new EU member states such as Estonia, where for a second year in a row the net migration is negative, i.e. more people are settling in the country than leaving it.

The full text of the analysis 10 Years in EU: Migration Trends in Bulgaria