Sofia Development Association (SDA) hosted on July 5, 2019, a group of 27 young civic activists and media representatives from the Western Balkans who came to a study visit organised by the Bulgarian School of Politics. The Western Balkans activists aim to gain knowledge regarding the EU pre-accession processes and issues to be addressed. Among those issues SDA put in the agenda migration and third country nationals integration.

The participants met with the Mayor of Sofia Mrs Yordanka Fandakova to discuss local governance and European regions and cities perspective. Following that the Balkan activists worked with INTEGRA Project team to debate questions like should refugees have the right to choose their preferred destination within the EU, should refugees have to go back to their country once it is safe, is there a conflict between helping helping refugees and helping own citizens.

EU migration policy discussion and acceptance is an integral part of the pre-accession preparation of candidate countries and local communities need to be prepared as well.  

On July 4, 2019 was the third radio broadcast, part of the INTEGRA information campaign. The conversation addressed issues linked to highly-skilled migrants coming to live and work in Sofia. Our guests were Dr. Mona Kaushik, from India, who arrived in Bulgaria for the first time in 1979, when her father was a guest lecturer at Sofia University. Years later she came back, to study. She's a philologist, teaches Indian Culture at Sofia University and the founder of Devam Foundation, Indo-Bulgarian society for arts and culture. Ajay Bhise, also from India, is an AI and deep learning specialist, who came to Sofia about two months ago. He is one of the few holders of the so-called Blue Card – a work and residency permit for highly-skilled foreign nationals. Ajay works in the Sofia branch of a large international company which has offices all around the world. It took him about nine months to get the work permit, while in the EU the process takes on average one month. (The EU Blue Card is essentially a renewable up to 4-year visa that enables highly skilled non-EU workers to take up jobs in the EU and to live and work there with their families; all EU member states - except the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland - issue the EU Blue Card. Germany is the country that issues the most Blue Cards - in 2018, about 27,000 visas were issued, a 25.4% jump over 2017. In comparison, Bulgaria issued 285 Blue Cards in 2018, up from 242 in 2017). 

For both Mona and Ajay, Bulgaria is a country with unique culture, beautiful nature and open and inquisitive people. When it comes to handling bureaucracy and dealing with administrative issues, the story changes. The biggest challenge is the language: still very few, if any, of the clerks and employees in the migration office in Sofia speak English. What is more, the paperwork is overwhelming (emphasis on paperwork): almost none of it is available in electronic format which causes significant delays in handling the application cases. This is one area of improvement that would make the city more open and user-friendly for foreign nationals, esp. for highly-skilled specialists.

If you want to hear more from Mona and Ajay and the interesting stories they shared, tune in to Sofia University Alma Mater radio on Wednesday, July 10 at 6 pm.

This project is funded by the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund

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