The consequences of Brexit for UK citizens was well documented, but the further-reaching impact of this decision on other nationals was not as widely-publicized. For Turkish citizens looking to live or work in the UK, this historic decision severed two of the most important immigration channels available to them. At precisely 11 pm GMT on December 31, 2020, the official cut-off of the Brexit decision, two visa options, the Turkish Businessperson Visa and the Turkish Worker Visa, were suspended. These two visas were considered the most accessible and reliable routes for Turkish nationals looking to open their business or re-settle in the UK. In the last two years, the suspension of these two visas has created a ripple effect that has made immigration from Turkey to the UK a much more complicated process.
Both the Turkish Businessperson Visa and the Turkish Worker Visa were established under the European Communities Association Agreement (ECAA). Initiated on September 12, 1963, the ECAA was part of the Ankara Agreement. The agreement was intended to promote better economic relations between Turkey and the European Community, preempting the eventual inclusion of Turkey into the Community. The ECAA was dependent upon the UK’s membership in the European Union (EU). In a post-Brexit landscape, where the UK is no longer considered a member of the EU, the agreement between Turkey and the UK is considered invalid and any new applications are not being accepted.
Since 2000, over 30,000 Turkish businesspeople, have entered the UK via the ECAA agreement. In the first half of 2019 alone, 3,000 Turkish passport holders benefited from this route and were approved to enter the UK and establish their lives there. Needless to say, it’s been a very popular way means of creating social, cultural, and, most importantly, economic ties between the two countries. Somewhat ironically, while Turkish citizens need a visa to travel to the UK, UK citizens can travel to Turkey visa-free. This gives a massive advantage to UK passport holders over citizens of other countries like Canada and the United States, whose citizens have to apply for Turkey e-Visa by filling out some basic requirements, and paying a fee online.
In short, the Turkish Businessperson and Worker visa schemes were created to make it easier for Turkish nationals to establish and maintain businesses, work, study, and live in the UK. The Turkish Businessperson Visa was granted to those with proven capabilities in running a business and sufficient capital to keep it afloat. The business had to prove sustainable for the applicant and their dependents, and the business owner was asked to show a clean criminal record. The Turkish Worker Visa was ideal for those looking to be legally employed in the UK. Both visas allowed the holders to study and conduct voluntary work on the side. Neither visa allows for the State Pension, and those with a Turkish Businessperson Visa must continue to work for the same business as when they first applied.
These were the parameters that Turkish citizens had to follow to obtain one of the available visas. When the suspension took effect, the UK government pivoted towards ensuring that Turkish nationals and their family members who were holding or applied for either of the two ECAA visas had the option to be considered for extension or acceptance. For existing holders and new applicants who submitted their paperwork on or before the cut-off date were able to extend their stay under the Appendix ECAA Extension of Stay.
For those who were living in the UK and holding a Turkish Businessperson Visa before the cut-off date, they can apply to stay for an additional 3 years, given that they meet the original eligibility criteria. For those pre-Brexit holders of the Turkish Worker Visa, the rules are slightly different. They too can apply to extend their visa for free if they are in the UK and meet the eligibility requirements. However, favor is given to those who have worked in the UK longer and are more established. For those who have worked in the UK for 3 to 4 years, they can only apply to stay for up to 1 year and they may not change occupations, only employers within the same domain. For those living in the UK for more than 4 years, they can apply to stay up to 3 years and work in any domain.
For family members of current visa holders and those who were able to extend their visas, the UK is allowing their child dependents under the age of 21 to apply to come to the UK. This means that parents in the UK can be reunited with their children if their application is approved. Unfortunately, children over the age of 21 and spouses are not allowed to submit new applications, but they can extend their stay if they are currently in the UK as dependants of visa holders.
While these requirements might sound reasonable to ensure that the lives of those who were already established in the UK, or were planning to relocate before the Brexit decision was made, weren’t completely overhauled, it isn’t that simple. Applying for these visas is notoriously time-consuming and requires no small amount of paperwork. Applicants for the extension can wait up to 6 months for a response, during which time their circumstances may change. As with any visa application process, there is no guarantee that the extension will be granted.
The long-term consequences of the Brexit decision on the economic landscape of the EU and countries like Turkey whose economies have been tied to the European Community for decades, still remain to be seen.