« The Turkish public’s outcry over the growing number of EU visa rejections has prompted the Turkish government to threaten the EU with countermeasures, but the matter will unlikely be resolved until underlying structural problems are addressed » reports Pinar Tremblay in Al-Monitor.
Receiving a Schengen visa has become more difficult for Turkish passport holders — the list of people who have been unable to obtain a simple tourist visa from EU countries ranges from physicians to prominent journalists and even family members of Turkish diplomats.
According to schengenvisainfo.com, the number of refusals to Turkish nationals has increased by 9% over the past six years from 4% in 2014 to 12.7% in 2020. In addition to refusals, Turkish passport holders face delays in visa processes or get visas for shorter periods of time than requested. The growing cost of the refusals also adds to the anger of the public, with Turkish passport holders losing more than $25 million over the refusals in the past five years. The number of documents needing to be submitted also increased for visa applications, turning the already hard visa application process into a nightmare for Turkish citizens.
“European Union countries were asking for too many unnecessary documents; they were turning the direct application into a hassle, and the charges for visa application were too high,” schengenvisainfo wrote.
Official explanations for refusals vary. Turkish sports presenter Sinem Okten was rejected twice, Reuters reported. Veteran foreign policy correspondent and columnist Barcin Yinanc noted that the growing list of rejected applicants also includes Turkish diplomatic personnel’s family members. On Sept 7, prominent journalist Rusen Cakir, editor in chief of the independent news site Medyascope, said that he and his family have been unable to receive a visa from France.
The growing public reaction prompted Ankara to step into the fray. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Aug. 26 that his government believed the increasing number of rejections and prolonged visa issuing processes were “intentional.”
« If the situation does not improve after that, we will take restrictive countermeasures, » he warned.
In response, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, head of the EU delegation to Turkey, acknowledged that the rejection rates were “slightly above the world average. “Most of the applications were rejected due to being incomplete and potentially fraudulent,” he told Deutsche Welle, denying there were political motives behind the rejections.
According to experts and former diplomats, the problem is underlined by the structural struggles of the country.
The major reason behind the problem stands out in European countries’ fears over returns. An increasing number of people who go to Western countries are not returning home. For example, the number of asylum seekers from Turkey to Europe has increased to 47% from 2020 to 2021; 32% of those seeking asylum have applied to Germany, according to the DW report. Germany also tops the list of Schengen visa rejection rates for Turkish passport holders.
“The people who would readily qualify for a Schengen visa now are willing to immigrate to Europe permanently,” Behlul Ozkan, assistant professor in international relations at Marmara University in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor. “The credibility or prestige of a country can be best gauged by looking at the lines of people applying for visas in front of embassies or agencies that handle the visa application process.”
In addition to refugees who are trying to escape the country for the West, Turkey’s deteriorating economy and human rights record are also forcing many Turkish citizens to migrate to the West with a promise of a better life.
The increasing number of Turkish citizens who obtain service passports that allow limited visa-free travel to many EU countries also raises concerns on the bloc’s side, leading to confidence problems. In the past, only a limited number of public employees were eligible to receive service passports, but the eligibility criteria were extended last year to include exporters and some other professionals. Over the past years, hundreds of people traveled to Europe under these passports and didn’t return. Last year, the Turkish government announced that more than 804 service passport holders haven’t returned to Turkey.
An EU diplomat who spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity said, « Our good will has been tested in Turkey. … We shared our concerns with our counterparts that official passports (green and gray) are being handed out in high numbers and the criteria to acquire them change frequently. It is challenging to decide which applicants will be coming back to Turkey. »
Political reasons also stand as another reason. Namik Tan, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington, said Ankara’s foreign policies are leading to uneasiness within the international community, recalling Turkish official statements defying European bodies that Turkey also is a party. “Your prestige and image on the international stage play an extremely important role in making these [visa procedures] harder or easier,” Tan said.
Al-Monitor, September 6, 2022, Pinar Tremblay