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Regulatory framework and trends

Trends and developments

Have there been any notable recent trends or developments regarding business-related immigration in your jurisdiction, including any government policy initiatives?

There have been few notable recent trends in business relating to immigration in Turkey. The most significant is the October 2017 visa suspension for US citizens, which is ongoing. Other recent changes to immigration rights include providing Syrians more work permit options. In addition, the 2017 development of an immigration programme granting citizenship after three years for certain investors was introduced; however, it is receiving a lukewarm reception and the implementation has been weak.

Domestic law

What legislation and regulations govern immigration in your jurisdiction?

The legislation and regulations governing immigration include:

  • the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (6458);
  • the implementing Regulations on the law on foreigners and international protection
  • the Law on International Workforce (6735);
  • the application Regulations of the Law  on Work Permits of Foreigners;
  • the Turquoise Card Regulations;
  • the Regulations on citizenship relating to investors.

International agreements

Has your jurisdiction concluded any international agreements affecting immigration (eg, free trade agreements or free movement accords)?

There is a free trade zone programme that affects immigration; however, this is not an international agreement.

Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers?

The three main agencies are:

  • the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (visa issuance);
  • the Ministry of Interior (residence permit issuance, citizenship agency and passport control); and
  • the Ministry of Labour (work permit issuance).

Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

Work and residence permit denials can be appealed. Visa denials cannot be appealed.

Recent case law

Has there been any notable recent case law regarding immigration?

Immigration case law is not published, nor is it precedential in Turkey.

Business visitors

Visa requirements

In what circumstances is a visa required for business visitors?

If the assignee wishing to enter as a business visitor is ineligible for an electronic visa or is from a visa-free nation, he or she must obtain a consular-issued visitor visa.

Restrictions

What restrictions are imposed on business visitors in terms of the work that they may undertake and their period of stay in your jurisdiction?

In general, visitors cannot perform productive work or receive remuneration for activities performed in Turkey. Visitors should limit their activities mainly to those that are for the benefit of an entity abroad – for example:

  • attending meetings or conferences with colleagues, clients or customers;
  • engaging in or receiving training; and
  • collecting data or reviewing work-related issues.

Application and entry

How are business visitor visas obtained and what is the typical turnaround time?

If the business visitor is eligible to receive an electronic visa, this is issued immediately online. If a consular visitor visa is necessary, the timeline is one to seven days, depending on the backlog at the consulate. The applicant should provide, among other things:

  • a letter from his or her employer;
  • a letter of invitation from his or her Turkish business host or customer;
  • proof of travel and accommodation; and
  • proof of medical insurance.

Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?

Yes. Turkey has an extensive list of nations whose citizens do not require a visa to visit Turkey. Most other nationals are eligible for electronic visas, which have a same-day turnaround.

Short-term training

What rules and procedures apply for visitors seeking to undertake short-term training in your jurisdiction?

In many circumstances, short-term training can be done on a visitor visa. Applicants should receive training in a manner that does not engage them in productive work (preferably in a classroom setting) and cannot be given remuneration. It is strongly suggested that this type of stay be as short as possible in order to avoid compliance issues.

Transit

In what circumstances is a transit visa required to pass through your jurisdiction? How is it obtained?

If the foreigner will not leave the transit lounge at the airport, he or she need not obtain a transit visa. Otherwise, the person must obtain a normal visitor visa.

Sponsored immigration

New hires

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Turkey has two main categories of work visa which are available in most circumstances: a standard work visa and an assembly and maintenance service (AMS) visa.

Work visas Work visas are valid for a maximum term of one year and are renewable. They also require a local entity sponsor and the applicant must meet certain experience requirements. The sponsoring Turkish entity (acting as the local employer) must also meet certain requirements, which must be maintained throughout the life of the work permit. These requirements include that:

  • the employer must have at least five Turkish citizen employees per registered worksite per foreign applicant, as evidenced on payroll records (the so-called ‘5:1 ratio’); and
  • the employer’s paid-in capital cannot be less than TL100,000.

As an alternative to the capital requirement, the employer can show:

  • gross annual sales amounting to TL 800,000; or
  • exports with a gross annual value of $250,000.

Certain exemptions from the 5:1 ratio exist but are granted infrequently. Again, the employer must maintain the criteria throughout the work permit period.

Once a work visa is filed abroad, a work permit application will subsequently be filed domestically in Turkey. Once approved by the Ministry of Labour, the work visa is issued at the same consular post abroad. The adjudication time is generally four to six weeks. At that point, the applicant may enter Turkey and complete his or her address registration with the local authorities. The employer must also comply with social security regulations.

AMS visa An AMS visa is valid for a maximum of 90 days (cumulative) over one year. This visa is issued only at consular posts abroad. It will be granted for short-term technical work for assembly, maintenance and service activities. An AMS visa applies to many categories of product including the assembly, maintenance and service (or training therein) of software, computer hardware, complex machinery, energy equipment, construction and manufacturing equipment. However, as the interpretation of ‘product’ or ‘service’ is not subject to Foreign Ministry guidance, in practice there are significant variations in interpretation from each consular.

Appropriate employees include technicians or technical workers, and this category is unsuitable for executives or non-technical managers. Employees holding this type of visa must continue to be paid outside Turkey by the foreign entity which sent them. The visa allows employees to work only in the locale and for the Turkish company which issued the support letter for the visa.

Applicants must apply for the visa at their home consular post, and a visa will normally be issued within one and seven business days.

Intra-company transfers

What sponsored visas or work permits are available to multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Turkey does not have a special work visa category for intra-company transferees. Normal work permit rules apply.

Do any special rules govern secondments?

No special criteria allows or recognises secondments. Normal work permit rules apply where the local work permit sponsor is fully responsible as an employer under Turkish law.

Sponsor requirements and considerations

What are the eligibility and procedural requirements for employers to sponsor foreign employees?

For work permits, the employer must be a Turkish legal entity and must evidence that it meets the sponsorship criteria. The employer must:

  • have at least five Turkish citizen employees per registered worksite per foreign applicant, as evidenced on payroll records (termed the ‘5:1 ratio’); and
  • have a paid-in capital of at least TL100,000.

As an alternative to the paid-in capital requirement, the employer can show:

  • gross annual sales amounting to TL800,000; or
  • exports with a gross annual value of $250,000.

Certain exemptions for the 5:1 ratio exist, but are not often granted by the ministry.

What ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements apply to sponsors?

Employer-sponsors must report on an ongoing basis when the assignment ends or if fundamental changes occur during the validity of the work permit (eg, in salary, job title or worksite).

In what circumstances (if any) must the employer submit to resident labour market testing before hiring or transferring foreign employees? Do any exemptions apply?

Turkey imposes no labour market testing requirements on sponsoring employers.

Are there any annual quota limits or restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by foreign nationals?

There is no annual quota limits per se, as long as the employer meets the 5:1 ratio or is granted an exemption in this regard. That said, there are restrictions on certain professions, including lawyers, teachers and professors, engineers, architects, urban planners and those in the medical and veterinary fields.

In relation to work permits for engineers, architects and urban planners, unless qualifying for a project-based exemption, the ministry will request a diploma equivalency from applicants who have degrees. Obtaining a diploma equivalency takes approximately seven to nine months.

Are there any immigration exemptions or other special schemes for shortage occupations in your jurisdiction?

Turkey lists no shortage occupations for special consideration.

How long does it typically take to obtain a sponsored visa? Is expedited visa processing available?

Expedited visa processing is not officially available. The typical adjudication times from filing to issuance is four to six weeks.

What rules govern the hiring of foreign third-party contractors?

There is no official recognition of hiring third-party contractors as distinct from normal sponsorship for a work permit. In relation to work permits (as opposed to an AMS visa), the sponsor acts as the employer in Turkey. The submission of a service agreement does not limit the sponsorship responsibilities from an immigration perspective. However, for an AMS visa, this does not apply and the AMS holders are not considered employees of the host.

What are the penalties for sponsor non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

In Turkey, there are consequences to both the employer and the employee for not abiding by work authorisation and visa requirements.

The new Law on International Workforce (6735/2016) sets out the penalties for those who conduct inappropriate activities, including monetary fines for employers and fines and deportation for employees.

However, these fines are not the only risk associated with using unauthorised foreign workers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Ministry of Labour may blacklist employers that it knows to have abused work permit laws. Further, non-compliance with immigration laws often results in social security, labour and tax violations that generate their own administrative fines, penalties and late fees, which often accumulate to much higher amounts than immigration penalties. Finally, labour law violations (including those relating to work authorisations) may disqualify an employer from special corporate tax benefit programmes (eg, those provided for in the Foreign Direct Investment Law) and social security incentives. These types of penalty can be far more onerous than the amounts indicated above.

Are there any other special considerations for sponsors in your jurisdiction?

Work permit sponsors are considered employers in Turkey. As such, attention should be given to the responsibilities of an employer under Turkish employment law.

General employee requirements

Must sponsored employees meet any language requirements?

No.

Are sponsored employees subject to any medical checks?

No.

Must sponsored employees meet any medical or other insurance requirements?

Several consular posts require evidence that the applicant has medical coverage. In addition, if dependents of the assignee are applying for residence permits, evidence of local medical insurance coverage is required.

Are sponsored employees subject to any security or background checks?

Yes. Many consular posts require police clearance from the country of nationality or country of residence. Police clearance is also required if the dependents of the assignee are applying for residence permits.

Are sponsored employees subject to any restrictions on studying or working second or volunteer jobs?

Yes. Work permits are employer and worksite specific. Applicants cannot have two concurrent work permits for different employers.

Are there any rules or standards governing the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications?

Education equivalence is needed for positions in engineering, architecture, urban planning, and the medical or veterinary fields. Equivalencies may take months to obtain.

What are the penalties for employee non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

The penalties for non-compliance for 2018 include:

  • 475 TRY (Turkish Liras) (approximately 105 Euros) shall be imposed on an employer or a self-employed foreigner who does not fulfill the abovementioned notification requirement;
  • 2851 TRY (approximately 629 Euros) shall be imposed on the foreigner employee who works without a work permit;
  • 7130 TRY (approximately 1573 Euros) for each foreign employee shall be imposed on an employer (or employer representatives) employing illegal foreign workers; and
  • 5704 TRY (approximately 1258 Euros) shall be imposed on a self-employed foreigner who works without work permit and his/her work place shall be closed down.  

Unsponsored immigration

Highly skilled individuals

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for highly skilled foreign nationals to seek employment in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

No unsponsored immigration route is available until the assignee has accumulated eight years of lawful residence in Turkey or qualifies for a turquoise card. The authorities are not yet accepting applications for turquoise cards.

Entrepreneurs

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for entrepreneurs seeking to establish a business in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

Turkey, via the Migration Directorate, has a short-term residence permit category for establishing a new business; however, in practice, this residence permit does not grant work authorisation. Therefore, it is not an effective immigration category.

Investors

What unsponsored immigration routes are available for foreign investors seeking to invest in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

In January 2017 Turkey promulgated regulations for the naturalisation of certain investors in Turkey. Those regulations allow certain foreign investors who provide between $1 million and $3 million in certain investments in Turkey (eg, real estate, government debt and Turkish banks) to apply for naturalisation. In most cases, that investment must remain for a minimum of three years. As this programme is less than one year old, it is unclear how well it is being implemented.

Ancestry

Are any immigration routes open to foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

There is an immigration permit called the blue card, which allows for certain people of Turkish decent (those who have renounced their Turkish citizenship) and their children to apply for a status which allows them nearly full Turkish citizenship rights, including work authorisation.

Other routes

Are there any other unsponsored immigration routes?

As of 2016, turquoise cards are being offered under a new immigration visa programme; however, the Ministry of Labour has not implemented a procedure for the programme and is not yet accepting applications. The turquoise card programme has a sub-category allowing applicants to qualify without a sponsor. Further details will hopefully be provided in 2018.

Extensions, permanent residence and citizenship

Extensions and status changes

Can short-term visa or work permit holders switch to long-term visas? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Assembly and maintenance service (AMS) visas cannot be extended or changed to another visa domestically.

Work permits are initially granted for a maximum of 12 months. Following this, a maximum two-year extension is possible. A subsequent three-year renewal is possible. Finally, once an assignee has lived in Turkey for eight continuous years, he or she may apply for an unlimited work permit.

Further, as of 2016, there is a new visa permit called the turquoise card. However, the Ministry of Labour is not yet accepting turquoise card applications.

Under what conditions can long-term visas be extended?

An unlimited work permit can be granted only if the assignee has lawfully resided in Turkey for eight continuous years. As of 2016, a new immigrant visa permit called the turquoise card was created; however, the Ministry of Labour is not yet accepting applications.

Permanent residence

Can long-term visa holders apply for permanent residence? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Work permits are granted for one year, and can then be renewed for two and then three years. Once an assignee has lawfully resided in Turkey for eight continuous years, he or she can apply for an unlimited work permit. This type of permit has the same requirements as a standard renewal, plus additional proof of compliance with security and background checks. Not everyone that meets the minimum qualification criteria will receive an unlimited permit, as these are issued on a discretionary basis.

Further, as of 2016, there is a new visa permit called the turquoise card. However, the Ministry of Labour is not yet accepting turquoise card applications.

Citizenship

Can long-term visa holders or permanent residents apply for citizenship? If so, what conditions and procedures apply?

Yes. There are several categories of eligibility for citizenship, but if the applicant is not married to a Turk or has no Turkish ancestry, the main category of naturalisation would be through five years of continuous legal residency in Turkey. However, a cumulative absence of 12 months  days will disqualify applicants, which is often a strong hindrance to qualifying for citizenship based on residency. Further, applicants must satisfy several over criteria relating to health, their criminal record, financial self-sufficiency and a basic understanding of Turkish (among other requirements).

Applicants married to a Turkish national for three or more years need not meet the 180-day requirement. All other criteria apply, in addition to the couple needing to “live in martial union”.

The naturalisation process generally takes from one to two years.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant for immigration purposes?

Lawful spouses and minor children (under 18 years old) qualify as dependants.

Conditions and restrictions

What conditions and restrictions apply to bringing dependants to your jurisdiction (including with respect to access to labour markets, education and public benefits)?

Eligible dependents of work permit holders are granted the right to reside with the principal work permit holder, but are not granted work authorisation. Dependents who wish to work must independently qualify for a work permit.

Dependents who hold residence permits may attend primary and secondary school in Turkey and have access to some public benefits. Once a dependent turns 18 years old, he or she must independently qualify for immigration status.