Turks in Britain are concerned about future of visa-free deal
Thousands of Turkish people living in Britain on a permit created by a special 1963 treaty are being told their situation will be “business as usual” during Brexit
However, the U.K.’s moves to leave the EU are throwing up complex legal questions which could affect thousands of Turkish people living in Britain. Turkey’s ambassador to the U.K., Abdurrahman Bilgic, told Anadolu Agency those citizens living in Britain on a business document linked to the September 1963 Ankara Agreement would not see a change in their status while the U.K. negotiates its departure from the European Union. Under the free-visa scheme, Turkish citizens are entitled to set up a business in the U.K. and live in the country with no further requirements.
It has been a very popular initiative, with up to 20,000 Turks now living in the U.K. under the Ankara Agreement.
However, Bilgic pointed out the Ankara Agreement was not a bilateral U.K./Turkey deal.
“Once the U.K. officially exits from the EU, it will not be a party to the Agreement, just like all the other agreements that the UK is a party to owing to her EU membership,” he said. Bilgic said the Turkish government was “well aware of the concerns” among its citizens living in the U.K. after the Brexit vote and said regular meetings were being held with Home Office officials.
As Brexit is now expected to start with the U.K. government triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to initiate formal negotiations to leave the 28-member bloc, it is not only EU citizens who are waiting for a clear answer from the authorities about what will happen to their rights.Turkish citizen Sinan Yildirim from the Black Sea city of Trabzon is one of the thousands of Turks now unsure about his future in the U.K.
Sinan is a builder who has lived in the U.K. for the past five years after obtaining a permit thanks to the Ankara Agreement.
“I have no idea what will happen to us living here on the Ankara Agreement visa after Brexit,” he says.
“I don’t think there will be a backwards step for those who have the visa on the agreement because I know that their gained rights will not be reversed,” he added.
But Sinan, like many others, wants more clarity.
“We would like to see things get clearer soon because we do not wish to see any suffering and this is very important for our trade,” he told Anadolu Agency.
However, not everyone is confident about the future.
A Turkish international law consultant, Hakan Camuz, thought Brexit “would mean an end to a legal agreement between two countries and therefore it will end the possibility of Turkish nationals’ right to get leave, unless both parties make a separate agreement.”
However, he found the recent visit by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to Turkey and the countries’ general relationship “encouraging”, making a separate deal more likely upon “the initiative of both governments”.
Partner & Solicitor - Advocate Non Practising Barrister
Another Solicitor (Advocate Non Practising Barrister), Yasar Dogan, thought “it is very early and limited information is available to make conclusive comments as to the precise impact of Brexit on Turkish citizens who would like to rely on the Ankara Agreement”.
“Much of the political discussions have focused on European Union citizens and thus far nothing has been said about Turkish citizens,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Dogan said: “It is worth noting here that Brexit is not an easy process ... it will have an impact on the Ankara Agreement too, as it is considered European Union law.
"The government plans to make all European Union laws part of domestic law by an Act of Parliament and the unwanted laws will subsequently be selected and abolished in due course. This might mean that the Ankara Agreement will be enforceable as domestic law for years to come following Brexit unless … it will be specifically selected for abolition in the future.”
“Given the many more-central issues surrounding Brexit, it might take decades for the Ankara Agreement to be picked on,” Dogan added.
Future bilateral deal
However, Ambassador Bilgic said he had been reassured by British officials that there would be no change in the short-term.
Bilgic said: “Our counterparts underlined that until the U.K. officially leaves the EU, business will be as usual.
“All the applications under the Ankara Agreement will be processed as they are normally. The British officials also stressed that there will not be a slowdown during this process.”
However, Bilgic also signaled a possible bilateral agreement between Turkey and the U.K.
“Our governments have already begun working on future arrangements aiming at regulating post-Brexit relations so that free trade and investment continue uninterrupted,” he said.
Yasar Dogan also said a new arrangement could be reached in the future between the countries, but it may not be as straightforward as the opportunities provided by the current Ankara Agreement.
“Turkey and the United Kingdom have maintained close relationships and I personally expect a special arrangement for the free movement and establishment of Turkish citizens, at least those who would like to work in the United Kingdom as self-employed persons,” he said.
“However, if such a deal is entered into, I do not expect the new deal to be as flexible as the Ankara Agreement. I would expect that the United Kingdom would want to introduce a minimum investment threshold of around £50,000, and a requirement for Turkish applicants to have a reasonable command of the English language,” he added.( AA-By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal LONDON)
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Solicitor (Advocate Non Practising Barrister), Yasar Dogan explained:
What effects can be expected for such Turkish nationals after the UK's exit from the European Union?
The EC-Turkey Association Agreement known as the ‘Ankara Agreement’ is a treaty between Turkey and the European Union. In fact, this agreement was signed before the United Kingdom joined the European Union, and the United Kingdom became party to the Ankara Agreement when it joined the European Union in 1973. Therefore, when the United Kingdom will have exited from the European Union, it will no longer have any obligations under the Ankara Agreement.
Many Turkish citizens have benefited from the Ankara Agreement in obtaining leave to remain and settlement in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the so-called ‘standstill clause’ in the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, Turkish citizens have been able to apply for leave to remain and settlement as self-employed persons, and their applications have been assessed against the far more flexible Immigration Rules in force back in 1973. To give an example of the flexibility provided, a person who does not have the benefit of the Ankara Agreement will need to invest a minimum of £200,000 to make a successful application for leave to remain as an investor, whereas a Turkish citizen would only need to show that he or she has ‘adequate funds’ to set up their proposed business, which could be as little as a few thousand pounds.
Now, with Brexit just around the corner, Turkish citizens are faced with the risk of losing the advantages of the Ankara Agreement. When the United Kingdom has completed its exit from the European Union, it will no longer be a party to the Ankara Agreement. This might have an impact not only on new applicants, but also on people who have limited leave to remain under the Ankara Agreement, but have yet to obtained settled status. Those who have already obtained settled status will not be affected.
It is very early and limited information is available to make conclusive comments as to the precise impact of Brexit on Turkish citizens who would like to rely on the Ankara Agreement. Much of the political discussions have focused on the European Union citizens and thus far nothing has been said about Turkish citizens. Even the information released to the public in respect of the status of the European Union citizens has not been very clear. The information that has been released so far suggests that European Union citizens who have or will have entered the United Kingdom after a date to be determined will not be entitled to settlement in the United Kingdom. We have yet to know when this date will be. Therefore, at this stage, we can only speculate on the impact of Brexit on the immigrations status of Turkish and European Union citizens.
The government plans to trigger the withdrawal process at the end of March 2017, which will give the United Kingdom two years to decide the terms of its departure from the European Union. This date is of course still subject to Parliament’s approval of Brexit, following the recent Supreme Court ruling. This means that the earliest date when the United Kingdom will have left the European Union would be March 2019. One can therefore speculate that the individuals who have moved to the United Kingdom and have obtained some sort of immigration status in the country before March 2017 should be on a safe route leading to settlement in the United Kingdom. Those who will enter the United Kingdom between March 2017 and March 2019 should still have a reasonable chance of obtaining settlement in the United Kingdom, given that all European Union laws and regulations will remain in full force during this period. It is very difficult to foresee the position after March 2019, as the situation will depend heavily on the political negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
It is worth noting here that Brexit is not an easy process and it is expected to last much longer than 2 years. Especially, the legal impact of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union is expected to last much longer than the Brexit itself. Many legal areas in the English law are regulated by European Union law and to abolish all European made laws upon Brexit would lead to very significant legal problems. The government has proposed a sensible solution to this. All European Union laws will be made domestic law by an Act of Parliament and the unwanted laws will subsequently be selected and abolished in due course.
This might have an impact on the Ankara Agreement too, as it is considered as European Union law. It might mean that Ankara Agreement will be enforceable as domestic law for years to come following Brexit unless and until it will be specifically selected for abolition in the future. Given many more central issues surrounding Brexit, it might take decades for the Ankara Agreement to be picked on. Of course, this is only a speculation and the government might make it a priority to get rid of the Ankara Agreement.
To conclude, there is considerable uncertainty as to how Brexit will proceed and the impact it will have on the lives of many Turkish and European Union citizens. This makes it very hard for people to plan their lives and it also makes it very difficult for legal advisors to provide clear advise to their clients who are likely to be affected by the whole process. I hope that matters will becomes clearer in the near future, so that Turkish and European Union citizens who would like to live in the United Kingdom will be provided with more certainty.
2. Are there any planned negotiations between the UK and Turkish governments to reassure the statuses of such people?
I am not aware of any particular negotiations between the United Kingdom and Turkey in respect of the status of Turkish citizens who will be affected by Brexit. However, according to some news reports, there have been recent free trade talks between Turkey and the United Kingdom. It is not clear whether the free movement and establishment of citizens have been discussed as part of the deal. It would be quite sensible for Turkish official to approach British officials in respect of this matter if they have not already done so, as this issue presents great importance to many Turkish citizens.
Turkey and the United Kingdom have maintained close relationships and I personally expect a special arrangement for the free movement and establishment of Turkish citizens, at least of those who would like to work in the United Kingdom as self-employed persons. However, if such a deal is entered into, I do not expect the new deal to be as flexible as the Ankara Agreement. I would expect that the United Kingdom would want to introduce a minimum investment threshold of around £50,000, and a requirement for Turkish applicants to have a reasonable command of the English language (possibly at level B1).