Work Residence and Immigration in Turkey

By Ayten Gasimova
ADMD Law Office, Istanbul TURKEY

The main purpose of this brief information note is to discuss the issue of work and residence permits required for foreigners in order to reside and work in Turkey along with some information regarding permanent immigration regulations.

Work Permits:

In order to work in Turkey, foreigners should obtain a working visa. In addition to this, they will also need to get a working permit. The Law Concerning Work Permits of Expatriates No. 4817, dated March 6, 2003 has introduced fundamental changes in Turkish law. One of the most crucial changes is that the competent (expert) authority for the work permits will be the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The new law has introduced four (4) types of work permits. Each type will be discussed in detail below:

  • 1. Periodical/Definite: is usually given for maximum one year, taking into account factors such as the situation in the business market and etc. However, one should take into consideration that the duration may be extended up to three (3) years depending on conditions;
  • 2. Indefinite: is usually given in case when foreigners have been living in Turkey ‘legally and uninterruptedly' for at least eight (8) years or have had a total of six (6) years of working period in Turkey. Another important factor that needs to be mentioned is that under this type a work permit would be granted without any terms/conditions. However, foreigners will need to provide a certificate given by the police authorities. The next step will be to present all needed documents to the Ministry. Applicants should bear in mind that eight (8) years period does not include education time;
  • 3. Independent: will be given to those foreigners who reside in Turkey ‘legally and uninterruptedly‘ for at least five (5) years. In addition, any foreigner held to be suitable for an independent work permit, first will be provided a "Certificate of Application for Independent Work Permit". This certificate is valid for three (3) months from the date of its issue; and
  • 4. Exceptional: there are exceptions when a work permit will be issued independently from the terms listed by Law. These exceptions are:
  • 4.1. Foreigners married to Turkish Citizens and living in Turkey with their spouses who stay in Turkey legally. However, if the marriage breaks down before completing three (3) years, then the work permit becomes invalid;
  • 4.2. Foreigners Considered having Settled Down;
  • 4.3. Foreigners who have lost their Turkish Citizenship- this will only apply to those who are listed under articles 19, 27 and 28 of the Turkish Citizenship Law 403;
  • 4.4. Foreigners who have completed their studies/education in Turkey (Age of Maturity must be reached). However, there is an exception to this rule, which states that the work permit will be granted to those foreigners who have been born in Turkey or have come to Turkey before turning 18 on the condition that they must provide some evidence that they have graduated from any academy, university and etc. in Turkey;
  • 4.5. Foreigners who fit in within the scope of the Setting Law No. 2510;
  • 4.6. Citizens of EU Countries, including their spouse and children;
  • 4.7. Foreigners Commissioned with the Representations of Embassies, Consulates and International Institutions in Turkey, including their spouse and children;
  • 4.8. Foreigners Coming on a Short-Term Basis for Scientific, Cultural and Sportive Purposes;
  • 4.9. Foreigners featuring the Status of Key Personnel; and
  • 4.10. Work Permits of Foreign Instructors at Schools active in the framework of Embassies or Consulates in Turkey, Foreigners Commissioned with Cultural Institutions as well as Foreigners to be commissioned with Religious Institutions.

As mentioned above, according to Turkish legislation, before applying for a visa to work in Turkey as an administrative or technical employee, an expatriate must first obtain a work permit. For this work permit it is necessary to establish that the applicant has adequate technical and/or administrative knowledge.

According to the Law on Work Permit of Foreigners No. 4817, dated March 6, 2003, foreign personnel that will be employed in Turkey will need first to apply to the Turkish Consulate abroad in order to obtain his/her work permit before entering Turkey. However, if the foreign personnel is in Turkey for the last six (6) months and/or if he/she is a married to a Turkish citizen, he/she may directly apply to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Turkey since the mentioned Ministry has right to grant, extent and cancel the work permits for foreigners to be employed in Turkey.

In addition to all said above, it is also important for enterprises to know that in order to employ foreign citizens, they must apply to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security with the following documents:

Documents Requested From the Foreign Personnel:

  • Petition;
  • Application form (four (4) sets);
  • Passport copy (Notarized and translated into Turkish);
  • Diploma copy (Notarized and translated into Turkish) (It shall be noted that this is a University degree requirement and in addition a Turkish High Education Board Equivalence decision may be required for the employee. In some circumstances for such application of a decision even the High School degree may be requested by officials);
  • In case the application is made in Turkey, valid residence permit;
  • Curriculum Vitae;
  • For the foreigners married to a Turkish citizen, copy of identification registry; and
  • For the foreigners married to a Turkish citizen, notarized copy of marriage certificate.

Documents Requested From the Company Employing the Foreign Personnel:

  • Petition;
  • Balance sheet and profit/loss table approved by the tax office for the last year;
  • Trade Registry Gazette proving the share structure of the Company;
  • For the institutions that acquired the right to conduct the projects of international tenders opened by governmental institutions and organizations, the documents indicating the fact that they have undertaken the work from the relevant institutions and organizations; and
  • For the legal persons that will employ foreign expert personnel within the framework of engineering, architecture, constructor and consultancy services, the copies of the payroll proving the fact that Turkish engineer/architect/city planner is also employed and service contract of the foreign personnel.

It is normally not possible to obtain a work permit for the expatriate's family members unless each, separately, is able to qualify a work permit based on his or her own skills and qualifications. However, according to the new law, periodical work permit may be granted also to the expatriate's spouse, who he/she has brought along with him/her or later and his/her children, who are in need of his/her support.

Once the Work Permit is granted, a Working Visa should be obtained from the Turkish Consulate in the expatriate's own country before applying for a Residence Permit.

Work Permits for Foreign Key Personnel:

According to the Direct Foreign Investments Law No. 4875, dated June 17, 2003 foreigners that hold key personnel status and are employed in foreign direct investments with exceptional features (investments above tresholds to be mentioned below) have a right to file their applications for work permits at the representations (consulates) of the Turkish Republic in the countries they are citizens of or in the countries they reside.

These applications will be transfered by the representations to the Ministry of Labour. Communication between the two on the issue of work permit will be held by e-email and the procedure is swifter compared with a regular application. In addition, the employer of the foreigner will need to submit the required documents to the Ministry along with the application form within three (3) days since the date of the application.

Moreover, after receiving work permit, key personnel have to apply to the representations of the Turkish Republic abroad for work visa within ninety (90) days since the date of their receipt of the work permit and apply to the Ministry of the Interior for a residence permit within thirty (30) days following their entry to Turkey (will be discussed below).

If key personnel previously received a residence permit-with the exception of residence permits given for education in Turkey-with minimum six (6) months period, for any reason, and have been granted a work permit within this permit, he/she is not required to obtain a work visa from the representations of the Turkish Republic abroad.

The documents listed below need to be handed in along with the work pemrit applications of key personnel in order to be employed in foreign direct investments with exceptional features:

  • Documents certifying that the total shares owned by foreign shareholders is valued at least TRL 636.666 (documents such as company endorsed book records, company endorsed balance sheet, Xerox copy of Trade Registry Gazette);
  • Documents certifying that the exports realized by the company or the branch office during the previous year has been at least USD 1.000.000 (documents such as bank receipt certifying the export amount, bank letter, Xerox copy of foreign currency buying note, company endorsed income statement);
  • Documents certifying that the turnover of the company or the branch office for the previous year has been minimum TRL 47.749.979 (documents such as company endorsed income statement);
  • Documents certifying that the company or the branch office employed at least 250 personnel registered to the Social Security Authority (SSK) during the previous year, documents certifying the case such as SSK lists;
  • In case the company or the branch office is yet to make investments, documents certifying that the projected fixed investment amount is at least TRL 15.916.659 such as Investment Incentive Certificate, Tourism Incentive Certificate; and
  • Certificate of Activity or Activity Report or letter from the officially authorized organizations of the related country certifying that the company has at least one foreign direct investment besides the country its head office is located at, and letter of assignment certifying that the subject key personnel have been assigned by the main company headquartered abroad.

Extension of Work Permits:

Extension of a work permit has to be made fifteen (15) days before its date of expiry at the latest. Extension applications made after such deadline will be considered as initial applications by the Ministry rather than renewal applications. These applications may as well be made earlier, provided that they are filed within the two-months (2) before the expiry date of the work permit. In case a work permit is extended, the date of initiation of the extended work permit is the date of expiry of the expired work permit which makes more practical to apply in the last fifteen (15) days.

Residence Permits:

According to Turkish Regulations, the application for a residence permit should be made personally by the foreigner (in practice application may be made by an agent however the individual must at least be present once for facial confirmation) to the Police Department Foreigners Bureau.

With regards to family members of the expatriate, residence permits for all of them for the period of the expatriate's employment shall also be obtained. However, in case of a delay of the work visa process/procedure, the expatriate may be granted a temporary residence permit for three (3) to twelve (12) months for touristic purposes. The applicant should take into consideration that the residence permit is normally issued within one week.

The required documents for residence permit application made to the related Police Department are the following:

  • Two (2) declaration forms;
  • Two (2) work statement forms;
  • Seven (7) photos of foreign personnel;
  • Petition prepared by the Company that will employ the expatriate;
  • Work permit obtained from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security; and
  • Passport of foreign personnel.

In addition the applicant will need to exchange USD 1.000.- per month for short term (less than six (6) months) application and USD 300.- per month (more than six (6) months) for long term applications into Turkish Lira and submit the receipt along with the applicaiton. This amount of exchange is to prove that the applicant could support the expenses of his/her stay in Turkey and could be reexchanged or used directly without any regard to the application and the sole requirement is to produce such excahnge receipt.

Finally, another important aspect to take into account is that in case of the expiry of residence permit, the foreigner has to make an inquiry to the authorities within fifteen (15) days in order to extend the expired residence permit.

Issues Regarding Access and Immigration:

According to the Turkish Passport Law No. 5682, dated July 24, 1950 foreigners who wish to enter the country, needs to obtain a visa from the Turkish authorities (please note that there are exceptions for visa requirements for entry and stay for citizens of some countries announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). One should bear in mind that there are three (3) types of entry visas for Turkey:

  1. Single Entry Visa: this kind of visa is valid for one year from the date of issue and grants the right of one entry;
  2. Return Visa: while leaving Turkey, an expatriate may obtain a return visa before he/she departs (such visa is valid for one year from the departure date); and
  3. Multiple Entry Visa: this type of visa provides an entry right for a period of three (3), six (6), or twelve (12) months.

Information for Non-European Nationals Seeking Asylum in Turkey:

Under Article 6 of the Turkish Citizenship Law No. 403, dated February 11, 1964 there is a list of requirements to be met in order to acquire Turkish citizenship:

  • To be at the age required by the laws of the national laws;
  • To have resided in Turkey for at least five (5) years before the application date;
  • Having confirmed with behavior the intent to settle in Turkey;
  • Having good morality; not having an illness presenting a threat to public health;
  • Speaking sufficient Turkish; and
  • Having sufficient income to support himself/herself and those who are dependent on him/her.

In addition to Article 6, Article 7 of the Citizenship Law titled ‘Exceptional Granting of Citizenship', refers to those who are of Turkish origin, their children and spouses who are among those who will be granted citizenship exceptionally. As a result, immigrants will no longer be referred to as foreigners living in Turkey if they are granted citizenship.

As for the Refugee and Asylum Seekers status in Turkey, it needs to be mentioned that Turkey is a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (Geneva Convention) and its 1967 Additional Protocol. Turkey used an opportunity given under Article 1 (B) (a) of the Convention which gives a Geographical Limitation.

According to this provision, it is up to the contracting parties to decide whether to apply the Convention to people escaping from their own countries as a result of events taking place in Europe before January 1, 1951. Moreover, at the time of signing the Convention, Turkey has made use of the geographical limitation as well as the time limitation. Nonetheless, the time limitation was put aside when Turkey was signing the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Accordingly the provisions of the Convention only apply to those refugees and asylum seekers who enter Turkey from the "European countries" (including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Belorussia, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and other continental European countries).

As a result of the remaining limitation, according to the Turkish legislation a refugees is defined as ‘an alien who is outside his/he country and cannot or is reluctant to enjoy the protection provided by his/her country of origin; or in case of stateless persons who is reluctant to go back to the country he/she previously resided, due to a well founded fear of prosecution based on his/her race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular group or political opinion as a result of events taking place in Europe'.

Foreigners who are willing to apply for refugee status must approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (hereinafter, referred to as UNHCR) Offices in Turkey in order to submit their application forms. One should bear in mind that in order to do so foreigners must follow two (2) separate procedures. The first procedure is known as ‘The Temporary Asylum Procedure of the Government of Turkey' and the second one is ‘The Refugee Status Determination Procedure of UNHCR'.  It is up to the Turkish Government to decide whether or not to qualify foreigners with a temporary asylum under the 1994 Asylum Regulation and 1951 Geneva Convention. While refugees wait for UNHCR to evaluate their claims, they are usually required to live in one of thirty (30) ‘satellite cities' throughout Turkey.

UNHCR reviews applications for refugee status according to the 1950 Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other United Nations General Assembly resolutions. It needs to be mentioned that UNHCR refugee status determination can take from eight (8) months to over a year. In order to remain in Turkey legally, all asylum seekers are under an obligation to register themselves and their family members with the highest administrative officer within five (5) days of entry to Turkish territory. Similarly, those who enter the country illegally are forced to apply for asylum at the point of entry. On the other hand, they are at the risk of missing the deadline, as they are obliged to travel long distances. In addition to this, asylum seekers will get additional/extra fifteen (15) days in order to present valid documents to the authorities. However, it needs to be taken into account that asylum seekers do not usually have any valid documents while crossing the borders.

Therefore, according to Article 8 (3) of the Law on Settlement No. 2510, dated June 14, 1934 [revised at 2006], all immigrants will have to sign a ‘citizenship declaration' and to get an ‘immigrant paper' which is usually regarded as a birth certificate and is valid for two years. It should be kept in mind that those who are accepted as immigrants would instantly be given citizenship by the Council of Ministers. However, those who have not reached maturity age will be connected to their parents or their relatives. On the other hand, minors who are not accompanied while arriving will be given citizenship regardless of their age.

Apart from all mentioned above, asylum seekers need to submit applications to the Ministry of Interior (hereinafter, referred to as MOI) as well as UNCHR. It needs to be mentioned that Turkey gives only temporary asylum to non-European refugees. The reason behind this is that refugee status is usually kept for Europeans. However, those who are granted refugee status are usually resettled to third countries.

Next important factor is that under the Asylum Regulation of 1994 asylum seekers, who are not granted a refugee status, may then get residence permits on humanitarian grounds. On the other hand, if the application gets a rejection, then the asylum seeker has a right to protest the decision. Even if the decision remains the same, the applicant can still file a suit before the courts. This may lead to suspension of deportation procedures as appeals and case re-openings could take years. It needs to be kept in mind that deportation is not a judicial but an administrative procedure according to Turkish law.  As a result, applicants with lawyers can still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter, referred to as ECHR). It therefore can order the Government to stop from deporting the applicant.

Another important issue to discuss is that UNCHR might recognize some persons who have escaped violence under ‘extended mandate', such as Somalis. Moreover, it could also be individuals from Cote d'Ivoire and Sudan. This could be referred to as secondary protection, which in practice is not recognized by Turkish law; therefore it does not provide any protection from arrest or deportation.

Already discussed above, third country nationals of Turkish origin will need to sign a ‘citizenship declaration' in order to apply for an immigrant status. Moreover, they will also need to get an ‘immigrant paper', regarded as a birth certificate. As a result, those accepted as immigrants, will be immediately granted citizenship. In addition, one should keep in mind that if a third country national of Turkish origin decides to maintain his/her nationality and chooses not to apply for an immigrant status, he/she will still get a special treatment as Foreigners of Turkish descent have a privileged status with regards to right to work, meaning that they can work at any public or private institution with an exception of the Turkish Armed Forces and Security Forces.

On the other hand, this does not mean that applications would be rejected just because the applicant comes from outside Europe. In addition, asylum seekers need to take into account the fact that when they come to Turkey form outside Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is informed about the application. These asylum seekers are interviewed and registered by the UNHCR. Therefore, if they are listed as refugees, then they will only enjoy temporary residence in Turkey until the UNCHR office in Turkey place positions them in a third country.

As can be analyzed, Turkey is not very sympathetic to asylum seekers, especially those coming from Iran or Iraq. This will be discussed in more detail in the following section.

Iranian and Iraqi Refugees:

Turkey does not grant refugee status to Iranian or Iraqi asylum-seekers due its geographical limitation (1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees). As a result, they are usually sent to third countries. However, these refugees are subject to some of the asylum and protection procedures provided by the UNCHR along with the Turkish authorities during the period of their stay in Turkey. It needs to be mentioned that they have to accomplish definite criteria for refugees in order for them to be settled in third countries. In addition, asylum seekers have to through several interviews, and those who fail to meet the basic refugee criteria, which includes language, nationality, his/her race or not being protected by the country of citizenship, are usually rejected. However, as it was already discussed above, asylum seekers have a right to appeal, but if the appeal process does not lead to any changes, then asylum seekers are under the risk of being sent back to their host countries.