Nowadays, Turkish citizens loudly complain about the EU refusing their Schengen visa applications. Social media is replete with posts on their own experience of how EU consulates in Turkey rejected their applications. Several media outlets are increasingly covering the issue, sharing the stories of Turkish citizens who missed a job opportunity, a festival, or a summer vacation. In tandem with public grievances, a deputy of the Turkish government has even filed a complaint report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The available data indeed supports the complaints of Turkish citizens. The EU countries more and more turn down their visa applications. The refusal rate for all types of Schengen visa applications reached 19 percent in 2021, up from 13.78 percent in 2020, 10.45 percent in 2018, and just 4% in 2014. We do not have the statistics for 2022, yet the anecdotal evidence suggests that it went much worse compared to 2021. While the Turkish government complains about the arbitrariness of the EU authorities and accuses the EU of undermining the AKP government before the elections that will be held within a year by not issuing Schengen visas, there are several factors in play.
To begin with, we should understand how the EU consulates evaluate visa applications. In this vein, we should cite the EU Visa Code, which sets out the procedures and conditions for issuing Schengen visas. Article 21 of the code reads: “in the examination of an application for a uniform visa, … particular consideration shall be given to assessing whether the applicant presents a risk of illegal immigration or a risk to the security of the Member States and whether the applicant intends to leave the territory of the Member States before the expiry of the visa applied for.” To this end, the consular officers are under normal circumstances equipped with “well-drafted country assessments of migratory risk that summarise the socio-economic situation in the country, particular risk profiles, and regions.” In other words, the socio-economic dynamics in a given country that could pave the way for illegal immigration is the primary concern of the EU countries in issuing visas. Thus, a golden rule in issuing visas is ensuring the applicant will not overstay.
As the EU guidelines point out, the socio-economic situation of a country is of utmost importance in the risk assessment for EU consulate officers. So, what changes in Turkey increased the migratory risk of the Turkish citizens applying for Schengen visas and thus, led to growing refusals of their visa applications in recent years?
Firstly, Turkey's economic performance is the paramount factor in the growing refusal of visa applications. The deterioration in the Turkish economy and the purchasing power gives the impression to the EU member states that fewer and fewer applicants have visibly sufficient financial incentives to return. Turkey’s GDP per capita has been declining since 2013, from 12,615 dollars in 2013 to 8,536 dollars in 2020. The net reserves of the Central Bank of Turkey are minus 54.3 billion dollars in July 2022 compared to 131 billion dollars in 2013. Turkey’s inflation rates have been ballooning during the last year, and the current consumer inflation rate is 78.6%, though it is widely believed that it is underreported. Turkey has also been suffering from chronic high unemployment, which further deepened because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Parallel to this grim outlook, the EU countries increasingly refuse to let Turkish citizens in the EU, who can potentially seek job opportunities in the continent by exploiting their visa status, compared to previous years. The worse Turkey’s economy gets, the more Turkish applicants are refused.
Another factor that plays a role in the visa decision-making process is whether the applicant presents a risk of seeking asylum. Considering the fact that between 1,5 million and 2 million Turkish citizens have been investigated under the lax terrorism laws in the last six years and the partiality of the Turkish judiciary in terrorism charges,the caution exercised by the EU consular missions is nothing but expected. Parallel to the democratic backsliding of recent years, there has indeed been an exponential increase in asylum applications by Turkish nationals. Figures released by Eurostat showed that more than 100,000 Turkish citizens applied for asylum in the EU countries following the coup attempt in 2016. While fewer than 4,000 Turkish citizens sought asylum in the EU countries in 2015, this figure skyrocketed to 20,310 in 2021. The overall pattern from recent indicators is that the exodus of Turkish nationals continues. Moreover, the Dublin III regulation puts the primary responsibility to process the asylum applications on the EU member state, which issued the visa that enabled an asylum seeker to enter the Schengen zone.
To sum up, taking into account Turkey’s worsening economic outlook and its precipitous democratic decline, the increase in the refusal of Schengen visa applications in Turkey is not surprising. This trend will probably get worse until the stabilization of the Turkish economy. Nonetheless, as many Turkish economists and politicians rightly argue, there is a correlation between the economic crisis and democratic backsliding in Turkey. It is not hard to draw a parallel between Turkey’s constant decline in the WJP rule of law index, the Freedom House scores, indicators that show the strength of the economy, and the increase in the refusal of visa applications of Turkish citizens. Unless Turkey breaks this vicious circle, the complaints about Schengen visas will just constitute one of the symptoms of Turkey’s underlying woes.