Turkey’s new immigration agency, The Migration Directorate, has experienced growing pains. Also, Turkey has declared a state of emergency following recent violent events.
New Migration Directorate
On April 12, 2014, Law No. 6458, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, went into effect for the Republic of Turkey. This new law made vast changes to work and residence permit eligibility and procedure, as well as changes in visa and immigration processing. The statute created a new government entity, the Migration Directorate, under the Interior Ministry. This article briefly reviews the creation and growing pains associated with the new immigration agency.
Database system problems. When the Migration Directorate was created, it was designated as of April 2015 to transfer processing of all residence permits from the Foreigner’s Police Department to the new agency. With that move came a new online system to schedule residence permit appointments, complete and submit applications, and upload supporting documents. As with any new database system, the Migration Directorate experienced many problems with the smooth operation of the online system and with migrating the accumulated data of foreigners already in the Police database to the Migration Directorate database.
Database problems included complete shutdowns of the online system or lock-up of certain applications only (e.g., renewals vs. initial applications), presumably for upgrades. These occasional shutdowns have persisted through summer 2016.
Limitation on entry to applicants and attorneys. The Migration Directorate also has endeavored to limit the number of users it must serve. As of fall 2015, it began to bar any individual who was not the applicant or a certified Turkish attorney. This makes the Migration Directorate the only Turkish government administrative agency that requires attorneys to make filings and inquiries.
General slowdown and growing backlog. Clearly the intent of the Turkish government was to fund a new and more efficient immigration agency to speed up processing of residence permits and shorten appointment backlogs. Unfortunately, thus far that has not been accomplished.
For example, under the Migration Directorate, residence permit renewal applications can now be filed by post and do not require an in-person appointment. However, the Directorate soon became so overwhelmed with deliveries of renewal applications that thousands of applications piled up in the office depot un-reviewed. The problem is that dependents in renewals almost always need a travel document to use upon status expiration. Travel (exit) documents are only being issued for renewals upon personal appearance as long as the renewal application has been recorded. Given the piling up of the renewal applications, they are not being recorded timely, so applicants not only end up not avoiding in-person appearances but experience great difficulties in obtaining travel documents.
To avoid this problem, many who could normally file renewal applications are choosing to file as initial applicants instead, and consequently the backlog for appointments to file initial residence permit applications in Istanbul (the city with the most foreigners in Turkey) has grown to 6 months.
New procedural requirements. Since spring 2015, the Migration Directorate has endeavored to further change procedures regarding foreign documents. One example is that it has drafted a communique requiring foreign biographical documents for residence permit cases to be apostilled. Ironically, such documents submitted to the Labor Ministry for work permits do not require an apostille. These new procedures have added further to the burden on applicants.
In all, the overall goal of more efficient processing of residence permits by creating a new government agency has not been achieved. This is unfortunate; however, the additional burden on the agency over the same time period created by an influx of three million Syrian nationals clearly has made this goal particularly difficult to achieve.
Violent Events and State of Emergency
It remains to be seen what effects the recent violent events in Turkey will have on the numbers of applications being filed and on other immigration issues. The Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency for a period of 90 days beginning July 21, 2016. Although no measure has been adopted yet by the Council under the state of emergency, several measures may be taken, including but not limited to prohibiting residence in specific areas, restricting entrance to and exit from specific residential areas, suspension of education at private or public educational institutions, seizing communication tools and materials, demolishing buildings deemed as posing a danger, ordering curfews, prohibiting walking around and gathering of people and transportation, searching people and confiscating property, prohibition of publications, supervision of broadcasting and videotaping, and prohibiting certain persons and communities from entering into Turkish territory and certain areas or removing them.