Ankara Agreement visa holders in dire condition due to coronavirus
NALAN KOÇAK- Istanbul
Turks staying in the U.K on the Ankara Agreement visa are in dire condition due to an ambiguity in the routine agreement guideline published by the Home Office, a solicitor and visa holders have told Hürriyet Daily News.
The visa scheme is based on the 1963 Ankara Agreement between Turkey and the European Economic Community, a predecessor to the European Union. The scheme has been in use by Turkish businesspeople and their families who moved to the U.K. to establish new businesses. More than 30,000 Turkish businesspeople entered the U.K. on the Ankara Agreement visa (ECCA businesspersons visa) since 2000, according to the official figures.
As the visa regime is set to expire next year as a result of Brexit, the last beneficiaries of the visa face challenges due to coronavirus pandemic.
A visa holder and solicitor who spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News said that although the emergency financial help package - announced by the U.K. government to ease the economic effects of the coronavirus - does not differentiate between the visa types, Ankara Agreement beneficiaries are afraid to apply to the financial help due to discrepancies in the visa guideline.
“The guideline of the Ankara Agreement is announced - renewed - every March 31 of the year, but in this year’s guideline, no reference was given to the pandemic. Thus the beneficiaries, who haven’t yet obtained their permanent residence permit, are afraid to apply to the financial help package due to the risk that their visas may get annulled,” Semira Dilgil, a solicitor from London, has said.
Earlier, visa holders were afraid that the emergency financial fund announced by the U.K government would not cover the Ankara Agreement as their visa type does not grant access to public funds, stated on their visa stamp as “No Public Funds.” But Home Office officials, speaking to Hurriyet Daily News, have cleared the ambiguity on the public funds issue.
“The U.K. Government is committed to doing whatever it takes to support the British people, and those who have leave to remain in the U.K., through this crisis. We have brought forward many measures which can be accessed by migrants who have leave to remain. These measures include the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, rent and mortgage protections. These are all open to those with no recourse to public funds. A person who holds valid leave as an ECAA business person is able to access the COVID 19 related schemes described,” an email statement said.
But according to Dilgil, visa holders still refrain from applying for financial help package as the schemes mentioned above are self-contradictory.
“It’s true that the emergency funding comprises all visa holders but when it comes to extending your visa, Home Office states that the visa holders are still bound by the Ankara Agreement criteria. These criteria include sustaining livelihood without financial help, proving the demand for the aforementioned business in the U.K. market. When you put these two together, there is a risk that the authorities may reject visa extension applications based on these criteria. So, the statements are self-contradictory. They have made a special statement on the company owners, as they are entitled to an aid equivalent of 80 percent of their salaries - if the company cannot generate income anymore - and that aid is not counted as a public fund. But there is no statement of other visa holders so far,” she said.
‘This amounts to discrimination’
Dilgil stated that the newcomers to the U.K. are in the direst condition. The fear is that they may not be able to generate income - which is the condition to extend their visas - as a result of the coronavirus crisis. There is no reference/exception for those vulnerable groups in the recent Ankara Agreement guideline as well.
A visa holder in London, speaking to Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity, said that despite paying taxes and fulfilling conditions, they are afraid to apply for financial funds.
“This amounts to discrimination and the ambiguity may be intentional. I have been in the e-commerce business for the last one-and-a-half years. I used to have employees. But I still pay my rent, my taxes and I try to support my ex-employees,” she said.
Thus, according to Dilgil, a revision must be made to the latest Ankara Agreement guideline, in a way that includes the special conditions created by the COVID-19 crisis and to address the ambiguities. To get their voices heard, the solicitors representing the visa holders have sent letters to politicians including Home Secretary Priti Patel, but have not received an answer yet.