New regulations for foreigners lack flexibility, researcher says

New regulations for foreigners lack flexibility, researcher says

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New regulations for foreigners lack flexibility, researcher says New regulations regarding the residence of foreigners in Turkey have improved long out-of-date laws, but their lack of flexibility is hurting many non-Turkish residents, according to an Austrian researcher in Turkey.

“[Long-term residents] were not taken into consideration. Within the transition phase, you may need more flexibility for people who have been living here for a long time,” Barbara Pusch said. “When the law was pushed through, they had another problem in mind, and that is the Syrian problem.”

How would you summarize Turkey’s approach to immigrants and foreigners coming to Turkey?

You said foreigners. We could start with terminology. In Turkish we have “‘yabancı’ [foreigner] and ‘göçmen’ [immigrant]; the latter means they are usually of Turkish origin and Muslim. Turkey has a very long tradition of immigration [of ethnic Turks and Muslims]. And of course there have always been foreigners coming in the past like the German community, et cetera. But in terms of rights there has always been a huge difference.

For example, migrants used to be naturalized in very easy ways. But for foreigners for instance, there was a law dating from the 1930s which stayed in force until 2003 which banned 72 professions for foreigners. I have heard a lot of stories about irregular work. A person ran a factory with 300 workers without a residence permit herself. She was not illegal; she [went and did a visa run] every three months. But now this [Turkey’s approach] is in the process of changing.

How is it different than other EU countries, for instance?

I am never regarded as a migrant in the Turkish context, for instance. I am considered a foreigner but other people [of Turkish decent], even with foreign passports, are not considered foreigners. This makes a lot of difference in the legal system but also from the social perspective. The migrants are always regarded as “from us.” I have been living in Istanbul longer than some Istanbulites, but I will remain a foreigner until the end because my name is Barbara, I am from Austria and I am not Muslim. I am not saying it as a criticism but the difference is that you call a migrant anyone that crosses another country; in Turkey, they label as migrants those [who are ethnic] Turks and Muslims. Others are foreigners.

What does it say about Turkey?

On the one hand, Turkey has a very long history of de facto migration. On the other hand, all the problems migrants have faced have been underestimated because they are regarded as the little brother; like people coming from Bulgaria. But they also had their own dramas. This is only newly being discussed; it used to be a taboo for a very long time. 

You said Turkey’s traditional approach is in the course of changing.

There is a huge change. Most of the laws were made in the 1930s, and they stayed in force until 2003, which was a turning point as a new law on work permits came out and was followed by a lot of new regulations.

Was it purely a Justice and Development Party (AKP) initiative or was it the culmination of earlier work?

It’s rather the second. The AKP government is an important player but at that stage it was done within the EU harmonization process. And of course we have to underline that with the outdated law and regulations, the situation was no longer possible to manage. By the 2000s, a lot had changed; more foreign investment was wanted while tourism increased. Also the conflicts around the borders increased. In addition, the Turkish population was getting older. With the population getting older and more women joining the workforce, care work [child care, care for the elderly and those with disabilities] were provided by foreign women as domestic workers. This was another change; initially, it was not possible to get work permits for these women, but since 2012, it has been possible, and this is the main reason why we have had an enormous increase in work permits since 2012, for instance. 

But the changes in 2003 remained insufficient, especially regarding residency and refugees. A diverse migration population started to come to the country, so work started again on a new law on residence permits. In 2013, the law on foreigners and international protection was endorsed which deals with residence permits, and there is also a draft law on work permits.

How are they? Are they to EU standards?

Yes and no. There are some aspects that do not fit into our globalized world. But the most positive thing is that for the first time in Turkey’s migration history, we have a permanent residence permit; this did not exist for foreign nationals. But there are still problems with it.

We come from a certain system; we had migration laws, but they were old; in fact, they did not work. So there was a de facto laissez-faire migration policy. Everybody used the loopholes – it was not illegal but practical. Now we have new laws and we have permanent residence, but we are in a transition period. Some of the problems result from the transition from the laissez-faire system to a regulated system, and lots of people are facing lots of bureaucracy and don’t have any rights [anymore].

For example, before we had this new law, people were able to extend their residence permits even when they applied long after it expired. Now they find themselves not fulfilling the requirements for long-term residence permits because there are interruptions in their short-term residence permits. But in the past there was no such thing as permanent residence permits, and so they could not foresee that in the future they will have to have uninterrupted short-term residence permits to get a permanent one.

In the past, short-term residence permits were granted for five years, but now it is for one year, and people who have been living here for 20 years [and who cannot have permanent residence] have to apply every year for a residence permit.

People used to live in the country according to another system and now they have to start from scratch. On the south coast, the Germans who have been living here for decades and bought property have the feeling that they are not wanted anymore. 

Do you think the laws and regulations are designed because they are not wanted?

They were not taken into consideration. Within the transition phase, you may need more flexibility for people who have been living here for a long time. Because there was a different system, all the things they have done are now worthless. I don’t think the government wanted to do that. When the law was pushed through, they had another problem in mind, and that is the Syrian problem. 

They have not thought about the side effects of the law for other groups which are not the main focus in the current situation. But the number of Germans residing in Turkey for instance is between 90,000 and 120,000, and that is bigger than certain minorities in Turkey. 

The law was designed according to the newcomers, according to those who come for the first time and a transition for those who were already here [was not thought about and foreseen]. They were never the problematic group; but now they feel very much disadvantaged. Some Germans I have talked to said they were planning to leave.

And also there is another problem. The law was implemented at a time when Syrians were coming. But the numbers became much higher than expected. The new law includes the establishment of a completely new bureaucracy. Previously, the foreigner police was in charge of residence permits; now we have a Directorate-General for Migration. You have a completely different staff; they don’t have enough personnel. This, in combination with other factors, has caused chaos. It is the chaos of transition, but I think many things will be solved. 

You talked about certain aspects that do not suit the realities of the globalized world.

When you want to obtain a permanent residence permit, you are only allowed to stay out of the country a certain amount of days. First, you have to have lived in Turkey for the past eight years. The number of days you can stay outside of Turkey during the last five years should not exceed 350 days. But this does not fit modern times. How can you be a global player with this approach? To be a transnational player, you have to be mobile. Think how much a businessperson or a professor needs to travel; and they could do family visits as well. 

And on the one-year residence permit, you are only allowed to stay 120 days abroad. Suppose a retired German goes to Germany for Christmas and he gets ill and gets treatment in Germany but then exceeds 120 days; the residence permit will be cancelled and he will not be allowed to apply again. But that person had bought property here. It was not done on purpose, but nobody thought about these things in advance.

Most of the work permits are granted for a definite period of time, but a work permit is not only granted for a short period of one, two or three years; the main problem is that they are granted for one job in one company. In fact, you are not flexible on the labor market. In 2013 only 94 work permits for an indefinite period of time were granted, while 45,000 work permits for a definite time were granted. This shows there is no long-term inclusion for foreigners.

Who is Barbara Pusch?

New regulations for foreigners lack flexibility, researcher says

Barbara Pusch studied sociology, Turkology, philosophy, and ethnology at the University of Vienna. She began her academic career with a master’s thesis focusing on Turkish girls in Vienna. Barbara received her PhD at the University of Vienna with a dissertation about the green movement in Turkey before completing various post-doctoral projects on women and Islam in Turkey.

She now concentrates on migration studies as her main research topic and has been involved in several international work-groups and projects on migration to and through Turkey. Most recently, as a research fellow at the Orient-Institut Istanbul, she has focused on Turkey as a target country for migration, German citizens in Turkey, remigration, and German-Turkish transnationalization. As a Mercator-Istanbul Policy Center 2014/2015 Fellow, Pusch is conducting a research project titled ‘Dual Citizenship and other Modes of Legal Membership in the Transnational German-Turkish Space.’