Many Turks miss job and education opportunities, are unable to visit friends and family abroad or jet off on vacation in Europe recently, as refusal rates for Schengen visas have increased almost fivefold since 2014.
A 23-year-old Turkish woman faced “complete disappointment” when she was rejected a visa to enter the Netherlands in July after working tirelessly to earn a spot at her dream internship.
She is one of countless Turkish students whose hopes of studying abroad or interning at a company in Europe are being crushed by a staggering increase in Schengen visa rejections.
The student, who requested anonymity as her appeal is still in process, tells TRT World that she believes the European Union (EU) countries are “punishing” Türkiye by shutting their doors to Turkish nationals due to unjustified concerns.
“The visa issue seems to have turned into a weapon in their hands, and they do not hesitate to victimise Turkish citizens,” she says.
Schengen visa refusal rates for Turkish nationals have spiked almost fivefold since 2014, according to Schengen visa statistics.
In 2021, at least 239,099 people from Türkiye applied for a form of Schengen visa and 30,444 were rejected, at a refusal rate of over 16.5 percent compared to 4 percent in 2014.
According to a report submitted by Türkiye to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), EU countries are deliberately complicating the visa process.
Turks have reported facing long queues for limited application slots, high application fees that are non-refundable and longer processing times due to higher scrutiny.
Most of the countries also do not have available appointment slots and those who do are either taking a long time to process applications or simply rejecting them, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
Of the 26 Schengen countries, Finland was the most likely to reject applicants from Türkiye in 2021 at 39.45 percent, followed by Norway at 38.4 percent, the Netherlands at a rate of 26.7 percent and Sweden at 26.2 percent.
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The reasons for visa refusals, if even given, oftentimes seem unjustified to applicants.
One of the most common reasons for visa rejections is that the applicant supplied an insufficient explanation of the purpose and circumstances of their planned stay – in other words there’s “suspicions” over applicants overstaying their visa duration.
But these suspicions often seem based on subjective interpretation of the candidate's situation as documents to prove otherwise are often overlooked, applicants explain to TRT World.
This was the case of the 23-year-old Turkish student who wished to intern for two months at the Netherlands' International Institute of Social History as part of the European Union student exchange programme Erasmus.
Despite her visa application containing many official documents to support her case – such as her Erasumus grant, a working agreement from the institution and her Erasmus learning agreement – the Netherlands said the “purpose of entry to the country was not clearly stated”.
Her refusal letter also explained that the Netherlands has doubts that she will return to Türkiye when the internship ends – it particularly “emphasised illegal migration” concerns.
“I had also included my master's admission at SOAS University of London. Even this was proof that I would come back, but I don't think the visa officers are examining the files of Turkish citizens properly,” she tells TRT World.
“Although my purpose of going is Erasmus and I have put in a ton of documents about it, I came across (this) answer… as if my purpose of going is not clear, as if I was kidding,” she adds.
TRT World spoke to other Turks experiencing similar situations, about their frustration over missing job and education opportunities, being unable to visit friends and family abroad or jet off on vacation.
Despite having studied in Sweden for Erasmus and having visited the Schengen region regularly for two years, Hazal, who wished to withhold her surname, was rejected a visa when she applied this year in January.
The European country also found “not enough reasons” for her to return to Türkiye, despite having done so multiple times in the past.
“So it implies that I am so desperate and their country is made out of gold and silver so I need to stay there. It implies that I would break the law and regulations to stay there,” she says. "No, I don't want to live there. I am happy with my work, and my life here.”
Hazal says the rejection was “very disappointing” as she saw the “two faces” Schengen countries present to the world by preaching freedom of movement and individual rights yet turning Turks away.
“I was shocked to see that these were all lies at the end or these were only for their own people," she adds.
Aside from the emotional drainage, applying for a Schengen visa also is a burden on the applicants’ wallet.
The non-refundable standard cost of an application alone is around $80 for adults and $40 for children ages 6-12, according to the Schengen Visa site.
Alongside the fee, Schengen visa applications require many documents that can be financial burdens to obtain, such as proof of round-trip airline tickets and accommodation and travel insurance ––which can cost a person, especially students who are on a budget, $20-30 for up to eight days.
Many visa application centres, such as VFS Global, also may charge applicants service fees such as booking an appointment or premium services that include opting for a prime-time appointment slot and courier service for returning passports.
“I don't know how much (money) I lost at that point,” says Hazal. “They charge us a visa application fee and if we don't get the visa we basically lose this money. Thus we buy health insurance which is another way we throw money to garbage.”
“Then, I was expected to book my tickets and then when I cancelled them, I still lost a considerable amount of money. I saved some money from my previous work which I totally wasted for a visa application that was gonna reject me,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Turkish companies are also complaining that they are unable to obtain visas in order to attend events, meetings and commercial fairs – which impacts their business opportunities with the country’s largest trading partner, the EU.
‘Completely political’ grounds
Head of the EU delegation to Türkiye, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, told Reuters news agency that decisions on Schengen applications are not taken “on political grounds but rather on objective grounds”.
He said more incomplete and fraudulent applications are seen from Türkiye. However, Tuncay Yalcin, a business owner and expert visa advisor for 28 years, tells TRT World there is no “paperwork problem”.
“I think it is completely political,” Yalcin says. “As an agency, we started to say that no matter what document we give, we now have a 50 percent chance (of getting the visa) to our customers and guests,” he explains.
“Even though all the documents are set and valid, applicants are getting rejected. That's why unquestioned and unwarranted rejections are given. The rejection cards given to us along with the documents say the purpose of travel is not believable no matter what document we provide.
“We have seen a business owner’s application being rejected even with completely valid documents… though 10 to 15 past Schengen visas were granted and used correctly,” he adds. “That’s why I believe they are rejecting the visas purely on a political basis.”
Applicants told TRT World that they also believe the motivation of rejections seems political.
“It can be a political stance against Türkiye as well because I know that while I was rejected, Sweden continued to accept people from India in large numbers. So it can be viewed as a country refusing to accept people from one country specifically,” says Hazal.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also took a stance on the issue in August, refuting claims by the United States and EU that the rejection rates were related to reasons such as coronavirus measures or personnel shortage.
"Unfortunately, the US and some EU and non-EU western countries give our citizens visa appointments one year, 6-7-8 months later. They also increased the rejection rate. This is planned and deliberate," Cavusoglu said in August.
Cavusoglu said the visa moves target Türkiye’s governing Justice and Development (AK) Party, aiming to place the government in a difficult position ahead of elections scheduled for June 2023.
He said Ankara will warn ambassadors of some Western countries about the issue, and “if the situation does not improve after that we will take counter, restrictive measures."