Promising changes to visa policy by Recep Korkut*
Turkish citizens waiting in front of the Germany Consulate in İstanbul for their visas. (PHOTO TODAY’S ZAMAN)
An important step was taken last week pertaining to the visa malady Turkey has experienced at the hands of the European Union member countries.
The EU and Turkey agreed upon the initiation of negotiations, which are expected to lead to visa exemptions for Turkish residents for entry into EU countries. The EU countries authorized the EU Commission to conduct visa negotiations, while Turkey does its homework in the following four categories: ensuring document security, in other words using biometric passports, making immigration management more efficient, and ensuring order and security at borders to prevent illegal immigration. These developments have created great hope in Turkey concerning visa exemption, and it should be noted that our EU Minister and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış deserves the highest credit for this achievement. The successful diplomacy he formulated by resetting our EU policy, which was previously reactive instead of proactive, has changed the rules of the game we are playing with Europe, and he has also made breakthroughs in lobbying, which has always been our weakest point. Now, back to our main topic and the anticipated visa exemption at the end of the negotiations. First, I want to talk about a promising change.
The issue of obtaining visas from foreign countries, which has evolved into a matter of national dignity and interest, is a phobia for many Turkish citizens. For Turks obtaining a visa is a nightmare that haunts their plans for international travel, and it is a corpus of complicated and humiliating rules accompanied by ample cases of arbitrariness. The visa odyssey, which is a hotbed of dramatic imbalances and discrimination, starts with queuing in front of the embassy building. Those who set off on this odyssey may end up being treated as potential criminals and overwhelmed with the requirement of providing an unreasonably lengthy list of documents or having to go through a war of patience. One can safely argue that due to these visa ordeals, Turkish citizens have developed a “visa phobia.” At this point, I think I should do justice to the Dutch Embassy, noting that it is an exception to this rule.
The Netherlands: a visa experience
On Jan. 22, 2011, I wrote an article for Today’s Zaman discussing, from a critical standpoint, the EU countries’ visa policies and the practices at the EU embassies in Turkey. Although the scope of the article was all EU countries, the article’s reference to the Netherlands gave the impression that I was specifically criticizing the Netherlands. The Dutch Embassy’s visa department called me to say that they long ago introduced a more lenient visa practice, taking into consideration the complaints, and I should apply for a visa to have first-hand experience of the improvements. Instead of leveling criticism at the EU countries’ visa mechanisms from where I sit, I decided to go through a real visa experience and then share this experience.
I started by searching on the Dutch Embassy’s website for the rules of a visa application. But applications are not directly placed with the embassy or the consulates, but with an intermediary firm. It goes without saying that the inclusion of an intermediary firm in the process brings additional burdens. Yet, it is also true that the presence of a private firm has significantly improved how applicants are treated during the process. The firm’s website provides information about visa applications for Italy and the Netherlands, and it is clear that compared to the Netherlands, Italy requires less documents and less paperwork. Since everything is clearly stated on the website, it eliminates the problems concerning wrong or missing documents. Many embassies accept applications directly, but they do not provide a website or hotline to obtain information about the visa process. Also, thanks to the appointment system the application process is shortened. This procedure is further facilitated due to the recently introduced requirement for EU member countries to request the same documents from visa applicants.
In short, the Netherlands provides a visa process that will surprise those who prepare themselves for a nervous confrontation. My visa experience with the Dutch Embassy is proof that the EU member countries are able to treat visa applicants more humanely and without forcing them to go through the ordeal of providing many unnecessary documents and redundant paperwork. I hope they will serve as a good example for other EU countries. We must give due credit to the Netherlands in this respect. I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the Dutch Embassy in general, and the visa department in particular, for giving me such a pleasant visa process experience.
*Recep Korkut is an expert on minorities, migration and refugees. [email protected]