A New Era for International Workers in Turkey?

Published 20 October 2016 / By Selman Salim Kesgin

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Migration policies in Turkey have had tremendous changes in recent years which reflect the changes in immigration patterns it faces. Due to the developments in the economic and political landscape in Turkey, the country has attracted various kinds of migrants including high-skilled workers, students as well as refugees.

One of the shifts in Turkish migration patterns is in the area of professional migrants like skilled-workers, and investors. When we look at the data about foreign workers since the beginning of the 2000s, the gradual increases in the numbers of foreign workers is remarkable. The number of foreign workers in 2003 was 7,302, which increased to 17,466 in 2011, and reaching 64,547 in 2015.

For an effective management of those worker flows and to encourage high skilled work force into Turkey, a new legislation was needed. Since the enactment of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection in 2013, which is the core of migration policies in Turkey, demand for a new law for international workers has been raised. Therefore, preparations for such a law have been put in to the political agenda. The new law was initially planned to be legislated in 2015, but due to the elections and political emergencies in Turkey, it was delayed. Despite the turbulent atmosphere in Turkish politics such as the coup attempt on July 15th, the International Workforce Law (IWL) on foreign workers was enacted in 2016 August.

The purpose of the IWL is to manage the determination, application and monitoring of the policies related to employment of international workforce. Additionally, it aims to attract high skilled foreign workers and investors.

IWL which replaced the abrogated Law No. 4817 on Work Permits for Foreigners regulates the processes and transactions that would be followed on work permits and work permit exemptions, and the rights and obligations of the foreign workers.

What are the main features of the IWL?

The most salient novelty of the law is the “turquoise card”. The turquoise card will be issued to foreigners with high educational degrees, occupational experience, or who those who have potential to contribute to science and technology, in line with the contributions they can offer to the country’s economy.

Another new term which comes with the law is “qualified foreigner.” According to the Article 11 of IWL, this refers to those who have internationally recognized academic work, are distinguished in science, industry and technology, those in areas strategic for Turkey, or those whose export, employment or investment capacity make significant contribution to the national economy or expected to make such contributions will be considered as qualified foreigners.

As mentioned above, one of the main features of the law is to attract skilled migrants. Thus there are exemptions for certain qualified foreigners who can be considered as incentives to promote making investments in Turkey or joining Turkish workforce.

Citizens of countries that are members of the European Union, who are internationally reputed for success in their field and come to Turkey for scientific, cultural and sportive purposes may be granted work permits exceptionally. Along with these, applicants who demand international protection, who are conditional refugees or under temporary protection, stateless persons, and victims of human trafficking may also be eligible for these exemptions.

IWL also has some institutional novelty. According to this law, the General Directorate of International Labour Force under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has been established. It has been tasked with meeting foreign employment demands. It is going to convene activities which were previously done by Foreign Workers Department of Ministry of Labour.

Centralisation of foreign workforce policies is another aspect of the new law. IWL has formed the International Labour Force Policy Advisory Board to design international labour policies. This Advisory Board, under the presidency of the Minister of Labour and Social Security, is comprised of the undersecretaries of 7 ministries.

The work permits or the exemp­tion documents will be considered as residence permits under this law, which means: the prospective international workforce in Turkey is subject to only one ministry rather than a couple of ministries as a convenience.

Although the enactment of a law alone is not sufficient to begin a new era in any given policy field, it is promising for a gradual transformation towards a more welcoming policy for foreign workforce in Turkey. Yet, for an accurate evaluation we need to wait and see the implementation of the IWL in Turkish Public Administration.

For an unofficial translation of the law click this link.

About the author: Selman Salim Kesgin is a research fellow at Gazi University, in Turkey. He is currently doing his PhD in Public Administration. He has dual degree in Public Administration and Computer Sciences. Selman was also a Visiting Academic at COMPAS.