Last updated: 12:12 PM ET, Tue May 03 2016

Report: EU to Offer Visa-Free Travel to Turkish Citizens

Impacting Travel | Josh Lew | May 03, 2016

Report: EU to Offer Visa-Free Travel to Turkish Citizens

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Sources have told several news outlets, including the BBC, that the European Commission is backing visa-free access for Turkish citizens who travel inside the Schengen Area. The plan, which is sure to prove controversial for a number of reasons, will need to be approved by the European Union’s parliament and by member states. 

Turkey has long sought to have such access for its citizens, especially for business travelers and students. 

The migrant crisis has forced the EU’s hand. Granting full access to Schengen countries seems to now be part of a deal that would help Europe deal with the mass migration from Asia and Africa that has strained national budgets and increased security problems.

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Basically, the EU will waive visa requirements for Turkish citizens in exchange for Turkey agreeing to take back refugees who have crossed over the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece.  

The goal, from the European Commission’s perspective, is to give Turkey an incentive to control the flow of migrants who are passing through the country on the way to Greece. According to the BBC, more than 150,000 migrants have recently taken the sea route to Greece from Turkey. 

Currently, Turkish citizens have to get a three-month visa if they want to travel through the EU. The same visa is required for both tourists and business travelers. This makes it difficult for people who frequently travel to Schengen states for business or students who want to study in an EU country for a longer period of time.

The EC’s proposed visa waiver would allow Turkish citizens to travel visa free, but it would not allow them to work there (unless they got additional approval).   

There are a number of road blocks that have kept Turkey from being considered for visa-free travel in the EU until now. First and foremost, Turkey still controls part of Cyprus, which is an EU member state. The EU does not recognize the Turkish controlled half of the island nation.

Also, critics have said that the government in Ankara has been cracking down on dissidents and political opponents and is also moving to silence members of the press who are critical of its policies. These things, along with anti-terrorism powers that have led to mass arrests of both rebel groups and opposition members as well as terrorist sympathizers, have kept Turkey from aligning itself with EU norms. This is something that Brussels usually requires of would-be members. 

With political pressure growing on member states to do something about the migrant crisis, however, the usual rules cannot be applied to Turkey. In fact, because so many of the EU’s member states are feeling the pressure to take some sort of definitive action on the current crisis, there is a very real likelihood that the deal will be approved quickly, even with all the concerns attached to it.

The Commission has laid out a list of 72 conditions that Turkey needs to meet in order to be approved for the visa waivers. It seems like the EU will be flexible on these points, with some in Brussels says that Turkey is very close to meeting all the demands ahead of a May 4 deadline.  

READ MORE: Could Uncertainty in Europe Hamper Germany's Tourism Ambitions?

Under a current agreement between Brussels and Ankara, refugees who do not apply for asylum or those whose asylum applications are rejected are returned to Turkey from Europe. 

The Turkey deal comes as Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo are also in the process of meeting EU requirements so that they too can enjoy visa-free travel. Also, it should be noted that the UK, Ireland and Cyprus, who are not part of the Schengen Agreement, will still require visas for Turkish travelers. 


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