Turkish nationals who want to work in Britain under the Ankara agreement scheme are to be subjected to a face-to-face interview as part of Home Office plans to combat fraudulent applications.
The new measure, which is to begin before the end of this month, represents yet another hurdle of scrutiny for a work permit scheme that existing applicants have criticised as slow and inefficient.
It was discussed during a meeting in January between the Turkish consulate and representatives from the Home Office team that handles Ankara agreement applications held in January, but details only emerged this week during a briefing for law firms and visa agencies.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We are introducing sweeping changes to the immigration system while ensuring we continue to attract the brightest and best who will help to drive economic growth.
“From this month we are introducing face to face interviews in European Community Association Agreement applications for Turkish nationals who wish to set up businesses in the UK. This will enable us to get more information about business intentions and ensure that applicants are genuine.”
The Ankara agreement, formally known as the European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) with Turkey, allows Turkish nationals to establish themselves in business in the UK. No fee is charged for applications under the scheme, which are handled by a dedicated team in Sheffield.
But applicants have complained about slow processing times that can last several months. One applicant who spoke to Londra Gazete said she was still waiting for a response after submitting her paperwork, including her current passport, at the beginning of this year.
“I want to travel to Austria for a one-week seminar in April, but they haven’t returned my passport,” said the woman, who asked not to be named because she believed her application could be affected.
“It has been with them for more than two months – I only applied for a one-year permit. They [the UK Border Agency] said they can’t return my passport until they process my application, but they can’t tell me how long it will take.
“It’s so frustrating for me.”
A statement from the Consulate said they had conveyed a number of common grievances voiced by Ankara agreement applicants to the Home Office team. These included claims that applications with similar credentials were handled differently by different members of the Sheffield team, and that applications with missing documentation would be rejected outright without giving the candidate an opportunity to provide it.
Meanwhile Home Office representatives voiced their concern at the rising number of fraudulent applications. They said there was an increase in applications submitted under different names but with identical content, and that this was largely seen in applications made on behalf of other firms and individuals. A significant proportion of applications submitted from Turkey contained forged documentation, they added.
NOT ANOTHER VISA ROUTE
The Consulate statement urged Turkish citizens and application agencies to take care in their applications:
“Cases of Turkish citizens using the Ankara agreement as an opportunity to obtain a visa, applying to establish one’s self in business before proceeding to work illegally for an employer are causing a negative impression of the scheme.
“They are also causing British authorities to bring further restrictions on the scheme and preventing Turkish citizens who genuinely want to set up a business from doing so.”
The statement added that Turkish citizens who have applied under the Ankara agreement can contact the Immigration Enquiry Bureau on 0870 606 7766 to confirm whether their applications have arrived. They can also write to ECAA@UKBA.gsi.gov.uk to check on the application’s progress.