BY DAILY SABAH WITH REUTERS
Turkish sports presenter Sinem Ökten was surprised to see her visa application to Europe’s Schengen area rejected twice, having visited often to cover matches and interview figures like Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon and Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp.
“I applied first to Germany then to France. Both rejected my application,” she said. “I’ve traveled abroad numerous times to follow and film matches and interview people, maybe 50-60 times. This is the first time I am having this problem,” Ökten, a presenter for broadcaster A Spor says.
Turks applying for visas to the 26 Schengen countries are increasingly being rejected, data shows and tours are being canceled. Ankara said this week it was a deliberate effort to put President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a difficult position ahead of elections next year, a charge the European Union denies.
According to data from schengenvisainfo.com, 16.5% of applicants from Türkiye last year were denied a visa, up from 12.5% a year earlier. Schengen rejections were only 4% in 2015 and started ramping up in 2017 for Turks, it shows. The visa costs, amounting to some 100 euros ($99.78), or a third of Türkiye’s minimum wage, are nonrefundable whether a visa is issued or not. “Overall, the rejection rates for Schengen visa applications have increased worldwide … however, when compared to other countries like Russia, Türkiye’s rejection rate growth is way bigger and consistent,” said Shkurta Januzi, editor-in-chief at SchengenVisaInfo.com. Ökten said the German Embassy gave no reason for rejecting her application. A document from the French Embassy, seen by Reuters, said it did not see enough evidence that the TV presenter could finance her stay in France or return to Türkiye.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he believed the lengthy processing times and an increase observed in rejection rates were deliberate, adding that he raised the issue in meetings with his counterparts.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. and some EU and non-EU western countries give our citizens visa appointments one year, six, seven, eight months later. They also increased the rejection rate. This is planned and deliberate,” he said on Tuesday.
Çavuşoğlu dismissed “excuses” related to coronavirus measures or personnel shortages, and said, without providing evidence, that the visa rejections were intended to give Erdoğan a pre-election headache. His ministry will warn ambassadors of some Western countries about the issue in September, he said. “If the situation does not improve after that we will take counter, restrictive measures.”
Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, head of the EU delegation to Türkiye, told Reuters the Schengen applications are treated on their merits and not on political grounds, adding relatively more incomplete and potentially fraudulent applications are seen from Türkiye. “No decisions are taken on political grounds but rather on objective grounds,” he said, adding that Türkiye’s rejection rate last year was near the global rate of 13%-14% for Schengen visas.
Twenty-two of the 26 Schengen area members are EU states. Türkiye and the bloc enjoy good trade ties and decades of migration, however, relations are strained over issues including EU policies on refugees from Syria. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Schengen states received more than 900,000 visa applications annually from Türkiye but that figure had dropped to around 270,000 in 2021.
Citizens from all Schengen countries are exempt from visas when visiting Türkiye, most for up to 90 days, and some can enter with only their ID cards, according to Türkiye’s Foreign Ministry website.
As more and more Turks are being rejected, tour operators have canceled regular trips, Tur Andiamo chairman Cem Polatoğlu said. “We are having problems. Our tours are getting canceled. We used to schedule tours to Italy every week, now we have to offer them every fortnight,” Polatoğlu said. At a visa application center in Istanbul, 57-year-old Hikmet Doğan said it was easier to get a visa for his previous trips to see his son in Sweden.
Beyond the Schengen area, the United States vowed on Wednesday to expand its visa processing capacity in Türkiye after the foreign minister’s public complaints.
Ökten, the sports presenter, said she would continue her efforts to secure a visa. “The season started and I need to cover some matches on site. I need to be able to travel abroad to do my job … I will apply again and try my chance through Greece this time,” she said.