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Turkey-EU visa deal: How will it impact tourists and migrants?

This new open door in Turkey-EU relations has a dimension which is mostly overlooked

Menekse Tokyay

Published: Updated:

Earlier this week, the European Commission proposed to the European Parliament and Council of the European Union the lifting of the visa requirements for Turkish citizens, provided that Ankara will meet the necessary benchmarks of a mutually-agreed roadmap.

EU governments and the European Parliament will have the final say over the matter, expected at the latest by the end of June. But if the proposal passes, 79 million Turks would get visa-free access opportunity to the 26 countries of the EU - except the UK and Ireland which are outside the Schengen area.

However, this new open door in Turkey-EU relations has a dimension which is mostly overlooked: the future status of Turkey’s previously enacted visa-free travel arrangements with many Middle Eastern and Arab countries, such as Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, among others.

Illegal migrants

Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi, international coordinator of TUSIAD (the Turkish Industry & Business Association), emphasizes that the visa-free travel arrangements for Turkish citizens in Europe’s borderless Schengen area requires complete convergence of Turkey’s visa regime with the EU including the rules applied to third-country nationals.

“This will have a negative impact on the ease of travelling to Turkey from these countries,” Kaleagasi said, adding however that this will not become an obstacle for those coming for tourism or business, but will just complicate the bureaucratic procedures.

“The EU-Turkey visa deal, if successfully implemented, will make Turkey a safer place with higher rule of law standards and democracy. It would also boost Turkey's EU membership process. Turkey would therefore become a more attractive destination for tourists and business from Middle Eastern countries as well,” he said.

According to Cigdem Nas, secretary-general of Istanbul-based Economic Development Foundation (IKV), there are several stipulations in the visa liberalization roadmap.

“Turkey will have to align its visa policy to that of the Schengen area, making it more difficult for nationals of countries which are a large source of illegal migration to the EU, to travel to Turkey,” Nas told Al Arabiya English.

Turkey will have to request a visa for entry from nationals of those countries, which may directly result in the end of the country’s open door policy towards them.

Tourism

Nas believes that the change in Turkey’s visa regime may have a limited impact on tourism especially with a view to tourists from the Middle East.

“Even if visas are required for certain countries, the procedure for application is relatively easy via the e-visa system. Therefore it will not constitute an undue burden. It is a necessary condition for Turkey’s new role as the ‘guardian of EU borders’ since this new role demands that Turkey is in full control of its own borders,” she added.

Over the last three years, Turkey has attracted about 7 million tourists from the Middle East and Arab world, especially from Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Bezen Balamir Coskun, an international relations professor from Gediz University in Izmir, also points out to the worries about the side effects of visa-free regime between Schengen states and Turkey. Currently, Turkey has visa-free agreements with around 90 states mostly from Africa and Asia.

“If Turkey and the EU finalize the visa liberation agreement, the EU will ask Turkey to request visas for most of the countries on the list except for the ones which are already in the EU’s list of visa-free countries,” Coskun told Al Arabiya English.

Rising geopolitical tensions in its region have already decreased Turkey’s tourism income as it stands at the crossroads of many regional conflicts, especially Syria and Iraq. In the first quarter of this year, Turkey’s tourism income decreased by 16.5 percent compared to the same period of the previous year, declining to $4.66 billion.

Therefore, an even more pronounced drop in tourism flows with the restrictions on visa-free regime with Middle Eastern and Arab countries might bring an additional challenge for Turkey, the sixth most visited country in the world according to data from the UN’s World Tourism Organization.

However, Coskun thinks that the Turkey-EU visa liberalization won’t affect Ankara’s relations with countries that it already has a visa-free arrangement with.

“The Turkish government would find ways to make visa regulations simple for the citizens of selected states,” she said.

Recently, the Arab Tourism Organization and Turkey agreed on the opening of a representation office in Turkey to boost touristic flows, with a target of hosting minimum 10 million tourists each year from the Arab world.

This could be a promising step that might alleviate the possible impacts of the visa-free deal between the EU and Turkey.