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Turkey issues fewer visas for Russians

Irina Chevtayeva
February 5, 2023

Until recently, families from Russia were welcome to move to Turkey. Now, the Turkish government is making this difficult, introducing bureaucratic hurdles and fines. It's becoming hard for Russians to remain in exile.

Three statues of matryoshka dolls stand on a wall
Russians make up the biggest group of foreign nationals in Turkey, with cities such as Antalya especially popularImage: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto/picture alliance

"In recent years, we had often thought about buying an apartment in Turkey that we could rent out and use for our own vacation in the summer. But we were undecided. When this all suddenly started, we realized the moment had come," said Nikita [name changed], a 36-year-old computer scientist, who works for an international IT company.

He and his wife, who are both from Vladivostok in eastern Russia, had initially set money aside to move to the capital, Moscow. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization in September for the war against Ukraine, they changed their plans and opted for Turkey instead.

They bought an apartment in the coastal city of Antalya for $65,000 (€59,600). "We furnished it from scratch, bought good household appliances, and fixed a few structural defects," Nikita said. The move from Russia to Turkey cost them around $80,000 altogether.

'I've bought an apartment and I can't live in it'

In September, Nikita applied for a residence permit, which would allow him to stay in Turkey for at least one year, with the freedom to leave and reenter the country. At the end of January, however, he heard that his application had been rejected. No reason was given.

"I'm ready to accept the fact that Russians are considered toxic all over the world now. I know which side is in the right. But the rules of the game need to be clear, at least. Now I've bought an apartment and I can't live in it," he said indignantly.

The Kremlin Palace Hotel, a big, red, old-Russian-style building in Antalya. In front of it are a swimming pool and sun loungers with white umbrellas. A woman in a bikini is walking toward the camera
Turkey has long been a favorite holiday destination for Russian touristsImage: Alexander Demianchuk/TASS/picture alliance / dpa

He was told that he had to leave Turkey within 10 days, leaving him without enough time to sell the apartment. It's still unclear whether his wife will be granted a residence permit.

"Returning to Russia is not an option. But we have to do something. Maybe we'll leave the apartment behind for now and go to another country," said Nikita, who intends to appeal the rejection.

More and more residence applications rejected

So far, it's been the case that those who buy real estate in Turkey usually get a residence permit without a problem, which suggests that Nikita's case is unusual. Many Russians have obtained residence permits in Turkey after showing their rental contract, and providing health insurance documentation and proof of income.

Until last October, Russian citizens made up the largest group of foreigners being issued Turkish residence permits. A total of 153,000 Russians were given a permit in 2022, 132,000 of which were for tourist purposes.

However, since the end of December, more and more rejections have been reported in different Turkish cities. Precise statistics are not available, however, and when DW requested them from the relevant Turkish authorities, it did not receive a response.

Some Russians in Turkey have gathered data from a Telegram chat, according to which there have been more than 250 rejections since the end of December, with slightly more than 100 permits approved.

"Lots of people are being rejected, but there are approvals as well. The reasons and criteria are unclear. Official explanations have not been given," said Eva Rapoport, the coordinator of The Ark, a project that helps Russian emigrants.

Turkey introduces stricter rules and checks

Margarita Polyakova, a lawyer and head of the Istanbul-based consulting firm New Days Agency, confirmed that the number of rejections has increased. However, she said this has been happening ever since the summer, particularly in Antalya, a city especially popular with Russians.

Headshot of Margarita Polyakova, red hair tied back, sitting on a beige chair.
Margarita Polyakova, a Russian lawyer in Istanbul, confirmed that many more residency applications are being rejectedImage: privat

In an interview last spring, Polyakova said that she backed Putin's decision to go to war against Ukraine. Now, however, she said she won't take sides and is focused on helping people who are suffering from the impact of the conflict. 

She said that since July, Turkey has added another 1,169 places to the list of areas where residence permits can no longer be issued on the basis of rental contracts. The reason is that, in these areas, foreign residents constitute more than 20% of the local population.

"Previously, citizens of Central Asian countries were more likely to be rejected. In December, this trend started affecting Russians as well," said Polyakova. However, she pointed out that the increase in the number of rejections can also partly be explained by the increased number of applications.

President looking ahead to elections

Meanwhile, Turkish media, quoting the authorities, report that the rules and checks for issuing a residence permit have been tightened.

"A residence permit for tourist purposes used to be a sort of substitute for a long-term visa in Turkey. Now it's only intended for a short stay, up to a maximum of one year," said Polyakova.

She believes the authorities in different regions are making different decisions, but that the Turkish state wants to take in fewer migrants overall. "There will be elections in Turkey in May, and it's clear that the president is making decisions that are popular with the people, such as reducing rents, for example," she said.

Anyone who stays in Turkey longer than permitted must pay a fine on leaving the country. And those who enter the country by car from Russia are asked to pay twice. Depending on how long they stay in Turkey, they may incur fines of up to $7,000.

This article was originally published in Russian.