Firat Elmas did not anticipate any problems when he applied for a Schengen visa to visit Germany in June.
The 37-year-old Turk, who lives in the western city of Izmir and was working for the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) when he applied for the visa, regularly travels across Europe and has a stable and comfortable lifestyle at home.
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And yet, Elmas was shocked to find his tourist visa application had been rejected, because, for reasons unknown to him, he had been deemed at risk of not returning to Turkey.
“I have travelled to more than 20 countries, predominantly in the Schengen area and studied at master’s level both in the United States and the United Kingdom. I never had such an experience,” Elmas told Al Jazeera.
His experience is not unique – in fact, frustration is growing among Turks amid a rapid increase in reported Schengen visa rejections over the last few years for citizens trying to travel to Europe.
Schengen is a blanket visa for 26 European countries, the majority of them members of the European Union, that have agreed to issue a common visa for foreign travellers.
In a study presented in July to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a body that consists of MPs from member countries, Ankara said that the denial of Schengen visas for Turks has increased from four percent of applications in 2014 to 12.7 percent in 2020.
The percentage of rejections of Schengen visa applications from Turkey was almost 19 percent in 2021, according to data from schengenvisainfo.com, further highlighting the increase compared with recent years.
The report presented to PACE also claimed that EU member states ask for too many unnecessary documents from applicants, that the visa application fee is too expensive and that visas issued are for an increasingly short period, among other complaints.
Rejections are becoming increasingly common among financially secure Turkish citizens with careers, according to applicants who talked to Al Jazeera, as well as scores of others who shared their experiences on social media in recent months.
Elmas said that he had been working for the Ukraine branch of the OSCE until July, received a monthly salary of 3,750 euros, and was based in Turkey due to the war in Ukraine. He owns a house in Izmir, as well as a luxury car.
“It was obvious that I was going to return to Turkey. My financial status and previous track record clearly shows that,” said Elmas, who had also worked for the UN Refugee Agency in the past.
A Schengen visa costs approximately 100 dollars or euros, including third-party visa processing company fees used by most Schengen countries to pre-assess applications.
The fees correspond to about one-third of the minimum wage in Turkey and are non-refundable.
In addition to the rising percentage of Schengen visa rejections, the application process for Turks now takes much longer to complete compared with the recent past.
Applicants say it has taken several months for visas to be issued in some cases, leaving them without their passports for extended periods.
“My application in June took more than nine weeks to be processed before I got the result,” Elmas said.
‘Planned and deliberate’
Ahmet, another Turkish citizen who has a company and residence permit in the United Kingdom, told Al Jazeera that his visa application to participate in a business fair in Germany was rejected despite having an invitation letter from the event.
“I am a permanent resident of Britain for the last four years. My company had a turnover of 250,000 British pounds ($280,000) in 2021 and 500,000 pounds in the first half of 2022,” Ahmet said.
Similar to Elmas, Ahmet, who did not want to share his last name, said his application was rejected because “he might not return”, despite submitting all the necessary documents.
“So they think I will leave my four-year residence in the UK to move to Germany illegally?” he asked.
Last month, Ankara promised to take action if Turkish citizens continued to face difficulties in acquiring visas for the EU and the US.
“It is planned and deliberate,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding that Ankara believed the increase in rejections was aimed at putting the government in a difficult position ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June 2023.
Cavusolgu said that Schengen-area countries would be warned in September, adding: “If there is no improvement, then we will take countermeasures.”
However, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the head of the EU delegation to Turkey, said that the Schengen visa process was not a political issue, and added that each visa application is evaluated objectively, carefully and on an individual basis.
“Consulates are doing whatever they can to minimise delays and increase their capacity,” Meyer-Landrut told Al Jazeera.
“However, they have to implement the regulations of the EU as well as their own countries,” the diplomat added, advising applicants to make “good quality and timely” applications to avoid rejections.