Digitalization is changing legal procedures in Turkey in various ways. Especially with the effects of Covid-19 we are increasingly seeing government procedural changes that benefit a more fast-paced environment in the legal industry. For instance, the implementation of online applications and online document sharing with government agencies will inevitably become more common across all government institutions' processes. The same applies to immigration processes as well. Turkey is fairly advanced in terms of digitalization in immigration processes.
Work Permit Application Process
One of the most prominent examples of digitalization in immigration practice in Turkey is the Turkish Ministry of Labor and Social Security ("MoL") Foreigners Work Permit Application System. This online portal allows companies and individuals to handle the entire in-country work permit application procedure without having to sign or send any hard copy documents to the Ministry whatsoever. In fact, the system specifically warns applicants not to send any hard copy documents via mail that are uploaded to the system.
Given the MoL requires all work permit applications and associated submissions to be made through the online system it's not possible to file an application without registering an employer account in the online system. The system allows companies to file and manage their foreign employee's submissions as well as submission of documents by uploading them directly to the portal including missing or additional documents that are requested along the process, commencement, late commencement and cancellation petitions etc.
What is really outstanding about the system is that applicants can track the status of their applications in real-time by logging-in to see the status of their application, as well as find out the decision of the application once it's adjudicated. The only down-side of the MoL online system is that currently it is not possible to make on-line government fee payments, so the only way to pay for work permit applications is in person at government banks.
In order for companies to utilize the system to file work permit applications for their foreign employees, they must register their company via their company social security e-notification representative and regularly update the company documents and financial information each year.
For all submissions, uploads and registrations, the MoL system requires each of these actions to be completed via e-signature for digital verification by the company social security e-notification representative. Although it may sound complicated to comply with these requirements, there are in fact many e-signature providers in Turkey that companies can contact to secure an e-signature within a few days.
Visa Application Process
The vast majority of visa applications for Turkey must be filed via the Ministry of Foreign Affair's (MFA) online system. Recently, we are seeing an increase in Turkish Consulates moving toward processing visa applications via authorized agencies as opposed to directly receiving applications. However, the majority of the Turkish consulates are still utilizing the Turkish MFA's online system in order file applications and book appointments.
The MFA online system allows applicants to both query whether they need to apply for a consular visa, as well as allow them to file a preliminary application by completing an online form to book an in-person appointment. In this system, applicants see the support documents required, log-in all their personal details, upload necessary documents and book their appointments.
As for the consular posts that accept applications via an authorized agency, the system automatically directs applicants to the agency website from the MFA online system which is important for applicants to avoid non-authorized agencies.
Electronic Visa ("e-visa") System
Turkey has a wide range of countries that do not need to apply for a consular visa for touristic or business visitor visits. Country nationals who are eligible to enter Turkey who do not need to apply for a consular visa but are not visa-free, can enter Turkey with an electronic visa (e-visa). Turkish MFA's e-visa system is one of the most straightforward ways of obtaining a visa to enter Turkey. This online system allows applicants to assess whether or not they're eligible to apply for an e-visa and helps them navigate the few basics steps to obtain an e-visa within minutes! Applicants log-in their personal information, make the payment online with their credit cards and can then download their e-visas to their computers or mobile devices. E-visa fees vary according to nationality and type of passport but the fee is usually approximately 50 USD. One of the best perks of an e-visa document is that they are issued with barcodes therefore travelers do not even need to have a print-out of their e-visas.
Residence Permit Application Process
Similar to other immigration procedures, Turkey does have an online system for the residence permit (RP) application process as well. This Interior Ministry online system is a website that applicants can request residence permit appointments by logging-in their applications to the system. The system allows applicants to generate their applications forms, provides them a list of documents that is required for the application and automatically notifies them via e-mail once the appointment date is granted (or lets applicants to choose a specific date from the system according to city specific procedures). The system also allows applicants to make the necessary payment online and track the status of their applications. Once the applications are approved, the system automatically allows applicants to produce an exit document which allows them to depart Turkey without waiting for their residence permit cards to be delivered to them and also informs them via an automatic e-mail as soon as the RP application is approved.
However, unlike the in-country work permit procedure, the residence permit procedure cannot be completed entirely via the online system. Once the appointment is granted, all applicants including the sponsor and infants must be present at the Migration Directorate with hard copy documents on the appointment date.
Since December 2008, Turkey introduces a public online system called e-government ("e-devlet") to provide government issued documents and information for all lawful residents in Turkey. Today, the system has become extremely advanced and includes various tools that help Turkish citizens and foreigners who are in possession of a valid residency in Turkey save a lot of time in obtaining official documents ranging from property deeds to birth certificates and information on an individual's accumulation of social security or tax debts, etc.
The system offers more than five thousand services to its users. Naturally, the majority of these services are available only to Turkish citizens, however there are still many services that can be utilized by foreigners. Some of the most commonly used tools of the system by foreigners include obtaining address registration documents, police clearance certificate, as well as access to social security payment, family registry, birth, marriage, traffic/parking ticket and deed records and many more.
The e-government system generates each document that is available on the system with a QR Code or a Barcode so that the recipient officials can verify the authenticity of the document via the e-government system document verification tool.
Note that the e-government account creation is easy as well. Anyone who can provide proof of legal residency in Turkey can obtain an e-government password by submitting their valid residence/work permit or Turkish ID by paying a nominal fee of 2 Turkish Liras at local post offices (PTT).
Since Turkey is a member of the Apostille Convention, it is possible to get Turkish documents apostilled in Turkey to use abroad in other countries that are also member of the Apostille Convention. (See our article on document legalization for further details.) The implementation of this attestation procedure to digital environment in Turkey is called e-apostille.
Currently e-apostille (i.e getting an apostille attestation in digital format) is only available for certain documents issued by the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior. Currently the system only allows Court Decrees, Police Clearance Certificates and Family Registration Documents to be apostilled. There is a fee of 25 Turkish Lira that can be paid online for this procedure.
The e-apostille also is a fairly straight-forward procedure. The first step of the procedure is to apply for the document that will be apostilled. This document is directly issued on the same online system that is linked with the e-government system. Then the document is uploaded online for apostille and within a few days (backlog may vary according to the type of document and workload of the relevant ministry officials) the apostilled document is provided via the system.
The e-apostilled document created is signed by PTT with "Qualified Electronic Certificate". Foreign authorities to which the electronic documents are submitted can verify these documents by using the "I want to verify document" section on the e-apostille website.
Overall it's safe to say that Turkish Immigration system is fairly advanced in terms of digitalization. Almost all of the immigration processes in Turkey implement certain digital tools to keep up with the fast pace of digitalization in administrative and legal procedures around the world. Areas within immigration to improve in digitalization include the citizenship process and diploma equivalency process, which are still all done by hard copy and in person.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.