In 1963, Turkey and the European Economic Community (EEC) entered into a European Community Association Agreement (ECAA). When the UK joined the EEC in 1973 it became a party to this agreement.
Up to 16 March 2018 the agreement gave Turkish nationals the right to start a business in the UK with the ability to settle (Indefinite Leave to Remain/ILR) in the UK after four years. Visa holders were initially granted a one-year visa. They could then apply for a three-year extension, at the end of which they were eligible for ILR (we can provide letters from the Home Office confirming eligibility for ILR after the three-year extension period). All applications made under this category, including ILR, were made free of charge.
The agreement also has a ‘standstill clause’, preventing any new restrictions from being introduced with regards to this visa category. However, a recent court case concerning a Turkish businessperson (Aydogdu JR/15737/2015) went to the Upper Immigration Tribunal for Judicial Review. The Tribunal said in March 2017 that ILR does not fall within the scope of the ‘standstill clause’ as it is not necessary for the exercise of the right to establish a business under ECAA rules.
Following this ruling, the Home Office made an announcement on 16 March 2018 saying they will no longer accept ILR applications made under this category, with immediate effect. The changes apply to those already in the category – there’s no cut-off date and no transitional arrangements have been made. The announcement doesn’t clarify what new arrangements are being considered. Instead it says ‘we will introduce a new ILR category for current Turkish ECAA business persons into the Immigration Rules. While the requirements of such a category are to be determined, this will be a charged route in line with others who are seeking to settle in the UK.’
This is likely to mean the new ILR process for this category will be in line with other similar categories, like the Entrepreneur category (five years rather than four years to qualify for ILR, as well as some additional requirements like passing language and Life in the UK tests, and a £1,228 fee plus healthcare surcharge for each applicant and dependant).
Roughly 12,500 people*, who entered this category with the legitimate and reasonable expectation that they would be eligible to apply for ILR in four years’ time, are no longer able to do so and are now in a state of limbo.
Home Office announcement on 16 March 2018: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/turkish-ecaa-business-guidance
* Recent FOI request asking for the number of people currently in the category: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ecaa_ankara_agreement_statistics#incoming-1124168