Turkey Opens Door to Foreign Professionals

Publication March 7, 2017

Turkey passed a new law governing the policies regulating the foreign labor force and the work permit regime for foreign workers in Turkey. Law No. 6735 on “International Labor Force” (Uluslararası İşgücü Kanunu) (the “Law”), was published in the Official Gazette dated August 13, 2016 and repeals the “Law on Work Permits of Foreigners” which is its predecessor. 

Economic developments and big-ticket infrastructure projects undertaken in the last decade have brought highly skilled foreign workers into Turkey. The massive migration wave from neighboring countries is another factor in the revision of the existing foreign labor force policy. By passing the Law, the Turkish government has signaled its intention to attract more foreign talent.

The scope of the Law encompasses foreigners who work, have occupational training from an employer, do internships or render temporary services in Turkey.   

The Law foresees the establishment of the Turkish International Labor Force Policy Council (the “Council”), whose purpose will be to determine and coordinate Turkey’s international labor force policy. The labor force policy will be based upon, among other things, international labor force mobility, economic and sector-specific developments and bilateral and international agreements to which Turkey is party.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security will define the criteria for the implementation of a point-based system to be used in the assessment of work permit applications.

The Law also introduces increased flexibility in the work permit system by providing for more exemptions and allowing a case-by-case analysis for each work permit application.

The major amendments introduced by the Law may be summarized as follows:

  • New type of permit, the Turquoise Card. The law introduces a new type of work permit, the Turquoise Card (Turkuaz Kart), for foreigners. The Turquoise Card will be granted upon recommendation of the Council to foreigners who, due to their level of education, professional expertise, contributions to science and technology or activities and investments in Turkey, are deemed to create added value for the Turkish economy or to generate employment. Turquoise Card holders will enjoy the same rights as the holders of an unlimited-term work permit.
  • The legislation also amends and elaborates three other types of already existing work permits: (i) the limited term work permit, (ii) the unlimited term work permit and (iii) the permit for independent work.
    • Prior legislation outlined a limited term work permit issued for specific work to be undertaken at a specific workplace, with a specific employer and with a maximum validity period of one year. It allowed for two extensions of three and six years respectively. The Law amends the extension periods and provides for periods of up to two years in the first instance and up to three years for each subsequent extension with no limitation to the number of extensions.
    • Holders of unlimited term permits, as a general rule, enjoy the same rights as Turkish citizens with the exception that they do not have the right to work in public service or to vote. Unlimited term permits are issued to foreigners who live in Turkey under a long-term residency permit or have been legally working in Turkey for at least eight years.
    • A permit for independent work may be issued to foreigners who are considered experts in a learned profession or who are shareholders and/or registered executives of Turkish companies.
  • Professions specifically regulated under the Law. The Law sets out the following separate rules:
    • Foreign directors and managers. Managing partners of limited companies (limited şirket) or directors of joint-stock companies (anonim şirket) who are also shareholders are not automatically granted a work permit but may work in Turkey if they obtain a work permit. Directors of joint stock companies who are not resident in Turkey and shareholders of other companies who are not managers or directors are exempt from work permit requirements (see below for further details).
    • Foreign engineers and architects. Foreign engineers and architects who finished their studies at a Turkish university or at a foreign institution acknowledged by the Turkish Higher Education Board may obtain a limited term work permit for a specific project.
    • Foreigners seeking to obtain a work permit in the healthcare or education services sectors must show professional competency by first obtaining a preliminary work permit from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, as applicable.
  • Work permits given under exceptional circumstances. Under certain circumstances, foreigners may be granted one of the work permits listed above without being subjected to the applicable time limitations. These exceptional circumstances include, but are not limited to, foreigners married to Turkish citizens who live uninterruptedly in Turkey with their spouse, European Union nationals, nationals of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and others who are deemed a “qualified” worker or “qualified” investor. A foreigner would be deemed as a “qualified” worker or investor based on their level of education, professional experience, contribution to science and technology and/or ability to facilitate job creation.
  • Exemption from work permit requirements. The following foreign individuals, provided that they obtain the relevant exemption documents, are exempt from the need to obtain a work permit: (i) non-resident board members of Turkish joint-stock companies (anonim şirket), (ii) shareholders who are not managers or directors of other types of commercial entities, and (iii) cross-border service providers whose activities in Turkey do not exceed 90 days within a 180-day period. Cross-border service providers are foreign workers who live in Turkey temporarily to provide a service and may be paid either inside or outside of Turkey.

Authorized intermediaries. Foreigners who wish to apply for a work permit or exemption from the need for a work permit may use an intermediary company authorized by the Ministry to file their application. Qualifications for and scope of work of such intermediary companies will be further determined under secondary legislation.

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