What is the change? The European Commission on Wednesday recommended that the European Union grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen area as part of a deal on the refugee crisis.

What does the change mean? Even though Turkey has not met 72 benchmarks set as conditions to the visa waiver, the proposal paves the way for EU member states to lift visa requirements once the remaining benchmarks are met. If the EU approves the visa waiver, Turkey has approved reciprocal visa-free travel for EU nationals (including Greek Cypriots) visiting Turkey.

  • Implementation time frame: The target time frame is the end of June.
  • Visas/permits affected: Visa exemption for stays of less than 90 days within a 180-day period in the Schengen area for business or tourism. Ireland and the United Kingdom are not part of the Schengen area and do not take part in common EU visa policies.
  • Who is affected: Turkish nationals traveling to the Schengen area and EU nationals traveling to Turkey.
  • Impact on processing times: If the waiver is approved, Turkish nationals will not have to apply for visas before traveling to Schengen countries.
  • Business impact: The visa waiver would make business travel easier between Turkey and Europe, especially for urgent travel and repeat trips.
  • Next steps: The recommendation must be approved by the European Parliament and member states.

Background: Under a deal reached in March, Turkey agreed to resettle migrants who had illegally crossed into Greece through Turkey and to prevent further irregular crossings. In exchange, the EU agreed to financially assist Turkey in resettling refugees and to grant visa-free travel to Turkish nationals visiting the Schengen region. At that time, Turkey had not met 72 benchmarks under the visa liberalization roadmap, potentially delaying the June 30 target date for visa-free travel. Turkey threatened to withdraw from its end of the deal if the EU did not grant the visa waiver.

The Commission indicated today that Turkey had made “impressive progress” in meeting the goals. The areas that remain unfulfilled include human rights reforms and biometric passports.

BAL Analysis: Since the March agreement, the number of refugees reaching Europe has dropped considerably, providing incentive for the EU to follow through with its agreement to eliminate visas for Turkish citizens even without Turkey having fully met the roadmap’s requirements. If approved by the European Parliament and member states, visa-free travel between Turkey and most of Europe could be available in approximately two months. While visa-free travel greatly assists employers and businesses operating in or transacting with Turkey, it also plays to the political rhetoric of the Brexit campaign and other Eurosceptics who fear an enlarged Europe and greater visa liberalization, particularly in that region.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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