As Ankara Eyes Tougher Visa Rules, Neighbors Fret

Dauren Zhumadilov never thought he’d get caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis.

But the enterprising Kazakh manager’s tourism agency in Almaty, some 3,500 kilometers from the Turkish riviera, would be hit if Brussels successfully presses Ankara to toughen its visa requirements for many countries as part of an accord to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

“If that happens,” he says of Turkey reinstating a visa requirement for his countrymen, “that will tremendously and negatively affect us.”

The danger for Zhumadilov, and his peers in a handful of other currently visa-free countries, lies in the small print of the working papers the EU has prepared as it negotiates the details of its March 7 draft migrant deal with Turkey. As part of the bargain, Turkey committed to toughening its visa regime in exchange for the EU giving Turkish citizens visa-free access to Schengen states no later than the end of June.

Brussels says the reference point for a tougher Turkish visa policy should be the EU’s own highly restrictive visa-free and visa-required lists for entering EU countries.

If Ankara agrees to the EU’s position, the results would be a drastic reduction in the number of countries whose citizens can easily enter Turkey — from dozens today to just a handful in the future.

Nations whose citizens need a visa to enter the EU but do not need a visa to enter Turkey include all of the former Soviet republics, Iran, and several Middle Eastern and North African states.

“The tourism business in Kazakhstan is mainly based on external tourism, and the major destination is Turkey,” Zhumadilov tells RFE/RL by phone from Turan Express travel agency in Kazakhstan’s largest city. “They choose Turkey [because] it is visa-free.”

He says if Turkey toughens its visa regulations for Kazakhs, his clients would likely go to countries like Croatia, on the Adriatic coast, which eases its entry rules for Kazakh tourists during the peak summer months.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.