Entrepreneurs from Turkey who set up businesses in the UK under rights provided to them through the European Communities Association Agreement (ECAA, commonly known as the Ankara Agreement) launched a legal challenge against the UK’s Home Office on Friday 14 September.

Until 16 March 2018, Turkish nationals who set up businesses in the UK under the Ankara Agreement were able to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after four years, without paying an application fee.(1) Following a sudden rule change, more onerous requirements for ILR have been introduced (five years of residence, an application fee of £2,389 per person, as well as passing language and culture tests).(2)

The new rules apply retrospectively to 12,500 Turkish nationals (3) who have already set up businesses in the UK and are currently within the four-year route. Turkish entrepreneurs who have invested in the UK with the expectation that they would be eligible for ILR in four years’ time will now have to wait five years. Additionally, a family of four will now have to pay nearly £10,000 in application fees in order to obtain ILR.

A 1,300-strong group of Turkish entrepreneurs have formed the Alliance of Turkish Businesspeople (AOTB), a volunteer-run not-for-profit company which has launched a judicial review to challenge the retrospective application of the new ILR rules. A crowdfunding campaign (4) has been started to cover legal costs. On Friday 14 September, the AOTB applied for permission to launch a judicial review against the Home Office.

Leni Candan, one of the co-founding directors of the AOTB, said:

"We believe the Home Office is acting unlawfully in trying to impose these new rules on us retrospectively. Members of our group took major risks and made huge life changes to come and set up businesses in the UK, only to have the rules changed on us overnight. This has impacted our businesses and caused a great deal of anxiety and distress.”

Yaşar Doğan of Redstone Solicitors who’s representing the AOTB, said: “Not only are the changes incompatible with EU law, but they are also in breach of the legitimate expectations of those affected. A considerable number of Turkish entrepreneurs had subscribed to the scheme with the expectation that they would qualify for settlement once they had completed 4 years’ residence in the UK. Some of them sold their businesses in Turkey, some sold their homes; others gave up their established careers or attractive alternative prospects. With a sudden change of the rules announced at midnight, without due notice or a transitional measure being put in place, the Home Office decided to change the rules making them retrospectively effective. This has exacerbated the injustice and unfairness suffered by those affected.

“One would have hoped and expected that such conspicuous and grave unfairness would be resolved without the need to make recourse to litigation. However, the Home Office have maintained their position in their reply to our Pre-action Protocol Letter. So we are left with no alternative but to file a judicial review claim.

“Both I, as the acting solicitor in this case, and Emma Daykin of Counsel strongly believe in the rightness of the applicants and we will continue to do our utmost to ‘let right be done’ in this case. However, even after filing the judicial review claim at the Court, we will still keep the doors open for an out-of-court resolution, with the hope that the Home Office will not want to spend taxpayers’ money on litigating a case in which they are clearly wrong. Unnecessary litigation is too much of a luxury for public bodies, especially at times of austerity.”

The AOTB is awaiting donations to their crowdfunder to cover the costs of the judicial review. Donations can be made online at www.aotb.org.uk/donate.

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Alliance of Turkish Businesspeople LTD is a registered limited by guarantee company in England and Wales. Company Number: 11368987