Asylum seekers may apply for a work permit after 6 months following the lodging date of their international protection application.
The principles and procedures governing the employment of applicants or international protection beneficiaries shall be determined by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services in consultation with the Ministry of Interior. On that basis, the Regulation on Work Permit of Applicants for International Protection and those Granted International Protection adopted on 26 April 2016 confirms that applicants may apply to the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services for a work permit through an electronic system (E-Devlet) after 6 months from the lodging of their asylum application.
Applicants must hold a valid identification document in order to apply, meaning that those applicants who do not hold an International Protection Identification Card – due to Admissibility grounds or the applicability of the Accelerated Procedure – are not permitted to apply for a work permit. In any event, it would be difficult for these categories of applicants to obtain a right to access the labour market given the general 6-month waiting period to apply for a work permit.
An exemption from the obligation to obtain a work permit is foreseen for the sectors of agriculture and livestock works. In these cases, however, the applicant must apply for an exemption before the relevant Provincial Directorate of Family, Labour and Social Services. The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services may introduce province limitations or quotas in these sectors. More generally, the Regulation entitles the Ministry to impose sectoral and geographical limitations to applicants’ right to employment, without providing further detail as to the applicable grounds for such restrictions. In addition, applicants cannot be paid less than the minimum wage.
In the Cohesion Strategy and National Action Plan (2018-2023) priorities for the labour market, include:
- Providing reliable and standardised information on labour market;
- Research on professional qualifications of migrants and access to the labour market;
- Protection of right to work as well as information on rights and working conditions.
The action plan includes:
- A website with information on conditions for access to the labour market depending on status;
- Awareness raising on rights and working conditions;
- Strengthening recognition of migrants’ qualifications.
As mentioned above, most initiatives were suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interesting case Istanbul Magistrate Court examined the situation of a person who had a deportation decision who was found to be working without a work permit. An administrative fine of 249 TL had been charged. In its judgment the Court noted that the person had to survive and to do that had to work. Although there had been a violation of a specific law from the constitutional perspective there was no violation as the person had to survive. The fine was cancelled.
In practice, it currently takes the authorities 1-2 months to process work permit applications.
In 2019 a total of 145,232 work permits were issued including 63,789 to immigrants from Syria, 3,935 to citizens of Iran, 1,947 to citizens of Iraq and 1,466 to citizens of Afghanistan. Figures are not yet available for 2020. Applicants for international protection continue to face widespread undeclared employment and labour exploitation in Turkey, similar to temporary protection beneficiaries (see Temporary Protection: Access to the Labour Market).
The Regulation also foresees the possibility for applicants to have access to vocational training schemes organised by the Turkish Job Agency (İŞKUR). In practice, Public Education Centres under provincial Governorates and İŞKUR offer vocational courses to asylum seekers in many localities.
A new project was launched in early 2020 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on creating accelerators for entrepreneur refugees in Turkey. According to research, in the nine years since the Syrian crisis, over 10,000 companies have been established in Turkey by Syrians that have created around 100,000 jobs and Syrian businesspeople have invested over 1,5 billion TRY in Turkey.
In 2020, the Leather, Textiles, and Footwear Workers Association released a report documenting the abuse of refugees’ rights who work in the Izmir leather, textile, and footwear industries. They surveyed 100 employees (77 Syrians, 12 Afghans, 6 Iranians, and 5 Iraqis). The most predominant problem they encountered was underpayment due to informal employment practices. 60% of the participants stated that they were paid below the minimum wage and Turkish workers get paid 200-250 Turkish lira more per month. 65% of the refugees stated that they worked 11-12 hours every day without getting paid overtime. A textile worker also added that employers threaten to fire them when they complain about long working hours. 77% of the refugees said they worked longer hours compared to Turkish citizens. Lastly, refugees working in these industries were likely to be exposed to ill-treatment, discrimination, and hate speech. One Syrian leatherworker explained that refugees are subject to degrading treatment by employers which makes the existing biases towards Turkish workers even worse.
Covid-19 had a huge impact on work possibilities in Turkey, including for refugees and asylum seekers. Due to the type of work typically undertaken by refugees, their poor economic situation and a lack of access to public services such as healthcare, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic affected refugees to a greater extent, deepening already existing income inequality. Since Turkey’s economy depends a great deal on temporary workers, refugees’ declining labour force participation during the pandemic had a negative impact on the economy. 64% of migrant households in Turkey experienced a sharp decrease in their monthly household income during the pandemic, in 56 % of these households debts increased and their access to food and hygiene decreased.  Research conducted by NGO ASAM with 1,162 temporary protection and international protection status holders showed that after the COVID-19, breakout unemployment rates among refugees went up substantially from 18% to 89%.
 Article 89(4)(a) LFIP.
 Article 89(4)(ç) LFIP.
 Articles 6-7 Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Article 6(1)-(2) Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Article 9(1) Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection. Provisionally, however, these applications are lodged with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services: Provisional Article 1 Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Article 9(2) Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Article 18(1) Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Article 17 Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 Istanbul Marmura Magistrate Court decision 2018/8, date 2 February 2018.
 Refugees International, I am only looking for my rights: Legal employment still inaccessible for refugees in Turkey, December 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2ylz434, 5. Confirmed by a stakeholder as still the case in April 2021.
 Article 22 Regulation on Work Permit for Applicants for and Beneficiaries of International Protection.
 More information is available at: http://bit.ly/3aZ4CiF
 See, UNDP Turkey, UNDP to Bring Turkish and Syrian Businesses Together at Mersin, 16 January 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/33q1Ikp.
 Leather, Textiles and Footwear Workers Association, Deri, Tekstil ve Kundura İşkolunda Çalışan Mülteci İşçilerin Yaşadığı Hak İhlalleri Raporu, March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3fXrULy, 13.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 19.
 ASAM/ COVID-19 Salgınının Türkiye’deki Mülteciler Üzerindeki Etkilerinin Sektörel Analizi, Sectoral Analysis of The Impacts of COVID-19 on Refugees In Turkey, 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3scBehq, 14.