Interview #1 : From Turkish Businessperson visa to Settlement
Maya Kurdoglu shares her visa extension struggles as a freelancer, exchanging document lists that are hard to search online, and sorting out Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR, aka settlement) with the help of Salmo.
Maya is a Turkish illustrator, animator and designer who has been based in London for over 10 years. Her short film 'The Coincidental Killing of a Cat' has been featured in Venezia Short Film Awards, Raindance Film Festival, WOFF Glasgow Festival and more. Check out her website and Instagram.
Hello Maya! I’m excited about this interview. Let’s start! What brought you to the UK in the first place? Why did you stay?
I came to study product design initially because I preferred the design schools here instead of the ones in Istanbul where I’m from. I came here on a student visa and really liked living here!
Also, the political situation in Turkey was messy even back then. It felt more limited and unstable compared to here. The UK was a part of the EU, so it seemed like plenty of opportunities at the time!
I had the option to stay after I graduated, and wanted to have an alternative to going back to Istanbul. At the time I hadn’t planned on staying here my whole life necessarily but knew I wanted to stay here for more.
And then Brexit happened towards the end of your degree… How was that?
I felt so cheated when it happened. I was finally on the route to having access to the whole of Europe. Then I was like ‘Okay, UK is a bit on its own…’
Switching to the Turkish Business Visa
Which visa did you switch to after you graduated?
It’s called the Turkish Businessperson visa that’s slightly different from the other visas. It closed for new applications after Brexit because it was connected to the EU.
You can be self-employed and have your own business. It can be a shop or a freelance practice. As your investment, you need to show that you can cover your own expenses. It’s not as demanding as other entrepreneur visas because your initial sum of investment doesn’t have to be as high. Which was good!
What is the process for your Turkish businessperson visa and how do you find it?
After I graduated, I had four months to find a job that could sponsor a work visa for me. That was the time period given to international students back then. But then my father discovered the Turkish Businessperson visa and told me about it, so we started talking to some immigration advisers to see what is required for the visa. It turned out to be less intimidating than other visas like Tier 1 which would require a high amount of capital. I thought I could make it work here as a freelancer and I already had some contacts. So I went for it.
How was the process of starting out as a freelancer?
I had a small network to get started as a freelancer; after I started my design studio, I reached out to my contacts and got references from them.
Having studied here helped a lot. If you are applying from Turkey and you haven’t lived in the UK before, you might need to show more of a professional background. But because I studied here, my education was my professional background. It also helped me to develop my networks whilst I was a student.
You must have felt so good when you got your visa! How was it?
I don’t remember much from the first application, but I was happy of course! The visa extension applications that I later made felt more significant because I had just started to build my life, not student life, and if I were to get rejected, I would have to leave my life. Thankfully that didn’t happen!
So there you had a feeling of ‘What if I lose everything?’...
Definitely! Even if you meet all the requirements it’s always just a stressful experience.
Is this enough income? Are my projects good enough? Do I have a diverse list of clients? Is it okay for my application if I do graphic design together with product design? There is always an extra layer of self-doubt that comes with it.
Inheriting The document list
How did your immigration adviser support your extension applications?
This visa is linked to your financial accounts. After I got my first visa, I asked around and found someone who was an immigration adviser and an accountant at the same time. He is also from Turkey living in London and has been doing this for a long time. The fact that he was doing both advising and accounting was very helpful for me. Because I didn’t have to worry about coordinating between two separate people. It was also good that he was someone who was very experienced with this specific visa type. He has been very helpful and provided me with a list of documents that I couldn’t find online as part of the application requirements.
Basically, if you go online, the requirements for this visa are not very clear. The documents listed are very few. But one of the biggest requirements is that you need to prove you are running a business. It doesn’t say any of this online but only mentions your bank accounts and invoices. But the adviser explained there are documents that you naturally would show as part of your business, which will of course become part of your documents list.
For example, it's good to show that you have a website and social media accounts for your business, or business insurance. Any evidence that proves your business exists. It’s okay if you skip some of them, but the point is that it's a way longer list than what’s listed online.
It all takes a very long time as well. There are reference letters, and insurance documents to collect. There is just an ongoing secret list of things that you need to keep an eye on. So yeah my adviser was very helpful. Just providing that list itself was helpful and then he explained what’s what too.
Does everyone do their application with an immigration adviser?
I know only one friend who did one of her applications without an adviser. But even she had to contact me and other friends who did have advisers to double-check the list of documents, and the lists were very different! This is because it’s not an officially published list, it’s just gathered through the experiences of different applicants and advisers. Pretty confusing.
So it’s like ‘You don’t have to do it, but if you don’t do it you might get rejected’ sort of situation?
Yes, exactly! So this friend did get her visa extension but only for one year, which is less than the normal time period of 3 years. It’s a bit complicated. Normally your first visa is for one year, and then for every extension, you would get three more years. But if they find something insufficient, like income or UK-based clients then that’s not great. It doesn’t mean you are out, but it might cause some complications, then they might give you just one more year of extension, and at the end of that year, you need to make a new application. But they (the Home Office) do give feedback and explanations, which I was surprised about.
My friend worked with an adviser for her next application. She was saying that paying for the adviser instead of a year’s worth of therapy after that experience is better.
What were the factors of stress for you throughout applying for this visa and extensions over these five years?
A sense of mistrust and uncertainty. Am I doing good enough? Will it be enough?
It’s hard to be a freelancer under normal circumstances anyway. Being on this visa doesn’t even allow you to work somewhere part-time to get some support at any point, which means you MUST make it work as a freelancer. And that directly affects if I can live here in the UK.
Gathering documents and asking people for references are stressful as well.
You also don’t have access to some government grants like the Arts Council grants. That can be difficult because as a freelance creative those grants are helpful.
Receiving Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)
Do you want to share the good news about your latest visa?
Yes! I have my Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) now! I just got it recently.
Tell me about that process. Did you apply to the 10-year ILR route?
No, I applied to the 5-year one. All this time I thought I would do the 10-year route, but there is a rule about the number of days you can spend outside of the UK. I thought I was doing okay for that so I hadn’t been keeping track of my days digitally anywhere. Then I used Salmo’s ILR Tracker, went through all the stamps on my passport physically, and my days didn’t meet the requirement. It turned out that when I was in university, I took a big chunk of summer off, so that had an impact on my total number of days outside of the UK. If I were to apply to the 10-year route, I would have to wait for one more year.
Thankfully Salmo’s ILR Tracker reminded me about the 5-year route; I had already spent 5 years on my Turkish Businessperson visa, so I could apply through that. But the application process for that would be the same as my extension applications. I would need to show all those lists of documents again which is a hefty process.
The 10-year option would be less stressful because I only need to prove I’d been here for 10 years. Which is less stressful. You don’t need to prove anything financially or your work, which means fewer documents…
But I just wanted to get my ILR after having made all these extension applications after 5 years, so I applied for the 5-year route. I checked my days again with Salmo’s ILR Tracker to make sure I fit the criteria. Luckily, I still had my extension for 3 years, so it wasn’t an urgent need to get my ILR, but I still wanted to get it as soon as possible to relax a bit more. I then took 1.5 months to prepare my ILR application and gather all my documents and accounts.
How long did you wait for?
5.5 months! The longest I waited for was more than 6 months; that was for my first application. The least I waited for was 4 months. So, in total I’ve spent more than a year waiting. You can’t leave the country while you’re waiting. Imagine that.
How did you feel after getting your ILR after waiting for 5.5 months?
I felt so relieved! Every time I make an application, I feel like they are going to reject my application without any particular reason. What if they think it’s not good enough progress compared to the previous year? It’s just a weird thing, having to prove yourself in this way.
This was in total 5 years of semi-uncertainty. It’s taking me some time at the moment to get used to having an ILR and to a new mindset. I don’t have to provide documents of my personal finances anymore for example. I have more options now like applying for grants.
So after 10 years of living here, you are actually living for yourself.
Yes, it’s freeing!
What is your opinion on the cost of these applications for applying for a UK visa?
It’s fair enough that the advisers charge you for the services they provide. But there shouldn’t be secret requirement lists that only they can provide. If you are making a legitimate application, you should be able to do it yourself. It is way too costly for the applicants.
Do you think you will get citizenship?
Yes, but I’m not in a rush.
Do you have any suggestions for any potential ILR applicants?
Calculate your total number of days outside of the UK as early as possible! If it’s your first visa then you might not know if you’ll want to apply for the ILR or not but if you are mid-way and considering it, try to plan a bit in advance. Also, look into different visa options. There are people who come here on one visa and then change to another. Visa routes keep changing.
So far I’m not in a rush for citizenship, but I already asked all my questions to prepare for it. So that I don’t miss anything when I apply.
And use Salmo! Salmo is great!