Why so many Turkish barber shops?

Why so many Turkish barber shops?

While in Kings Heath yesterday afternoon, I noticed an ‘Opening Soon!’ sign in a shop window. I paid no attention at first, then as I took a further few steps, I thought to myself “I bet I know what this is!” So I stopped for a second and looked up at the shop sign. I was right.

A Turkish barber shop.

And that reminded me of something I wanted to write about.

I first observed this phenomenon early last year, when I regularly used to travel by bus along the Coventry Road through the Hay Mills area of Birmingham, and had noticed two, perhaps three, Turkish barber shops along there. It didn’t seem that odd at first, apart from the fact that there were already numerous barber shops along the Stratford Road in nearby Sparkbrook, as well as along the Coventry Road through Small Heath. It is also unusual in that the number of “gents” barber shops also vastly outnumbers the number of “ladies” hair dressers.

Anyway, my curiosity was tweaked when I learned of something (which I’ll come to) which I found a bit questionable, but as with so many things, I didn’t think any more on this, until I saw the following Facebook post:

It all came back to me, and while I don’t visit nearby Shirley (in Solihull) very often, I was astonished to learn there are 14 barber shops there, most of which are Turkish.

Very few people are unaware of such a thing as a “Turkish Businessperson Visa”. I’m not making this up, you can visit the GOV.UK website to read all about it.

The basic gist is that if you are a Turkish person with a viable business plan, or you plan to be involved with running an already established business in the UK, you can apply for this visa, which allows you to come to the UK for 12 months, and either start your own business, or help to run an existing business.

First of all, an interesting question to ask is “why a Turkish businessperson visa”? It is extremely odd that there is a specific Businessperson visa for Turkish nationals (I also note there is also a Turkish Worker visa), why no ‘Australian Businessperson visa’ or ‘Cambodian worker visa’ for that matter?

It is interesting to read the following information from the Overview page:

How long you can stay
You can use this visa to stay in the UK for 12 months.
You may also be able to:
extend your visa for another 3 years
apply to settle in the UK permanently
What you can do
You can:
start a new business in the UK
join an existing business which you will have an active part in running
switch into this visa from another visa category
extend your stay if you’re already in this visa category
bring your family (‘dependants’) with you

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to genuinely come to the UK and start their own business here, but it looks like there is the possibility that this particular visa could be open to ‘exploitation’ and be misused. So it is only natural to be asking questions of this.

There were articles published last year which suggested that ‘traditional Turkish barber shops’ might be “using modern-day slave labour”, see here and here.

That in itself is abhorrent. I have also heard suggestions that these businesses employ illegal immigrants – who have no right to be in the country in the first place – further exacerbating the ‘slave labour’ claims.

Great, so the UK government is actively encouraging Turkish ‘businesspersons’ to come to the UK, start their own businesses and employ cheap slave-labour or illegals. (So much for ‘creating new jobs’, eh?)

But its okay, because once you have this visa, as per the guidelines on the GOV.UK website, you can apply to settle permanently AND bring the rest of your family with you.

Now, another far more sinister suggestion I have heard, is that these ‘businesses’ just end up being ‘fronts’ for more, how shall we say, ‘less-elicit’ types of businesses. In other words, money-laundering operations using ‘legitimate’ businesses to cover up ‘illegal businesses’.

How could this be done? Let’s face it, a barber shop is a fairly straight-forward ‘legitimate’ business to set up, and probably cheap to do so. You may get a fair number of genuine paying customers coming through your doors for a hair-cut or wet shave, despite the fact you are supposedly ‘competing’ with many other barber shops in the local area.

If you were also involved with something more underhand, like drug dealing or prostitution for example, and you wanted a way to ‘wash’ your money through, why not just declare a “few additional customers” through your books, and bank the cash through your ‘legitimate’ takings?

Now, I’m not saying that all Turkish businesses in the UK do this, I’m just giving examples of how this system COULD be abused and exploited. And I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it IS happening.

And of course, this doesn’t just specifically apply to Turkish barber shops, just have a look at your local high street or shopping precinct and see for yourself, you may also find Turkish restaurants or take-aways.

As a balding man who cuts his own hair at home, I would not knowingly be out and about actively searching for barber shops. But once you have this kind of knowledge, suddenly you will notice them everywhere. Not just in Hay Mills or Kings Heath in Birmingham, nor Shirley in Solihull, up and down the country, people who wouldn’t normally otherwise take notice will see these Turkish shops popping up everywhere.