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Turkey and USA suspend non-immigrant visas

The USA and Turkey have mutually halted the issuance of non-immigrant visas following a diplomatic spat, a situation that has left Turkish agencies cautiously confident that the situation will be quickly rectified but concerned over longer-term impacts if it isn't.

The announcement that the USA would suspend non-immigrant visa operations - including student and exchange visas - in Turkey followed the arrest of a US consulate employee last week. Local media reports suggest the arrest is in relation to alleged links to last year's attempted coup.

 

US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, issued a statement saying that it had not received any information over the arrest of the official, who he said worked in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation, and that visa operations were being suspended while they assessed "the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel".

 

He stated, "This was not a decision we took lightly and it's a decision we took with great sadness. We realise that the suspension of visa services will inconvenience people. We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can't predict how long it will take to resolve this matter." The Turkish government has responded by banning visa issuance to US citizens.

 

Ambassador Bass stressed that this situation was not a ban on Turkish citizens. "If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States. If you want to apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so."

 

Gokhan Islamoglu, Coordinator of Turkish agency association UED, told StudyTravel Magazine that agents were expecting a relatively swift resumption of normal service.

 

"Student mobility between Turkey and the U.S. is an important asset economically and culturally for both parties. Therefore, we all believe that the decision of visa suspension will be cancelled soon. However, the definition of 'soon' is so important in this issue."

 

Nonetheless, the suspension of visas has already impacted the agency sector, he said. "Even within only two days after the announcement of the visa suspension, we have been faced with many questions. Our booked students and their parents have been affected by this decision and some of them have postponed their study plans, and others are looking for alternative destinations to realise their study abroad plans."

 

At this stage, students considering the USA for language programmes were mostly waiting to see what will happen, while those considering academic programmes were continuing with plans, Gokhan advised.

 

However, he said if there was a delay in solving the current problem, there could be a greater impact. He added that if the situation continued long term it would cause disruption for the summer work and travel (J-1) exchange programme, as students would have no alternative destination to fall back on. He said approximately 5,000 Turkish students per year participate in the scheme, with the bulk of the visa applications made in March or April.  

 

He added that a few students that were very serious about education in the USA would apply for visas at embassies outside of Turkey.

 

In StudyTravel Magazine's most recent Turkey agency survey, conducted in 2016, the USA was the second-most popular destination for clients of Turkish agencies, accounting for 23.9 per cent of bookings.

 

 

By Matthew Knott

News Editor