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article imageTurks seeking US visas left reeling by diplomatic row

By Raziye Akkoc with Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbul (AFP)     Oct 13, 2017 in Travel

Turkish students, business executives and travel operators have been left reeling by the country's dispute with the United States that has led both to suspend visas.

Last year, 313,654 Turks went to the US while 459,493 Americans came to Turkey, according to figures provided by the Turkish Statistical Institute.

But the decision to charge a US consulate staffer with links to the American-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused of launching last year's failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has thrown ties into turmoil.

In response, the US embassy in Ankara said it would suspend non-immigrant visas including those for tourism and work. Turkey then halted all visa services at its US missions for American citizens.

"Students and their families are panicking," said Zeynep Sen, a foreign education programme coordinator based in Istanbul, who helps students go abroad.

One of those affected is Ergun Coskun, a 22-year-old student training to be an English teacher, who planned to go to the United States to develop his English language skills.

"All my plans are dead in the water. We're still waiting, there is no end result," Coskun told AFP.

- 26,000 students go to US -

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal in his recent criticism of the United States
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal in his recent criticism of the United States

Every year around 26,000 Turkish students go to the United States for educational reasons, according to Deniz Akar, managing director of International Education Fairs of Turkey.

Some 10,000 go for English-language training, 10,000 for bachelors and masters degrees while 6,000 visit the US for the "Work and Travel" programme.

The scheme allows university students to live and work in the US during their summer holidays. Applications for 2018 start now but Akar said if the visa suspensions continued, no one would be able to take part next summer.

The US ambassador to Ankara said the restrictions were based on location.

"If you want to apply for a visa at another US embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so," John Bass said on Monday.

However, Akar said this did not mean that visas would be granted.

"We are advising those who are in urgent need to go to other countries but there is no guarantee they will get visas in these countries," he added.

Turkey and the United States are both members of NATO but their relations have more recently been rocked by the coup attempt and numerous foreign policy disagreements.

"I don't know what will happen now. Will I be able to go or not, I don't know. We are waiting," 22-year-old student Kubra, who only wished to give her first name, said.

US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass has said citizens can apply for visas at consulates outside Turkey
US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass has said citizens can apply for visas at consulates outside Turkey

Ibrahim Ozdemir, general manager at Vizefix in Ankara which helps people with visa applications, said he had three or four clients who were waiting to see what would happen after applying for a US visa, some of whom had appointments next week.

- 'We are all losers' -

An education fair is due in Istanbul from October 27 to 29.

Mohammad Shadid, chief executive of ConnecME specialising in providing greater education opportunities, said his company would meet up to 30,000 Turkish students.

"We are all losers in this," he said, adding that top speakers for the fair were at risk of not being able to reach Turkey.

Servet Alioglu, general manager at Saltur travel agency in Ankara, said a number of the company's tours to the US would be cancelled but the impact of the row was wider -- the lira lost more than six percent after the tit-for-tat visa moves on Sunday before recovering much of its losses.

"This decision saw foreign currencies fly high. While there is this uncertainty and pessimism, no one is thinking about holidays," Alioglu said, clinging to hope of a breakthrough.

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