Visa suspension was a reaction to Ankara’s Syria policy and the arrest of a US embassy employee, Turkish official says.
Hundreds of Turkish citizens, including students, have been affected by the visa dispute between Washington and Ankara after the former suspended visa services in Turkey.
Visa appointments of the Turks trying to go to the US were cancelled following Sunday’s embassy announcement that revealed that all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey were halted amid concerns over “the security of US mission and personnel”.
Ankara retaliated reciprocally, freezing e-visas and visas on arrival for US citizens merely hours later in the same day.
The US move was a reaction to Turkey’s detention of a Turkish citizen working for the US consulate in Istanbul last week.
Authorities blame Metin Topuz for having links to the organisation of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled religious leader and businessman based in Pennsylvania and wanted in Turkey for allegedly masterminding last year’s coup attempt that killed more than 300 people, including the putschists.
Turks apply for tourist visas to the US mostly through the summer, the popular holiday season for Turkish citizens.
Seda Duran, a consultant with Global visa consultancy services in Istanbul, told Al Jazeera that student visa applications and visas to attend conferences and other events in the US, either business or academic, have been high in numbers recently.
“In the ones for educational purposes, the majority are for language schools. There are also ship crew visa applications that are on hold now,” she said.
Students hit by crisis
Duran added that there had not been many applications for visas for higher education in October, given that most US universities started classes in September.
“However, in some cases, the acceptance letters arrived late, so the visa applications were delayed even though the academic year started. These students now cannot apply for student visas,” he said.
Students are among the most affected by the current stalemate, both financially and emotionally.
In addition to visa application fees, most students made down payments for their programmes, be they language schools or universities.
Some also paid for education consultancy services, and some others for visa application companies that make the application on behalf of the individual.
Ayse Erbek, 21, said that she was preparing to apply for a student visa to attend a language school in California when the visa ban was announced.
“Everything was on schedule. If the ban lasts for long, I will lose the money I paid for the school as I will miss the beginning date. And my dream of studying in the US will end with disappointment,” she told Al Jazeera.
Consultant Duran said that a parent dealing with her company paid $9,000 in total as prepayment to enrol his three daughters to a US university and approximately another $1,000 for a visa, consultancy and other expenses.
Their visa application is now on hold.
The US mission in Turkey has not made it clear whether the visa and appointment fees will be returned to those who have already applied.
Thousands of applications for the Work and Travel programme will also be affected by the situation if the dispute is not resolved until early next year.
Work and Travel is an international cultural exchange summer scheme that allows people to experience a foreign country by working in it for a few months.
Efe Tucay, 33, who was preparing to attend a historical fencing certificate programme in New Jersey, told Al Jazeera that his plans were put on hold indefinitely as a result of the fast-changing political climate.
“Our association is trying to get historical fencing, which is different than Olympic fencing, recognised as an official sport in Turkey. By attending the certificate programme, we were hoping to achieve that,” he said.
Turkish citizens with valid visas in their passports generally have not been affected by Sunday’s development. However, in some cases, people who already secured the valid permits were hit by the bureaucratic stalemate.
Sadi Tekin, a 41-year-old illustrator, who has been living in New York for the last six years through a non-immigrant working visa, was on holiday in Istanbul when the US Embassy announcement came.
He told Al Jazeera that his work permit had to be renewed every three years and he did that in the US before coming to Turkey.
“However only missions abroad can process visas into the passport,” he said
“So, I was trying to get my valid work permit into my passport when the suspension happened. I was told that my appointment at the Istanbul consulate was cancelled.”
Holders of Turkish passport theoretically can travel and try to secure US visas in third countries as visa services have only been frozen in the US’ Turkish mission.
Tekin is planning to go to Greece to get his visa to get back to New York if the crisis takes too long to be resolved.
“Meaningless tensions between states affect ordinary people’s lives immensely. Goddamn politics,” Tekin said, expressing his frustration.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras