Message well received
The last time I was in a crowded room waiting for a visa interview, I saw many Iranians around. That’s the first time I realized what it meant to be an Iranian. It’s not only about having to apply for visas all the time, like Turks, but also about finding a country to apply for your visa in – in this case, Turkey. “Too tiring,” I remember saying to myself. “Too much time and money wasted on something so intangible.” Now, Turks have been reduced to the state of their neighbors in the East.
The United States and Iran have no diplomatic ties, meaning the U.S. has no diplomatic facilities in Iran. That is why Iranians have been coming to Turkey to get their U.S. visas. They are used to staying in Ankara for extended periods. In addition to culture tourism or health tourism, there is also visa tourism in Iran.
The U.S. and Turkey still have diplomatic ties. Turkey has been a longtime member of NATO, and has planned its foreign policy along these lines for decades. This is a big contrast to Iran, who has no friends, and has to look out for itself.
Yet recently, the Turkish-American relationship has come to a point where the U.S. halted non-immigrant visa services in Turkey. Turks are now making preparations for visa tours in neighboring countries. We are an ally to the most powerful military block the world has ever seen, but our people are now finding out how it feels to be a citizen of a pariah state. I find this rather annoying.
The matter in which this happened is worth remembering in detail. When the U.S. suspended all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, Ankara responded by issuing a slight variation of the same statement for its facilities in the U.S. This was bizarre. Turkish diplomatic facilities in the U.S. seldom handle visa issues these days. Americans in the U.S. apply for online visas and merely have to show them upon arrival in Turkey. Americans can take a flight to Turkey from another country and get visas at the border. Turkey’s ban hits Americans who want to take direct flights to Turkey, but still allows Americans to fly in from another country. All this does is take money out of Turkish Airlines pockets and put it in Lufthansa’s. An unintended consequence, I have to note.
The American decision, on the other hand, is definitely bad for Turkish citizens. It is especially damaging for young Turks who are studying, or are planning to study in the U.S. Let me give you a few numbers. As of May 2017, there are 12,006 Turkish students studying in the U.S. In 2011, Turkish students were the 11th and in 2015, the 15th largest group of foreign students studying in the country. China was the first, India the second and South Korea the third. Of the 12,006 students in 2015, around 20 percent are there for English language courses, and the rest for various degrees. Why?
American universities are the best in the world, and English is still the universal language of science, technology and education. China now has 362,368 students studying in the U.S. All with visas, mind you. India has 206,698 students again in 2015. These numbers show the need to increase, not to limit the number of Turkish students in the U.S.
The U.S. decision to suspend visa services in Turkey is bad for young Turks especially. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers” says the Bible. Even sins are personal. See the list of countries with no U.S. visa services? Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. It is not fair to list Turkey together with these countries. If this is to signal a serious problem in Turkish-American relations, the message has now been received. D.C. should solve the problem without any further damage to its longtime ally.