Turkey suspends visa applications for US tourists
Earlier this week, a brief note appeared on the website and Twitter account of the Turkish Embassy in Washington. The meat of the message was: " . . . effective immediately we have suspended all visa services regarding the U.S. citizens at our diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S. This measure will apply to sticker visas as well as e-Visas and border visas."
The implications are grave: No visa, no Turkey.
"You can't go to Turkey right now," said Justin Chapman, director of sales at VisaHQ, which assists travelers with procuring travel documents, including Turkish visas. "We aren't even allowed to process them."
As recently as last week, Americans could apply for a Turkish visa through the country's U.S. consulates or via the online system called e-visa. Now only travelers who currently possess a visa can visit the republic. The State Department updated its informational page on Turkey with news of the visa suspension. A Sept. 28 travel warning alerting travelers to potential terrorist threats still stands.
"We recommend U.S. citizens carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey," the department stated.
In response to the freeze on visas, Turkish Airlines, which offers nonstop service to Istanbul from BWI Marshall, has loosened its rebooking and cancellation policies. U.S. passport holders with tickets issued by or before Oct. 9 and plans to fly to Turkey by Oct. 31 can change their reservation free of charge. They can also receive a refund for any unused plane ticket, including unflown legs of the journey. The airline will waive fees through Oct. 31 on flights aboard Turkish Airlines and AnadoluJet. Travelers with final destinations elsewhere in Europe or beyond can still transit through Turkey, but they are not permitted to leave the airport.
American Airlines partners with British Airways on flights from the United States to Turkey and typically sends checked bags to the final city on the traveler's itinerary. Although U.S. citizens do not need a visa for London, the connecting city, American Airlines staff will check passports for proper travel documents at the departure airport. The agents will deny boarding to any passengers without a Turkish visa. (The passport check applies to all destinations requiring Americans to have visas.)
"We don't want them to get stuck in London," said Ross Feinstein, an American Airlines spokesman, "and have to fly back."
The Dubai office of International SOS, a security consulting firm, said it does not anticipate a drawn-out standoff over visas. (Turkey's move followed a decision by the U.S. ambassador to Turkey to suspend nonimmigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in the country.)
"We don't expect the suspension of visa services between the U.S. and Turkey to be a long-term policy due in part to the negative economic impact it would likely have, especially in Turkey," the company wrote in an email.
However, the firm is keeping an eye on the issue - and on Americans in Turkey.
"We will continue to monitor the situation in case of any escalation, including additional arrests of U.S. diplomatic employees, the expelling of U.S. diplomatic staff from country, a revised policy on the status of U.S. nationals already in the country, and, less formally, any signs of rising anti-U. S. sentiment that could affect U.S. nationals and business in country," the security experts stated.
Tour operators with future trips to Turkey are waiting and watching, hoping for positive developments. Abercrombie and Kent's next voyage to Turkey departs in May. Jean Fawcett, an A&K spokeswoman, said it's too early to know if the visa issue will affect the trip. But she said the company will fully refund travelers in the event of a cancellation.
Friendly Planet Travel has seen a dip in interest to Turkey, due to the crisis in Syria, but the tour company recently reinstated trips for 2018. The next Best of Turkey departure is scheduled for early April.
Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet, said the company has not noticed a rise in cancellations, nor has it received any new bookings for its Turkey tour. But Goldman has time - at least on the visa matter.
"We can wait this out," she said. "I am not going to worry about it until the end of November."