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English schools in USA suffer as Turkish visa rejections soar

Rejections of visa applications to study English in the USA have soared in Turkey in recent months, The PIE News has learned, causing panic among agents and US ELT providers for whom Turkey is a key source market. The visa refusals are thought to be linked to the arrest this summer of Turks using F1 and J1 visas to work illegally in the US as pedicab drivers.

"We estimate the refusal rate has gone up to about 80%"

Speaking to The PIE, a US Embassy official in Ankara said only that a vast majority of Turkish visa applications are approved. The US Embassy in Turkey would not comment on the rejections or say if the high rates will return to previous levels, leaving many feeling helpless as their Turkish enrolments dwindle.

“Since the end of June the rejection rate has averaged 53% among our members”

Eren Göker, president of Turkey’s biggest agency association, UED, said, “Since the end of June the rejection rate has averaged 53%, by the end of October 2012 we estimate that refusal rate has gone up to about 80%, from our members’ feedback.”

“We are trying to communicate with the US Consulate General visa department in Istanbul to improve the situation as quickly as possible because both agencies and language schools are losing business. US and Turkish relations in education have been very good for the last 10 years and we want to maintain this.”

Göker said UED’s 80 agency members accounted for around 80% of Turkey-US language business, but that around 150 visas were being rejected last month – costing agents, schools and the US economy thousands of dollars.

Likewise, US member association, English USA, is surveying its members because of concerns raised about a Turkish freefall.

Osman Akyuz, Director of Recruitment and Agent Support (Turkey and Central Asia) for ELS, one of North America’s largest ELT chains, acknowledged that rejections had climbed to more than 50% among his applicants. He now fears a drop in long- as opposed to short-term enrolments at ELS’s predominantly campus-based operations that could harm bottom-line earnings.

“If this continues we will not meet our student recruitment targets for 2012″

“The Turkish market is very important for us, its our sixth biggest market,” he said. “If this continues, we will not meet our student recruitment targets for 2012 and this could threaten ELS’s future operations in Turkey.

“I have been looking at our August, September and October enrolments and I can see the decline already.”

The US State Department has publicised its ban on summer work travel visa holders working in the pedicab sector, following the arrests made earlier this year, via the Bureau of Consular Affairs and US Consulate General. It says that it also informed Turkish companies recruiting students for the exchange program of permissible occupations.

The US embassy would not confirm a link between the arrests and the current rejection rate, but it is thought to be scrutinising visa applicants more closely since the arrests. Students need to prove they have solid economic credentials and a convincing reason for studying in the US.

UED said that it wanted to help the US root out visa fraud but there was “no logic” to the rejections. “Students who apply for a student visa are refused, but if they applied for a tourist visa a week later they’d get a 10-year visa,” said Göker. “They are just closing the door on students.”

“I will only send students to the US for Masters courses now”

Others complain the US Embassy has provided no guidance to agents and students about the rejections, and that legitimate students are suffering.

“There is no information coming from the counsellors. It is expected that some students don’t get the visa. But when students of quality don’t get the visa, then our agents know there is something absolutely wrong,” said Akyuz.

Some UED members are now advising students to choose other countries for language education until the situation improves. Summing up the mood, a Turkish agent who preferred not to be named said: “If students say they want to study in the US for a short-term language course, I am already changing their direction for the UK because of the visa problem. I will only send students to the US for Masters courses now.”

According to last year’s Open Doors stats, Turkey was the 10th most important source market for Intensive English Programs in the US.

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