The Irish government told The PIE News that the Ankara visa office has seen a more than 100% increase in visa applications between January and April 2022, compared to the same period in 2019 (before Covid-19 restrictions), with “long-stay study visas accounting for more than 60% of those being received in 2022”.
This follows an announcement by the embassy of Ireland in Turkey on March 25, which stated that there are “significant delays” in processing English language course visas.
“The current English language study visa processing time for fully complete applications submitted to the Ankara visa office is 14 weeks,” said a spokesperson from the Irish Department of Justice, which oversees immigration to the country.
On its website, the Irish government says applicants can normally expect a decision within eight weeks.
But Engin Cosar, managing director at Turkish agency Academix, said that some of the students he works with have been waiting six months for visa decisions.
“We try to encourage our students to stick to their plans, but some of our students cancelled their programs and asked for their passports back from the consulate,” Cosar said.
“Some of these students changed their study destination, some of them decided to stay in Turkey.”
The long wait times have forced some students to cancel their programs, while others have been unable to make alternative plans as they have paid in full for ELT courses.
It is unclear how many students are affected but agents are growing increasingly concerned about the delays – one agency claimed it has had approximately 200 cancellations.
Applicants must send their passports when applying for visas, meaning some applicants have been without these for the past six months – Cosar believes this is another reason that students are cancelling.
Ireland is a popular destination for Turkish students because they are able to work part-time during their studies if staying in the country for longer than three months.
Since the crash of the Turkish lira in December 2021, the option to work alongside studying has become even more important to students, according to David O’Grady, CEO at Marketing English in Ireland.
Similarly, Covid has created “huge pent-up demand”, O’Grady said, as many of the students who deferred their courses during lockdowns are now looking to travel to Ireland.
But the Irish embassy in Ankara, which oversees visa processing for Turkish students, is struggling to keep up with the number of applications it is receiving.
“In the last few months there has been a deterioration in the quality of applications”
Agents and language school representatives have also been made aware that the embassy has recently begun to receive an increasing amount of lower-quality applications containing incorrect or incomplete information.
“In the last few months there has been a deterioration in the quality of applications,” said O’Grady, who has been working with the Irish embassy to resolve the problems facing the sector.
“Not of applicants, but of how the application form is completed… That has created huge problems with a very small visa office in Ankara.”
It is unclear why this is happening or whether the low-quality applications are linked to specific agents or individual students – when applicants complete their visa forms, they do not need to declare whether they have enrolled on a course via an agent.
“Any other [country’s] consulate would refuse those applications but Ireland asked for missing documents from the students,” said Serap Aslantatar, managing director at Alternatif ECS, a Turkish agency. “This also increases the waiting period for all of us.”
Some of the students Aslantatar works with have been waiting since December for decisions on their applications.
When applying for visas, students must also show that they have immediate access to at least €7,000.
Some applicants sell jewellery in order to provide this proof of funds, which O’Grady said the visa office is “a bit nervous about”, again slowing down the processing of applications.
“We would like to see the visas returned to normal processing times before starting to promote Ireland again”
“Every effort is made to keep visa processing times to a minimum,” the Irish Department of Justice spokesperson said. “A number of measures have been put in place to deal with the increased demand for visas to come to Ireland, including in the Ankara visa office.
“This includes the assignment of additional staff to deal with applications, and more generally the streamlining of visa processes where possible. The position in this regard is being kept under review.
“The processing time at each office and location worldwide is determined by a number of factors such as the volume and complexity of applications whether investigation is required or not, individual circumstances, peak application periods, seasonal factors, and the resources available.
“While every effort is made to process applications as quickly as possible, processing times inevitably vary as a result.”
MEI believes that visa processing times will return to normal in approximately eight weeks.
“Agents are understandably frustrated because they’re getting complaints from clients,” said O’Grady, who said that MEI is working with both agents and the visa office to “keep things as smooth as possible”.
In the meantime, Aslantatar says her agency has stopped promoting Ireland and has not made any new applications since March.
“We would like to see the visas returned to normal processing times before starting to promote Ireland again.”