Turkey Has Stopped Issuing Visas as President Erdoğan Declares “I Know You Are But What Am I?”

A US diplomatic employee was detained in Turkey last week claiming links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whom it claims was responsible for the July 2016 coup attempt against Turkish strongman President Erdoğan.

Erdoğan sees Keyser Söze around every corner, and has detained more than 50,000 people and fired an additional 150,000 over suspected links to Gulen. A 13 year old will spend a year in jail for insulting Erdoğan. Amnesty International activists have been jailed and are awaiting trial.

In response to the employee’s detention the US suspended visa services at its facilities in the country.

Now Turkey has retaliated by suspending non-immigrant visa services at their facilities in the U.S.

The US said it ‘needed to “reassess” Turkey’s commitment to the security of its personnel.”‘ So Turkey has released a statement saying “I know you are but what am I?” a parallel statement,

“Recent events have forced the Turkish government to reassess the commitment of government of the United States to the security of Turkish mission facilities and personnel,” the statement by the embassy in Washington said.

Just as Turkish Airlines was added as a Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner, too.

Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo

This certainly won’t help the airline.

Three years ago Turkey began requiring e-Visas for many passport holders. The Turkish e-visa website now says that US passport holders are not eligible to apply online for one.

So U.S. citizens can’t apply online, and cannot obtain visa services in person in the U.S.

Note that this should not affect those transiting Istanbul, for instance connecting on Turkish Airlines. That’s permitted for up to 24 hours in airport without visa.

Just last week Turkey’s President was claiming that Turkish citizens who traveled to the US returned as traitorous agents. So the suspension of visa services by the US should be a boon to his security.

There was some expectation that US relations with Turkey would be strong during the Trump administration despite the nation’s authoritarian tendencies, the US gave some nods towards giving up Gulen and turning him over to Turkey. And former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had been on Turkey’s payroll during the Presidential campaign.

However relations have quickly soured with the country which once aspired to become a member of the EU and is now being run as a banana republic.

This is inconvenient at best for US tourists, but it’s a far worse situation for the Turkish people. Hopefully the visa situation will be resolved soon, but we can only genuinely hope that a modicum of freedom is restored to the country over the medium term.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hmmm…thanks for posting this. What an odd cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face development by (as you note) this increasingly banana-republic-style republic.

    I suspect it will all blow over. But if not, I’d wonder about whether the government will even make transiting through Istanbul more of a hassle for Americans…even, again, if it’s a counterproductive move.

  2. I had always hoped I’d get to visit the IST TK J lounge, but now it looks like the closest I’ll get is their lounge at IAD.

    To be fair, it’s a great lounge too.

  3. I was planning on going on a family vacation to Istanbul for Christmas holiday in a couple of months. I have tickets purchased on Air France and my parents have award tickets on United and Turkish. If we don’t have visas, that pretty much kills the trip. Any idea of what we can do? Will the airlines give refunds?

  4. @Gary
    I purchased our E-Visas for Turkey a few weeks ago and thankfully we just returned to Chicago from Istanbul yesterday. I am curious, since I’m not really well versed in foreign affairs, what would have happened to us you think if we had prepurchased visas in-hand for entry next week? Would they have denied us?

  5. There’s no indication that already-issued visas are being cancelled. And I imagine Turkish embassies and consulates outside the U.S. will issue visas. And we don’t know how long this situation will last…

  6. @aaron k i would book a connecting flight at IST to say TLV or something to salvage your trip.

    I would imagine that this will kill the Turkish airline free city tour business. Too bad. I was in Istanbul earlier this year and the tourist sites are begging for US tourist, literally begged me to tell others to visit.

  7. I am scheduled to visit Istanbul in February as a tourist. All on points so at least I can cancel relatively inexpensively. I have always want to visit Istanbul but given the deteriorating relationship and now this I’ll have to think harder. If this isn’t sorted in a couple of weeks I’ll move on to plan B and visit someplace else that wants to take my money :-).

  8. have a friend that just landed in IST traveling on US Passport. Was able to get visa on arrival no problems.

  9. @ Aaron.

    It looks like Turkey’s Immigration policy is being implemented about as well as Trump’s original USA travel ban.

  10. I am no fan of ‘populist policies’ in any shape or form, and Banana republic indeed, but some Americans need to learn to treat rest of the world with less contempt. How come many American see it well within the US right to unilaterally cut ties with an arbitrary number of countries but cry wolf when this is reciprocated?

    One just needs to read some of the comments here to see what I mean. “…tourist sites are begging for US tourist…” Oh, please! So, non-US tourist are not worthy? Tourist sites may be begging for tourist but unless they specifically advertize for “US” tourists, the quoted comment sounds just arrogant (if not ignorant as well).

  11. Why do they have an add for turkish airlines with the plane going done the escalator side like its going to crash? Who approves this stuff? Its a nice shot for this particular article but seriously not the best for turkish advertising. I spent time in Turkey this past summer. Was worth seeing but no desire to go back. There are a lot of scams there where people are setup to be robbed and I didn’t find the people particularly friendly. At first I thought it was my imagination but I have visited several countries since then and in ALL those countries the people were way way nicer. This will get cleared up within a few week. Turkey needs tourist dollars and the US needs Turkish airbases. Still when they keep arresting US consulate employees I’m glad to see the US take a hard line. These people are not our friends and its probably not a country we should be giving tourist dollars to anyway given the fact the guy has locked up over 40,000 people to stifle any political dissent.

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