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Exchange students beleaguered by visa problems

Yazan: HaberVs

Julia Hagmair

Even with the broken English the message was clear, “leaving the country without paying means no authorization to return to Turkey for the next five years, paying 400 TL fine for not having a Turkish residence permit means no permission for a return within the next three months or do NOT leave the country at all.” Sounds like a bad movie scene but that happened to two Danish and two Portuguese students in Istanbul.

Two Rules

Scary, to hear such a message. After paying the plane ticket and checking in at the airport you don’t expect that. You get just a few seconds to decide what to do! To pay the fine or not. Not being able to visit the first nephew, celebrating with family and friends, visiting your girlfriend or just making a trip during school vacation. Most Students follow two simple rules! The first one is very economic – try to get the best for spending a little amount of money. The second one fits probably the whole population of the world as well – not struggling with bureaucracy forms.

Bureaucratic procedure

Bureaucracy is a hard nut to crack. The line between acting in a legal or illegal way is thin. It is hard to distinguish what is information and what is just a rumor. Fact is that every international student has to apply for a student visa. I don’t know how many times they told me in my home country that I have to make sure, that it is a student visa. So I went to the Turkish embassy with all the 15 papers I needed to show them that I’m going to be an Erasmus student at the Istanbul Bilgi University. I knew that I have to pay a little amount of money for the visa. After paying and picking up the visa the woman at the embassy told me that I didn’t get a “real” visa and I have to go to the police station in Istanbul within 30 days after arriving. I didn’t understand what she meant so I asked again. The answer was short and simple – go to the police that’s the way it is.
After arriving in Istanbul we got the same Information from our International Student office department. We have to go to the police station within 30 days but first you have to sign up for an appointment. Too bad that none of the students was able to get an appointment within 30 days. Apparently the appointment schedule of the police was full for that period. Information gaps everywhere. Rumors started to grow. It turned out that we just have to sign up for an appointment within 30 days. And you have to pay again for a residence permit.

Playing Roulette

Everyone tried to talk to their consulate or embassy to get information what would happen if they wouldn’t go to the police station and just leave the country within 90 days coming back with a tourist visa and so on. Getting the residence permit suddenly turned out to be a game like Roulette – am I going to place my money on the red (vacation) or black (police) side of the table? Again all the Information was blurry and no one knew what to do. Some chose the legal way and paid money to get a residence permit, some didn’t.

Winner or Loser

Which color was the right one to chose? Every game has a winner and a loser. Bayram is one of the biggest holidays in Turkey. This year Bayram was between the 16th until the 22nd of November 2010. Schools, offices, universities are closed and people are excited to have time for traveling. Every student was ready to travel, but for some students the planned and paid trip ended not as expected.

Fifteen students were not able to get their residence permits because the appointment was after the bayram. Even though they heard about not being allowed to leave the country until they get the residence paper, it was never clear whether it’s just a rumor or a strict procedure. Excited about traveling, no one cared about the blurry information. After getting ready, all of them went to the airports to catch their flights. But what happened? At this point we got twelve winners. They just passed through the passport control without being told the shocking sentence that they cannot leave the country or if they did, they cannot come back. They took their flights without a hitch to their destinations. For three students the trip to Denmark and Syria ended at the airport. They were told that they could not leave without a stamp in their residence permits, which they did not have due to slow bureaucracy. They just turned back to town disgruntled about spending a lot of money for a flight which they were not allowed to take.

But for one student the trip back home to celebrate his birthday with his family ended unexpectedly in an unlucky way. He was one out of the twelve winners allowed to pass from passport controls without a hitch. But on his way back it turned out that he was also a loser in a big way. He was not allowed to enter Turkey because he was not told about the third option that is if you leave without a stamp in your residence permit-which did not exist- you cannot come back as a tourist.

Legal or Illegal

The legal way costs a student between 60 – 300 TL in their home country. At the police station you have to pay 139 TL for the residence permit-a small, dark blue booklet with your picture in it. If you want to count the amount of “little” money you need to spend for 4 passport pictures; 3 pages in color printout and copy of your passport plus the “not real” visa or the public transportation for at least two times going back and forth to the police station you will figure out that you could spend the same amount of money for going to Bulgaria, Greece or Cyprus and get a new tourist visa. The illegal way costs depending on the country you are coming from between 0 to 60 TL plus the expenses of a vacation in another country after at least 90 days being in Turkey to refresh your tourist visa.
However your decision is, I would suggest you to sign up for an appointment with the police back home three months before coming to Turkey.

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