Ambassador John Bass’ Statement On The Suspension Of Visa Services In Turkey

October 9, 2017

Good afternoon. I want to convey to our Turkish friends and partners the reasons for the U.S. government’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa services at our embassy and consulates in Turkey, and to explain what this suspension means.

In the Embassy’s statement yesterday, we said we were suspending non-immigrant visa services.  The suspension allows us to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while we assess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel.   Here is what led us to take this decision:

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Particularly disturbing is that some Turkish officials apparently have provided information about the allegations to certain news outlets—again without informing the accused or his legal counsel.  The news organizations repeated allegations that  in his official capacity working for our embassy – the employee spoke with members of the Turkish government, police, or prosecutors about law enforcement matters.

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States.  If true, this would put the people who work with, and work at, and visit our diplomatic facilities at risk.  We don’t know if these arrests are singular events or if we should expect other Turkish staff members to be arrested for simply speaking to Turkish government officials or the wider Turkish public in the course of their duties. 

Our local staff members are Turkish citizens and we, of course, expect them to observe Turkish law like any other citizen of the Republic.  They have a right to expect Turkish authorities will provide appropriate legal protections and due process, including the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, in accordance with the Turkish constitution, and the principles of rule of law that all modern democracies follow.

Now this suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens.  It’s a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications.  If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States.  If you want to apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so.

This was not a decision we took lightly and it’s a decision we took with great sadness.  We realize that the suspension of visa services will inconvenience people.  We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter.  The duration will be a function of ongoing discussions between our two governments about the reasons for the detention of our local staff members and the Turkish Government’s commitment to protecting our facilities and our personnel here in Turkey.  Thank you.