|06ISTANBUL1143||2006-06-26 13:40:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Consulate Istanbul|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ISTANBUL 001143
1. (SBU) Summary: From the Visa Line is a reporting vehicle
encompassing vignettes, anecdotes and observations from Istanbul
Consular officers' daily interactions with applicants. In this
issue, we focus on the Summer Work and Travel (SWT) program.
Istanbul's Consular Section processed more than 3,750 SWT applicants
during March-May, 2006, compared to just over 3,000 for all of
Turkey in FY 2005. An analysis of refusal and fraud rates--which
were low -- will follow septel. End Summary.
The Kids are Alright
2. (SBU) SWT applicants are university students who travel to the
United States for seasonal jobs, generally in the service and
tourism sectors. The program -- which we work hard to promote --
often enables Turkish university students of limited means and life
experience to broaden their horizons and improve their English.
Absent SWT, it is unlikely that many of them would be able to visit
the United States at an early stage in their lives.
3. (SBU) Most of these students are the first in their families to
attend university. Many hail from parts of our Consular district
that are underrepresented in terms of travel to the United States.
Generally less sophisticated than their Istanbul-born peers, these
are the children of Turkey's middle and lower-middle classes. New
to an academic setting, a large number of them struggle with their
studies while working part time to help support themselves and their
families. Interestingly, history courses appear to give students
the most trouble, with those covering Ataturk's political thought
the most frequently failed. We believe the SWT students, taken as a
whole, present a rich and compelling portrait of Turkish youth.
Appearances and Standards
4. (SBU) Some of our SWT students appeared for their interviews
impeccably dressed, freshly coifed, and obviously uncomfortable.
One male, informed that he would receive a visa, immediately yanked
off his clip-on tie and said "now I can give this back to my
father!" Two female classmates who had appeared primly at the
window with their hair tied back into neat buns were observed
gleefully pulling their tresses into disheveled mops after being
told they were going to the United States. Most Istanbul SWT
applicants, however, adhered to the jeans-and-t-shirt dress code
that appears to be the norm for those in their late teens and early
twenties in the West. A few accessorized with dreadlocks, nose
piercings, and tattoos, prompting cocked eyebrows from the older,
non-SWT visa applicants in the waiting room. During his interview,
a retired military officer -- with a disparaging nod toward a
bearded, long-haired SWT student blissfully listening to his i-Pod
while awaiting his turn -- said "I am glad we still have obligatory
military service for the likes of him!"
5. (SBU) As a rough standard -- which we varied case-by-case -- we
looked during this season for a minimum equivalent grade point
average of 2.0, along with at least functional English-language
skills. These two indicators helped us to gauge whether applicants
had incentive to return to Turkey to finish school and, while in the
United States, could meet their employer's expectations. However,
even these fairly lenient standards were too tough for some
applicants, with the GPA issue proving the most daunting. Excuses
for poor academic performance ranged from inability to attend
classes due to illness (on the part of applicants and/or their
family members) to the tried-and-true "You don't understand!
(Fill-in-the-blank major) is really, really hard!" Applicants
attending Kocaeli University merited special attention in that the
school allows students to retake classes as many times as needed
while not counting the failing marks against their GPAs. One
September 9th University student with abysmal marks admitted to
having put beauty before brains; she skipped classes to have a nose
job. A surprising number of well-spoken students in English
language and literature departments appeared with terrible
transcripts. One of these, upon being rejected for SWT, whined,
"But I don't want to go to America to write, I want to go there to
Nervousness and Long Days
6. (SBU) SWT students invest significant time and money in their
applications. Local agencies charge each applicant an average of
$1,100 to match them with jobs in the United States, funds their
families often scrimp to save. A small number of students applying
for SWT (well below 10 percent, by our reckoning) look upon the
program as a means of facilitating illegal immigration to the United
States, but the vast majority are bona fide--albeit naive and
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frequently very nervous--applicants.
7. (SBU) A typical interview with an SWT applicant might go
something like this:
Visa officer: Good morning. How are you today?
Applicant: I am exciting!
Visa officer: OK. What do you study at university?
Applicant: I study Celal Bayar University!
Visa officer: Yes. What subject are you studying?
Applicant: I will become mechanical engineer!
Visa officer: Right. Well, your grades look pretty good.
Applicant: I take visa?
Visa officer: No, not yet. What does your father do?
Applicant: He retired!
Visa officer: Alright. What did he do before he retired?
Applicant: He was worker!
Visa officer: Yes, but where did he work?
Applicant: He was worker at company!
Visa officer: What does the company make?
Applicant: Things for sell!
Visa officer: What kind of things?
Applicant: Car things!
Visa officer: OK, where do these things go on a car?
Visa officer: You mean under the car?
Applicant: Cars roll on them!
Visa officer: Ah, your father's company makes wheels?
Visa officer: You mean tires?
Applicant: I am tired!
Visa officer: Yes, so am I.
Applicant: I take visa?
Geography and Guts
8. (SBU) Among the jobs being filled by Turkish SWT applicants,
pedicab driver, fish processor, waiter, housekeeper, and amusement
park worker top the list. A student traveling to San Diego to drive
a pedicab was asked at the visa window where he had worked during
his SWT stint last year. He replied that he had driven a pedicab in
New York City and that it had been very difficult work. When the
Consular officer expressed surprise that the student again had
agreed to drive a pedicab, the student rejoined that this year he
hoped it would be different: San Diego is close to Mexico. Pressed
to elaborate on the significance of San Diego's geography, the
applicant explained that he had seen on television that Mexicans are
small people. God willing, he said, the Americans in San Diego have
intermarried with their southern neighbors, thereby producing
lighter citizens than in the Big Apple.
9. (SBU) Many our Alaska-bound SWT applicants seemed to be under
the impression that they would spend several idyllic months
cane-pole angling like Tom Sawyer, unaware they actually will toil
long hours gutting fish. One student was even more fundamentally
misinformed. When asked where in the United States he would work,
he appeared surprised by the question and told the Consular officer,
"I'm not going to America, I'm going to Alaska."
Worth the Sacrifice
10. (SBU) Relatively few Alaska SWT veterans are keen to return.
However, one student told the visa officer he looked forward to
going back to the fish processing plant where he labored last year.
Somewhat surprised, the officer asked whether the student minded the
repetitive, odoriferous tasks he had performed. With a grin the
student replied that, although he returned home from the Land of the
Midnight Sun with sore hands and every pore of his body reeking of
fish, the money he made lasted a lot longer than either the pain or
11. (SBU) An SWT applicant from Bursa appeared at the window
intending to go to Wisconsin for her first trip abroad. Sporting
the headscarf-and-trench-coat costume of the socially (although not
necessarily religiously) conservative Turkish female, she informed
the visa officer that she would be working at a Piggly Wiggly
barbecue restaurant. Told that she undoubtedly would be working
with pork products and asked if this might prove objectionable, the
applicant shrugged and said, "I don't have to eat there and,
besides, I really need this job."
Cleaning and Character
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12. (SBU) Young Turkish males are not known for their tidiness.
One SWT applicant, the only son among five children, told the visa
officer he would work as a housekeeper at a resort in New Hampshire.
Asked if he had any experience making beds and cleaning toilets,
the student haughtily replied that, at his home, this was women's
work. However, for the sake of having a chance to experience
America, he was willing to do any job. He added, "This will be a
gift for my mother: When I come back I can clean up my own room!"
13. (SBU) An enthusiastic drama student could barely contain her
excitement when informed that she had been approved to go to Florida
to work at Disney World. "I want to work there since I was little,"
she trilled. Queried about what her actual job in the Magic Kingdom
would be, she replied that she did not yet know. However, she
expressed hope that she would have the chance to live her dream by
being one of the costumed characters roaming the park and greeting
children. "I like being Goofy!" she exclaimed. Don't we all,