Thursday, April 25, 2013

Translations, Visa, and Overstays

I was asked to help with a translation this afternoon. I generally find the process of taking a Turkish/English-translated piece of writing and then refining it to make it sound more "native" is both challenging and enjoyable. But today's piece, a letter actually, made me sad.

A little background information is in order...

One of the perks for the Turkish teachers of working at my school is the eligibility, after 3 years of service, for a trip to the United States...all expenses paid. The school has taken over 25 teachers each of the past two years. This year there are approximately 30 teachers scheduled this year to travel to the United States all expenses paid to visit museums, Broadway plays, universities like Harvard and MIT.  But before the teachers can attend, they must secure a visa from the American Embassy in Ankara. This means taking a day off of school, flying to Ankara, and going through a grueling/stressful interview to get a tourist visa. Yesterday, the first group made the embassy trip and good number were denied visas.

I don't know the criteria for obtaining tourist visas to the United States, but I'm guessing that in light of the recent terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon the scrutiny of persons coming from countries with citizens who have a history of overstaying their "tourist" visas has heightened and, consequently, the granting of visas has declined. In other words it's bad timing. Again, I'm just surmising.

Today's translation was a letter that will accompany the next group of teachers explaining the school's travel incentive/motivation program. Although I don't know all of the teachers who won the trip, I do know that most have too much to lose here in Turkey (family, good jobs, homes, beautiful Izmir climate) to overstay their visas in the United States. In other words, for most of them it's a trip-of-a-lifetime but not a reason to immigrate.

I know immigration reform is a hot-topic in the US right now and quick internet search yielded me information that suggests as many as 40% of unauthorized immigrants are those who overstay their visas. (Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2013). The same article also quoted a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California that shows the some 55% of visa over-stayers speak English well and have 13.2 years of education as compared with those who cross the border illegally. Given these statistics, I can understand why the Embassy is reluctant to grant tourist visas.

I don't have a good solution to the problem. I know we fingerprint and track foreigners when they enter the United States, but after that I'm not sure we have the tracking controls in place like many foreign countries, so it's fairly easy to overstay a visa. For example, in Turkey I'm tracked all the time - whenever I enter or leave the country, stay in a hotel, rent a car, change money, etc. As a guest in this country, I don't mind the Turkish government  always knowing where I am. But, a big part of my American heritage respects and defends the right to privacy, to live and stay where I choose, and to basically be anonymous. Unfortunately, our freedoms are being used against us by terrorists which, in turn, harms law-abiding people from around the world.

I feel sad that my colleagues can't travel freely to the US, and I feel sad that Islamic terrorists dictate that America be hesitant, for obvious reasons, to share our freedoms with teachers who have earned an award.

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