Professors from a top Istanbul university appealed to the Turkish government Tuesday to issue their French colleagues work permits which have been held up in a diplomatic spat between Paris and Ankara.
The call from Galatasaray University’s instructors came with more than a dozen French teachers facing the threat of expulsion that they blame on tensions between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
The university was established as a flagship project between the governments of France and Turkey in 1992.
“We ask for residence permits to normalize the situation of French teachers and allow them to carry out their missions with students,” said a statement from about 50 French and Turkish professors that they read outside the university.
The French instructors were denied new work permits, which must be renewed yearly, after Turkey’s Higher Education Council (YOK) required them to first pass an advanced B2 level Turkish language proficiency test.
Six instructors passed the test while about 15 others failed and remain in legal limbo. The professors said they discovered the new criteria abruptly in December and had no time to prepare.
“This level, which is very high, is not necessary, as our lessons must be given in French,” the teachers said in their joint statement.
Without a residence permit, the French instructors cannot open bank accounts, sign leases, buy public transport passes or have the right to return to Turkey should they travel abroad.
The new language requirement appeared to come in response to France’s decision to impose a similar rule for foreign teachers and imams from several countries, including Turkey.
It was issued against the backdrop of mounting diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Paris, which are embroiled in a series of disputes from Syria to Libya and the eastern Mediterranean.
The row between Macron and Erdogan has had personal overtones, with Erdogan questioning the French leader’s “mental health” in September.
That same month, Macron said the Turkish people “deserve something else” than the policies of Erdogan.