Dockwalk - The Visa Lowdown — Part One: Entering the U.S. Untitled Page

The Visa Lowdown — Part One: Entering the U.S.

Dec 9th 14
By Hillary Hoffower

Pleasing demanding guests may seem like a piece of cake compared to acquiring a visa, because when it comes down to it, there seems to be nothing simple about the process. What do I need to enter Country A or Country B? Can I work on a visa? Chances are you’ve heard a variety of answers to such head-scratching questions that often come with head-aching processes.


In the Visa Lowdown series, we give you the scoop on entering different countries by pinpointing the questions you need to know the answers to — what you need, why you need it and where you need it.

First stop: the United States


What type of visa do I need to enter the U.S.? 

Let’s begin with the basics. There are two types of visas for yacht crew coming to the U.S. on a foreign-flagged yacht: the B1/B2 visa and the D crew visa.


The most common visa used by yacht crew is the B1/B2 visa. A crewmember will need the B1/B2 visa if he or she is on a private foreign-flagged yacht that will be cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29 days. Even if the primary service crew will perform is related to refit while the boat is docked at a U.S. port, they must have a B1/B2 visa.


Laura Ross, an attorney at Robert Allen Law in Miami, Florida, notes that a second type of visa crew might receive is the D crew visa, which is required for commercial vessels. This visa allows a crewmember to enter the U.S. for up to 29 days.   


How do I get the B1/B2 Visa? 

In order to qualify for the B1/B2 visa, crewmembers must establish three requirements: one, a residence abroad that they don’t intend to abandon; two, intent to enter the U.S. for a period of limited duration; and three, that they seek admission for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimate activities relating to business or pleasure.


To obtain the visa, crewmembers must fill out the DS-160 form, create an account on and pay the non-immigrant fee.  Once the DS-160 form is submitted and you receive your confirmation number, schedule a consular interview.


Laura Ross, an attorney at Robert Allen Law in Miami, Florida, recommends that crew apply for the B1/B2 visa at the U.S. Consulate in their home country. “We recommend that crew take documents to their consular interview that show they have a residence outside of the United States that they do not intend to abandon. For example, the crew can take a copy of their bank account statements, evidence that they own or lease real property abroad, etc. Any ties abroad to show they intend to return to their home country.”


Ross notes that establishing residence abroad can be difficult if a crewmember has worked on a vessel for years as ties to the home country may not be as strong. “They should take anything and everything that ties them to their home country,” she advises. If employed, crew should also take a letter from the employer to the consular interview showing that the vessel is foreign flagged, foreign owned and the crew will be paid by a foreign source.


According to Ami Ira, managing director and owner of Crew Unlimited, crewmembers can also demonstrate proof of foreign residency by showing a bank statement, mortgage statement, investment statement, utility bill or evidence of their foreign address.


Does the B1 Visa have any restrictions? 

Yes. While the B1/B2 visa allows crewmembers to travel anywhere in the U.S., it does not give them work authorization in the U.S.


Since the B1/B2 visa does not provide employment authorization, crew must be careful and avoid engaging in employment, says Ross, adding that any and all activities performed by crew in the U.S. must be incidental to work that will primarily be performed outside the U.S.


The crewmember is restricted to working for a foreign company on a foreign-flagged and foreign-owned vessel and must be paid by a foreign source. While a crewmember may not receive a salary from a U.S. source for work connected to his or her activities in the U.S., a U.S. source may provide them with an expense allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidental to the temporary stay.


This is important for crew to remember, because being paid on a B1 visa from a U.S. bank account may create problems with obtaining or renewing a B1 visa in the future.


How long is the visa valid? 

The B1 visa will be valid according to the reciprocity schedule between the U.S. and the crewmember’s country of origin. Visa reciprocity schedules can be found at 


The visa only allows crew to travel to the U.S. Once they have been admitted to the country, the visa becomes insignificant and the crewmember receives “status.” At this time, they receive an I-94 stamp in their passport that will dictate the amount of time they have to stay in the U.S. It’s important to note that the status doesn’t end when the visa expires.


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the discretion to decide the length of time granted on the I-94. Ross says that typical durations are 6-month or 12-month increments for the B1/B2 visa; however, CBP has the authority to issue these periods for shorter periods of time. The industry has recently seen status durations as limited as three months issued to crew.


Crew must depart the U.S. before their status expires. They can renew their status via the I-539, which costs $300 and is rarely approved, according to Ira. She suggests applying in The Bahamas as it’s typically the easiest place to renew.


“Do not overstay your I-94,” she stresses. “It will result in deportation, make you ineligible to extend your I-94 status and restrict your admission to the U.S. for three to ten years.”


Is there anything else I should…or shouldn’t…do? 

“When entering the United States, it is very important that the crew understand that they are permitted to come to the United States to perform work incidental to their foreign employment. They are not coming to the United States to work for a U.S. employer because they do not have work authorization,” says Ross. 


Crew should tell CBP that they are entering the U.S. to meet a foreign-flagged vessel, owned by a foreign employer that will be cruising temporarily in the United States before departing the United States for international waters.


Just remember, it’s always important to abide by the law. If there are any aspects of the visa process that are a little foggy to you, clarify them with an attorney or your crew agent before you apply.

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