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.
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
How do I get the B1/B2
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 usvisa-info.com
and pay the non-immigrant fee. Once the
DS-160 form is submitted and you receive your confirmation number, schedule a
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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.