Dockwalk - The Dos and Don’ts of the B1/B2 Visa Untitled Page

The Dos and Don’ts of the B1/B2 Visa

Feb 26th 15
Courtesy of Northrop & Johnson

As the winter 2015 Caribbean charter season comes to a close, many yachts will be heading back to the U.S. before cruising to the Med for the summer season. Foreign crew entering the U.S. will have to obtain a B1/B2 visa, which can often be a gray area.

In an effort to clarify the protocol for foreign crew entering the U.S., Northrop & Johnson crew services manager Duncan Bray sat down with several U.S immigration officers to discuss the specifics.

Bray’s interest in the topic was piqued when a captain and crew couple was deported and their visas revoked. They had all their ducks in a row, so to speak — the correct paperwork, a letter from the owner, vessel registration — but the immigration officer in Nassau thought otherwise. After being treated like criminals, the couple was first sent to Florida, then New York before being sent back to their home country. 

As a crew services manager, Bray has a strong understanding of the crew side of the U.S. immigration issue, but he called the meeting to hear the other side of the equation. He got the officers’ first-hand advice on what foreign captains and crew should and shouldn’t do when entering the U.S, which he compiled into the list below of Dos and Don’ts. It should be noted that all the officers commented that a B1 visa is “extremely broad,” and with the growth of the yachting industry over the last decade, a “yachting” visa would be beneficial to all parties. (Please note, at this time there is no such thing as a yachting visa.)


·      Try to fly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Immigration officials at these airports have much more of an understanding about the yachting industry and crewmembers using visas than officials in other airports throughout the U.S.  

·      Have all the relevant paperwork if coming in on a B1. This includes, but is not limited to, vessel registration, a letter from the captain or owner, etc.    

·      Show intent to return to your home country. Ideally something along the lines of a mortgage or property, related contracts, bills, car ownership, basically something to show you do not intend to stay in the U.S. illegally.  

·      If you should have any issues, immediately ask for a supervisor.  

·      Have evidence of your employing company and, if possible, a notice from where you are paid (unless a U.S. source). Officials want to see a foreign entity to your home account.  

·      Study the visa and its rules and regulations so you know where you stand.  

·      If you will be working on an extensive yard period, it also helps to have a letter from the yard indicating the length of time and work to be carried out.

Do Not 

·      Come in on a B2 and look for work or get hired. You must leave and return on the relevant B1.  

·      Get paid directly from an American owner or bank account  

·      Open an American bank account  

·      Make a habit of staying six months and leaving for only two or three days to The Bahamas or a nearby Caribbean island  

·      Have evidence of looking for work when you enter the country (online or in person)  

·       Come in on the visa waiver program and look for work  


Gray Areas 

·      Looking for work on foreign-flagged yachts technically is not illegal while in the U.S., but the immigration officials do not advise it.   

·      The length of stay on a B1/B2 visa is subject to a great number of variables, including evidence reviewed by the official, your letter, yacht itinerary plans and the officer.  

·      Being stamped back in after a recent previous period in the USA  

·      Length of time allowed in the USA. This generally is acknowledged to be six months for every 12-month period.  


For more information on visas, visit or

Some yacht management and accounting companies are now withholding taxes from foreign crew during their time in American waters by way of Tax ID numbers. The officers weren’t aware of this, but said it could pose problems down the road as it indicates intent and ties to the U.S.; it also may be a problem for the owning company or owner.

The officials also stated that they don’t make a habit of searching out yacht crew who aren’t abiding by the rules, but have to act if they come across one. While they were referring to dockwalking and events or boat shows, they don’t intend to start knocking on the doors of crew houses. However, be aware that officials are getting clever. Bray has heard they check out crew’s Facebook profiles (if they’ve been tipped off) and look at Daywork123 (a daywork website) to add people’s names to a list. He advises crew to Google their names along with the word “yacht” or their current yacht name to check the results and monitor if they have been flagged.

Since Bray’s meeting with the officers, another crewmember recently placed through Northrop & Johnson was deported while doing a visa run. Bray can only assume from the recent increase in cases that immigration has decided to enforce the rules. Previously, it seems that officials have overlooked not only how much time a crewmember had spent in the U.S., but also the status of the visa, B1 or B2 (business or pleasure). Those days may well be numbered. Bray suggests it would be wise for crew to spend a significant amount of time out of the States when it is unnecessary to be there, just in case.  



Want more? Check out:  

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

Unmasking the Truth 

Crew Visas: Can Yacht Agents Help? 

Tags: Essentials 

Rating  Average 5 out of 5

  • Spot on Duncan - may I add, the CBP know alot about the sources for yacht crew seeking work in the USA on internet & ashore - more than is revealed by individual CBP agents, they are very much "in the know". A "task force" has been formed (in South Florida) that addresses this issue of foreign yacht crew and employment in the USA - they know where the crew houses are also. To clarify dockwalking for "paid daywork" by foreigners entering the USA on either the B1 or B2 part of their Visa, it is completely illegal and grounds for deportation. Best advice is DO NOT Dockwalk at all for work even if it is for long term work. Best is to sign up at a crew agency, that is allowed.

    To clarify a very misunderstood part of all of this - if a foreigner enters the USA as crew on a yacht and is on the "crew list" upon entering, thus entering on the B1 (Business) part of their visa, and if they leave the yacht while in the USA and want to still stay in the USA for a while, it is that persons obligation to leave the USA immediately after being signed off on that yacht, and RE-ENTER on the B2 (tourist) part of their visa. They are still allowed to look for work on foreign flagged yachts in the USA or abroad (meaning - sign up at crew agencies) and take some courses but NO Dayworking or Dockwalking for even long term work on yachts - basically it is illegal to "seek" paid work while in the USA for foreigners, however, seeking work on a foreign flagged yacht while in the USA via a crew agency is legal.

    Advice to captains is if a foreign crew member leaves the yacht while in the USA, make sure there is a paper trail for that crew member (with their signature) haven been signed off of the yacht, ie. official log book/Officer's log book entry, paid ticket back to their country or point of embarkation, letter of dismissal, being signed off of the crew list etc. This way it is clear that the responsibility of the yacht is severed.
    Posted by bridgewatch 28/02/2015 03:50:07

  • This entire topic is encapsulated in the above sentence:
    'They had all their ducks in a row, so to speak — the correct paperwork, a letter from the owner, vessel registration — but the immigration officer in Nassau thought otherwise'
    In theory it shouldn't make any difference whether Crew are entering Newport, Savannah, Ft. Lauderdale or San Diego but the fact is it goes beyond the location and gets down to the specific individual. All laws are created to ensure there is a clear understanding and uniform enforcement of the written policies-regulations. Until Homeland Security, Customs and other immigrations entities are pro-actively re-educated on these rules it will continue to be left to the individual officials interpretation of what's right/wrong. And until then we will continue to see (on everyone's part) widespread confusion, misguided enforcement and 'He Said / She Said' judgment calls.
    Posted by Shawn O 27/02/2015 18:52:34

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