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
· 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
· Come in
on a B2 and look for work or get hired. You must leave and return on the
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
evidence of looking for work when you enter the country (online or in person)
Come in on the visa waiver program and look for
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.
stamped back in after a recent previous period in the USA
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 https://visaguide.world/us-visa/nonimmigrant/visitor/ 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?