Dockwalk - Unmasking the Truth: What’s the deal with B1B2 Visas? Untitled Page

Unmasking the Truth: What’s the deal with B1B2 Visas?

Nov 19th 09
By Janine Ketterer

As we come to the end of our two-week web focus on visas, it’s time to tackle the all-important, all argument-provoking visa that has crew from here to Timbuktu scratching their heads. There are plenty of opinions on who can and should be able to find work in the U.S. on a B1/B2 visa, but what are the real legal implications? As seen in’s forums, there is quite a bit of misinformation floating about when it comes to the B1/B2 visa. Let’s set the record straight.


What actually is a B1/B2 visa?

According to the U.S. State Department website, “The visitor visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure, tourism or medical treatment (B-2). International travelers with visitor visas comprise a large portion of temporary visitor travel to the United States every year.”


How does one obtain a B1/B2?
The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) dictates this about yacht crew in order for them to obtain a B1 visa: “Crewmen of a private yacht who are able to establish that they have a residence abroad which they do not intend to abandon, regardless of the nationality of the private yacht. The yacht is to sail out of a foreign home port and cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29 days.”


According to Elliot Norman, a crew immigration lawyer with Williams Mullen Immigration Practice Group, crew must apply for one and since September 11, 2001, obtain a personal interview at a U.S. Embassy.


“Procedures and appointments vary from U.S. Consulate to U.S. Consulate. Crew should consult the embassy website,” Norman says. Once you have set an appointment, you must be sure you have the proper documentation. Crew should fill out a visa application as well as an anti-terrorism checklist. Also, proof of a residence in your home country and proof of strong ties to your home country are needed to indicate that you do not intend to abandon your home.


Can a non-American with a B1/B2 visa look for work while in the States?
Yes is the simple answer.


Interestingly, it’s legal for crew to look for work while they are on holiday in the U.S., “Provided your primary reason for entering [the U.S.] was other than looking for work,” according to Norman. So crew lawfully in the U.S. in tourist status, whether carrying a 90-day visa waiver or a B1/B2 visa with an I-94 embarkation card stamped B2, indeed can register at an agency and look for work.


But if a crewmember is offered a job, there’s more to the picture than carrying their duffel up the passerelle and moving on board. First, the vessel must be non-U.S. flagged.


Secondly, it’s the I-94 embarkation card that dictates one’s right to work, not the B1/B2. If a crewmember arrived in the country and received an I-94 entry card stamped B2 (pleasure/tourism), they can’t accept work. They would have to leave the country and return with the yacht’s papers in order to be stamped in B1 (business) status. It is important to mention that they cannot legally daywork.


Of course, foreign-flagged boats in the U.S. can fly crew in from various parts of the world as long as the crewmember holds a B1/B2 visa. They would arrive in the U.S. in B1 status and be able to work.


Crew must be wary of time constraints. A standard B1/B2 visa from a U.S. Consulate is valid for five to 10 years. The I-94 card specifies the duration of a stay. When a crewmember enters the U.S., he or she will be questioned by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and will be stamped into the country for up to six months; the actual time is up to the CBP’s discretion at the time of entry. If crew require a longer stay, an extension on the B1 can be requested. Alternatively, crew can leave the U.S., clear into a foreign port then return to the U.S. requesting B1 status for another six months.


When switching boats is it necessary to switch B1/B2 visas?
No, crew do not need to obtain another B1/B2 when joining a new boat as long as the visa is still valid. Again, it’s the I-94 card received at the last entry to the U.S. that dictates what the crewmember can do legally. The I-94 card is yacht/job-specific, so if crew arrive in the U.S. on one boat and want to switch jobs while in the U.S., legally they need to leave the country and return with the new yacht’s papers to be allowed to work on the new boat. A new B1/B2 visa is not needed.


It is very important to play by all the rules, such as adhering to the status given on your I-94, never overstaying your time and not dayworking illegally. As famously declared by Cher Horowitz in the classic teen movie Clueless, “And in conclusion, may I please remind you it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.”

As long as your visas are in order, of course!


Related Topics:

Visa Implications of Caribbean Dockwalking

The Hidden Benefits of a Seaman’s Book

Crew Visas: Can Yacht Agents Help?




B1/B2 visa

Applying for B1 B2 Visa

UK National entering BVI/ USA... Visa Flights... :)

B1/B2 Visa Issue

B1/B2 Visas - Any Advice?

Obtaining B1/B2 Visa from the UK

B1/B2 Visa



Rating  Average 0 out of 5

  • "A B1 visa is not a Work Visa per say. And it does NOT ALLOW you to work or LOOK for work."

    The previous poster is right about the BI visa. The original article is wrong about "being able to look for work with a B1 visa" in the US. We need to separate the two Visas B1 and B2 to understand the difference between the two. If you enter the US with ONLY a B2 visa with an I94 as a "visitor or tourist". WITH THIS VISA ALONE - you can look for work but NOT actually work. Officially you are supposed to admit this to the immigrations officer as well upon entry. DAYWORKING IS ILLEGAL WITH EITHER B1 or B2 or combination of both.
    If your country issued a visa that says B1 B2 and you entered the US as a crew on a specific yacht or other job - this is done on the B1 part of the visa and it is SPECIFIC TO THAT JOB ALONE. So you CANNOT look for work on a B1 visa. If you leave one yacht and intend to go to another on this B1 visa you MUST leave the country and re-enter with the new yachts docs stating that you are now employed by another company. Even if you somehow entered here on a combination B1 B2 visa without any specific job, the B1 part will cancel out the B2 part and you ARE NOT ALLOWED to look for work. Simple as that - conclusion: with a B1 B2 combination visa you ARE NOT allowed to look for work because the B1 part cancels out the B2 part. JANINE - you must do a follow up of this article and be more specific about the entry stamps of I94 with B1 and B2 and the restricitons about looking for work.
    Posted by bridgewatch 29/11/2009 18:00:21
    Posted by bridgewatch 11/12/2009 03:28:26

  • (pretty much) right on Bridgewatch. and thank YOU.

    ICE...THANK YOU FOR sort of doing your job lately. Better than nothing at all.
    Posted by runningoutofusernameideas 30/11/2009 04:26:14

  • Hey, don't forget that non US nationals can only work on Foreign Flag Vessels, as the vessel is in International waters just spending some time in the US and that US Flag vessels can only employ US crew, who also spend time travelling all over the world. The B1/B2 DOES allow non US nationals to look for work as long as the main purpose for being in the US is NOT looking for work, so please get your facts straight even if your knickers are in a twist!
    Posted by Caroline Freedman 28/11/2009 19:35:52

  • I had a B1/B2 nightmare!

    I got my first job on a boat that was due to be cruising the west coast of America. Before I joined I had to get my B1/B2 visa. Needless to say, it helps if you get your very first visa in your own country (mine being the UK) however the wait was over a month long and I was obviously very keen to get onboard right away. In fear of loosing my new job.

    In the end I went on recommendation to Lisbon. I walked in nervous with all my correct boat papers, documents etc. However I was greeted after my long but hopeful wait with a stern (dare I say bitchy) look right up and down. "Well first of all, I don't like this"... My heart sank as the woman told me that she planned to make an example of me to all 'us yacht crew' that I could not just walk in and expect a visa with no training. Shocked at this presumption I was so lucky I could produce every little boating piece of paper I owned; STCW, YM, Powerboat, Sailing, Diving etc, Piled on her counter to prove that I was serious about my yachting career. To this, she sneered, and hesitantly told me that there was, I quote 'no chance' she would give me a full 10 years. I was a little happier as I would have been insanely lucky to get a 10 year visa first time round anyway. I smiled and nodded at every thing else she said, she reluctantly told me I could pick up my 5 year visa the following day. I left the embassy incredibly relieved and content.

    However... The next day I arrived back to receive my 6 month B1 visa. I questioned the fact I only got a B1 visa, but I was told it was correct. no arguments, I was left teary eyed and dumbstruck. Thankfully my new boat wanted me enough to accept I would have to apply again in 6 months and that a B1 visa would suffice. Phew!

    Around 6 months later I returned to a different embassy to have another go. Because of my 6 month previous visa I was only 'awarded' a 1 year B1 visa. My visa request was dealt with a young looking
    Posted by Jess Ayling 25/11/2009 12:20:26

  • guy who, I suspect, had not been working there long, maybe that would explain only getting one year?? I don't know, Just a theory! I was not so worried this time, just disappointed I guess. Why I was the only one having this trouble... I don't think I look like a terrorist?!?!

    Anyway my happy ending was in the Naples (3rd time lucky) where I was asked by a bemused lady why on earth I kept getting a limited visa. I shrugged. She shrugged back and smiled "Well" she said "I'm going to give you a 10 year one" ... definately 3rd time lucky!!

    I have heard of people who have been given 10 year visa's first time since my ordeal in Lisbon. I have also heard of people not getting so lucky in the Naples.

    The point I'm trying to make is the Visa you get seems to largely depend on how the person at the counter is feeling on that particular day. I will always bring with me, more than enough documents, certificates etc etc (that saved my butt in Lisbon) I will always look presentable, and I will always always smile and not argue!!!

    I'll keep my fingers crossed any of you looking for your first US visa get someone who woke up on the right side of the bed that morning
    Posted by Jess Ayling 25/11/2009 12:19:55

  • Unmasking what exactly?
    I'd like to unmask some fine print:

    Copied and Pasted from
    B-1 Business Visa Change of Status: Individuals who enter the United States on B-1 Business Visas are normally eligible to change status to permanent resident (Green Card holder) if they qualify, or to other non-immigrant statuses, including temporary workers (H-1B, H-2B, E-1, E-2, E-3), and student (F-1 Student Visa). Individuals who enter the United States under the the Visa Waiver Program are not eligible to change status. The option to change status is one of the major advantages of a Nonimmigrant Visa compared to visas obtained through the Visa Waiver Program.

    Important Warning for Business Visa Holders: Persons admitted to the United States under a B-1 Business Visitor Visa are not allowed to work or receive any kind of payment while staying in the United States. Foreign nationals who wish to work in the United States must apply for a work visa, such as a H-1B or H-2B Visa.


    B1 can be converted into an H1-B. The H1-B employer should file a change of status application from B1 to H1-B, with the USCIS. It is recommended that you wait at least 60 days after entry to file the H1-B application because if it is done earlier, the USCIS might feel that you used the B1 solely for the purpose of finding employment and this a violation of the B1 visa rules. **You cannot work for any employer without authorisation. Also, you cannot have a full-time H1-B with one company and part-time with another. They both have to be part-time positions.

    A B1 visa is not a Work Visa per say. And it does NOT ALLOW you to work or LOOK for work. The author, I believe anyway, is an English international from outside the States. I don't know what the rules are in the Carib or Med/Europe, but please...have the courtesy and laurels to spend some quality time an
    Posted by runningoutofusernameideas 22/11/2009 03:54:39

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