Welcome to the inaugural What Crew Agents Want You to Know, our new monthly column that seeks out yacht crew agents around the world for insight into their recent experiences, concerns, and advice for crew. Our first column features Linda Leathart, U.S. operations manager at Viking Crew in Fort Lauderdale.
“I have had a number of crew coming in or calling to say their passport wasn’t stamped,” says Leathart. “Some are unaware [that] this is the practice and think there has been a mistake when entering the USA.” They’re also unsure of how and where to go to determine what their status is.
It’s always essential that you know your dates and your status. Although the captain or yacht management company may have all your passport and visa information, you’re ultimately responsible to ensure you do not overstay your visa wherever you are in the world. In the U.S., Leathart directs her crew to the I-94 website: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home. “It enables them to see how they have been admitted (i.e., as a B1 or B2) and for how long,” she says.
Leathart shares that she recently had a Canadian chief stewardess mistakenly admitted to the U.S. as a C1/D crew for 29 days. “Although it [was] a mistake by the admission officer, it is not so easy to change the error,” Leathart says. Despite trying to set it all straight at the local CBP office, the stewardess was ultimately directed to the Miami office, where matters could take weeks to resolve.
This obviously caused issues for both crew and yacht — while the boat planned to be in Fort Lauderdale for at least three months, the chief stewardess had to then leave the country and re-enter under the correct visa designation.
Scott Hershenson, Senior Attorney at Polatsek, Counsellors-at-Law in Fort Lauderdale, says this can happen. Most Canadians, he explained, do not need visas to travel to the United States, so it’s at the discretion of the border agent to decide how they are admitted.
“And if immigration or the custom’s officer made a mistake, you are responsible for being aware of that,” Hershenson says. “So that person needs to either leave the U.S. in a timely fashion or there is a procedure where you can try to get a corrected I-94 card, but that is not as easy and simple and user friendly as it used to be.”
In this case, the error could have stemmed from a simple miscommunication if the chief stew called herself crew without specifying what kind. This is the real issue, Leathart believes. The admissions officer at the port of entry may not understand “crew” to mean yacht crew on a private vessel, but instead interpret it as commercial cruise ship or airline crew, which would require that C1/D visa.
“It is important for crew to explain that they are joining a private yacht and present their yacht papers,” Leathart says. “In the incident [with the Canadian stew], the candidate had her boat papers in hand, but the officer never asked for them.”
As the stewardess left, she tried to clarify that she’d been admitted on a B1, which the custom’s officer agreed she had been. Of course, as it turned out, this was not the case. And, as Leathart notes, “This is an experienced candidate [who has] been traveling to and from the USA to join vessels for over 10 years, so you can imagine how easy it is for more junior crewmembers to have things like this happen.”
Another crewmember she spoke with recently shared that something similar had happened to him. “He has the I-94 page on his phone, so as soon as he is stamped in, he pulls it up to see how he has been admitted,” Leathart says. He once had to return to the immigration officer who had admitted him incorrectly, only to be told that he got what he got. “Fortunately, the supervisor overheard the conversation and sided with the candidate and the error was rectified,” Leathart says.
She also cautions crew not to use the “crew” line when entering the U.S.. “At the MIASF lunch [at FLIBS], they did caution against yacht crew doing so as it does add a layer of confusion,” she says.
“I understand it is also always a bit intimidating coming into a port of entry and being questioned,” Leathart says. But if you have all the correct visas and paperwork in order, it should just be part of the crew job process.