The B1/B2 visa has always given crew a headache, but with theU.S.’s recent efforts to curb immigration, it’s presenting a whole newnightmare: an increase in the number of visa denials.
Take the situation from one captain, who, along with four ofhis crew, were refused visas in Florence a few months ago. Even though theywere heading to the U.S. on their private vessel for the Fort LauderdaleInternational Boat Show and a yard period for survey with no intention ofchartering, the consul Googled the yacht and found it was advertised forcharter (its previous status before becoming private). As the captain puts it,it’s a sad day when Google takes precedence over legal maritime documents — allof which he had with him.
“The yacht's intention has no bearing on individualimmigration applications and this was confirmed by our U.S. lawyers, but thedeed is now done,” he says. “I have had a B1/B2 for twenty-five years and nowhave a black mark against my name. We even used the American visa servicecompany in Milan for advice and assistance. Milan was booked for months aheadand Florence could be booked virtually the next day. Now I know why.”
This captain, who prefers to stay anonymous, and his crewaren’t the only ones to have been denied — all crew in line that day wererefused a B1/B2 visa. “All for the same reason — Google came up with charterads on the Internet, even with one-hundred percent private yachts,” he says.
“Crew being denied first started probably three or fouryears ago, but it was nothing like this last year,” says Angela Wilson of EliteCrew International. “Unless you’re seeing it firsthand, you don’t understandthe magnitude, the overall effect it’s having. During the latter part of 2017we were seeing these issues once a week, easily — often enough that we wereconcerned.”
Historically, crew have always needed to prove a strong tieto their country of origins to be approved for a B1/B2 visa. In most denials,crew failed to provide adequate documentation, such as property, kids, or acar, says Attorney Sara Coen-Giovanelli. “They don’t show that they’reemployed abroad,” she says. “If you don’t show pay stubs, you’re just doing aone shot thing, you’re most likely to get denied. For example, a native captainfrom Palma who’s never been abroad — he’s likely to get denied. If they have atrack record of entries to the U.S. for a short period of time, they’re usuallyrenewed. You have to prove non-immigrant intent.”
Other evidence to prove strong ties to one’s birth countryincludes bank accounts, credit cards, utility bills, and insurance documents. Wilson,who often talks to crew on how they’re applying for the visa and whatdocumentation they have to represent these ties, also says having a letter ofemployment and boat papers is necessary.
However, it seems proper documentation isn’t always enoughwhen applying for a B1/B2 these days. According to Wilson, and as indicated inCapt. Anonymous’s case, immigration is heading to the Internet when decidingwhether to give the red stamp of approval. “We know firsthand that even whengoing to the embassies and applying for visas, whether for the first time or asa renewal, [crew] can have all the boat papers, but part of the issue is,immigration looks online and sees you are applying for a position or they see[the yacht] is going for charter, and they simply deny it,” she says. “Thereare a lot of gray areas when it comes to yachting. Legally, you can’t be in theU.S. looking for work.”
Because of this, Wilson, who has been warning crew aboutthese denials, feels that crew shouldn’t be putting personal information onlineand should start being wiser about confidentiality and security. As she pointsout, even if the info is deleted or a site takes down the info, who’s to say itreally disappears?
Regardless, Capt. Anonymous advises crew to be very carefulif applying in Florence or any Italian embassy and to have all the chartercompanies clear any advertising from the Internet.
“Also, if one member of a crew is refused on the grounds ofthe yacht rather than individual merit, the entire crew should walk out and notcontinue with the interviews and thus receive an official refusal,” he adds. “Iwent first with all the paperwork and advised my crew not to continue afterbeing denied, but the consul said you might as well have the interview. He thengave each one in turn a formal refusal, which they would not have received hadthey walked out as I suggested. When reapplying you have to tick a box saying‘Have you ever been refused a U.S. visa?’”
Coen-Giovanelli asserts there are no consequences if a crewmemberwalks out during an appointment or doesn’t show up. “[The embassy] canreschedule, they’re flexible. [The crewmember] isn’t penalized.”
So what do you do if you do go through with the interviewand are denied a B1/B2? According to Gina Polo of Buchanan Ingersoll &Rooney, PC, who has seen crew denied visas on the basis of an online yachtcharter posting before, it depends on the reason. If the charter posting is oldor incorrect, the crewmember would need to reapply with proper documentation toovercome that denial.
“It’s very case specific,” she explains. “If the yacht is ona website that shows it’s rented for charter, you would take evidence that thiswas posted on such and such date. If it’s outdated and now the boat doesn’tcharter, you need to take evidence of that.”
“[Reapplying] only looks bad with the exact samedocumentation and no explanation,” she adds. “It’s an uphill battle because theperson has already been refused a visa. The consulate will say, ‘What haschanged?’”
As for Capt. Anonymous, he was granted a 10-year B1/B2 visa in Sydney, Australia. While the consul questioned the captain’s refusal in Florence, he was satisfied with the explanation about the yacht being Googled for charter and took the captain’s word that the yacht was not in the U.S. for charter without asking to see paperwork. "This is my fourth visa, and I should never have been denied considering all the legal paperwork I had with me in Florence," says the captain, adding that his crew were all granted B1/B2 visas at the embassy in Madrid.
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