Seven Questions Crew Have about U.S. Visas

17 December 2008 By Christina Bridge

Confusion continues to reign over the issue of U.S. visas for non-American crew. A captains' briefing held by the U.S. Superyacht Association in conjunction with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) at the Fort Lauderdale show tackled this topic among others. Representatives from top levels of the U.S. Coast Guard, CPB, Dept of Homeland Security and Office of the Consular, The Bahamas, were on hand to field questions by captains and crew. The questions asked were:

1. Which visa do I need?
The correct visa to apply for as non-U.S. private yacht crew on a foreign-flagged private vessel is the B1/B2 multiple entry non-immigrant visa. For crew who have been admitted to the U.S. on a B2 (tourist) visa and are looking for work, if you do get employed, you will have to re-apply to have your status changed to admittance on a B1 visa.

2. What do I need to apply?
Ideally, you already have a job, are in your own country of residence and have all the necessary paperwork from the vessel that is about to employ you. This should comprise a letter from the yacht stating the position you are going to be employed as, the name of the yacht, the yacht’s flag and official number, USCG clearance, a crew list and documentation that the vessel is private. Any other documentation proving that you have stronger ties to your home country than the U.S. will help your application. It's interesting to note that the yacht's home port should not be in the U.S. (proof may be required) as it's illegal to employ foreign crew without proper work visas on these vessels.

3. What’s a C1/D visa?
Often the Consular office will want to issue you a C1/D visa; this visa is primarily for crew on commercial vessels like cruise ships, or vessels that will not be in U.S. waters for longer than 29 days at one time. If this applies to the vessel that you will be employed on, then you may be issued both the C1/D and B1 visa.

4. How long will I be admitted for?
Depending on the immigration officer, you will receive anything up to six months’ stay, which is the maximum. If you believe that you will be in the U.S. longer, you must apply for an extension, which is done online through the USCIS at Allow at least 45 days before the visa entry stamp expires to file the application. Most crew fly out of the country for a couple of days to reset their time, but there are no guarantees that you will be admitted again.

5. Once I have my B1 visa, can I leave one vessel and join another?
Though widely practiced, this is actually illegal, as the initial B1 visa was issued specifically for employment on the yacht for which you applied. What you should do is leave the country and come back in with all the relevant paperwork stating that you are now employed on a new vessel.

6. What should I do when I leave my current employment?
It's up to you to tell Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that you are no longer employed with the vessel. They may let you stay on your B2 (tourist visa). It's not the captain’s responsibility to inform CPB that a crewmember is no longer employed on the vessel, though it may be prudent to do so.

7. What if I’m coming to the U.S. to study?
Neither the B1/B2 nor C1/D visas allow you to study in the U.S. Unfortunately, there is no specific visa for maritime training. Don’t even mention that you are coming in to do your STCW ’95 or other course to the immigration officer; it puts you in danger of not being admitted.