As the winter 2015 Caribbean charter season comes to aclose, many yachts will be heading back to the U.S. before cruising to the Medfor the summer season. Foreign crew entering the U.S. will have to obtain aB1/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 severalU.S immigration officers to discuss the specifics.
Bray’s interest in the topic was piqued when a captain andcrew couple was deported and their visas revoked. They had all their ducks in arow, so to speak — the correct paperwork, a letter from the owner, vesselregistration — but the immigration officer in Nassau thought otherwise. Afterbeing treated like criminals, the couple was first sent to Florida, then NewYork before being sent back to their home country.
As a crew services manager, Bray has a strong understanding of the crew side ofthe U.S. immigration issue, but he called the meeting to hear the other side ofthe equation. He got the officers’ first-hand advice on what foreign captainsand crew should and shouldn’t do when entering the U.S, which he compiled intothe list below of Dos and Don’ts. It should be noted that all the officerscommented that a B1 visa is “extremely broad,” and with the growth of theyachting industry over the last decade, a “yachting” visa would be beneficialto all parties. (Please note, at this time there is no such thing as a yachtingvisa.)
· Try tofly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Immigration officials at these airports havemuch more of an understanding about the yachting industry and crewmembers usingvisas than officials in other airports throughout the U.S.
· Haveall the relevant paperwork if coming in on a B1. This includes, but is notlimited to, vessel registration, a letter from the captain or owner, etc.
· Showintent to return to your home country. Ideally something along the lines of amortgage or property, related contracts, bills, car ownership, basicallysomething to show you do not intend to stay in the U.S. illegally.
· If you shouldhave any issues, immediately ask for a supervisor.
· Haveevidence of your employing company and, if possible, a notice from where youare paid (unless a U.S. source). Officials want to see a foreign entity to yourhome account.
· Studythe visa and its rules and regulations so you know where you stand.
· If youwill be working on an extensive yard period, it also helps to have a letterfrom the yard indicating the length of time and work to be carried out.
· Come inon a B2 and look for work or get hired. You must leave and return on therelevant B1.
· Getpaid directly from an American owner or bank account
· Open anAmerican bank account
· Make ahabit of staying six months and leaving for only two or three days to TheBahamas or a nearby Caribbean island
· Haveevidence of looking for work when you enter the country (online or in person)
· Come in on the visa waiver program and look forwork
· Lookingfor work on foreign-flagged yachts technically is not illegal while in the U.S.,but the immigration officials do not advise it.
· The lengthof stay on a B1/B2 visa is subject to a great number of variables, including evidencereviewed by the official, your letter, yacht itinerary plans and the officer.
· Beingstamped back in after a recent previous period in the USA
· Lengthof time allowed in the USA. This generally is acknowledged to be six months forevery 12-month period.
For more information on visas, visit https://visaguide.world/us-visa/nonimmigrant/visitor/ or
Some yacht management and accounting companies are nowwithholding taxes from foreign crew during their time in American waters by wayof Tax ID numbers. The officers weren’t aware of this, but said it could poseproblems down the road as it indicates intent and ties to the U.S.; it also maybe a problem for the owning company or owner.
The officials also stated that they don’t make a habit ofsearching out yacht crew who aren’t abiding by the rules, but have to act ifthey come across one. While they were referring to dockwalking and events orboat 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 checkout crew’s Facebook profiles (if they’ve been tipped off) and look atDaywork123 (a daywork website) to add people’s names to a list. He advises crewto Google their names along with the word “yacht” or their current yacht nameto check the results and monitor if they have been flagged.
Since Bray’s meeting with the officers, another crewmember recentlyplaced through Northrop & Johnson was deported while doing a visa run. Braycan only assume from the recent increase in cases that immigration has decidedto enforce the rules. Previously, it seems that officials have overlooked notonly how much time a crewmember had spent in the U.S., but also the status ofthe 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 timeout of the States when it is unnecessary to be there, just in case.