The Visa Lowdown — Part One: Entering the U.S.

9 December 2014 By Hillary Hoffower

Pleasing demanding guests may seem like a piece of cake comparedto acquiring a visa, because when it comes down to it, there seems to benothing simple about the process. What do I need to enter Country A or CountryB? Can I work on a visa? Chances are you’ve heard a variety of answers to suchhead-scratching questions that often come with head-aching processes.

In the Visa Lowdown series, we give you the scoop onentering different countries by pinpointing the questions you need to know theanswers to — what you need, why you need it and where you need it.

First stop: the United States

What type of visa doI need to enter the U.S.?

Let’s begin with the basics. There are two types of visasfor yacht crew coming to the U.S. on a foreign-flagged yacht: the B1/B2 visaand the D crew visa.

The most common visa used by yacht crew is the B1/B2 visa. Acrewmember will need the B1/B2 visa if he or she is on a privateforeign-flagged yacht that will be cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29days. Even if the primary service crew will perform is related to refit whilethe boat is docked at a U.S. port, they must have a B1/B2 visa.

LauraRoss, an attorney at Robert Allen Law in Miami, Florida, notes that a secondtype of visa crew might receive is the D crew visa, which is required forcommercial vessels. This visa allows a crewmember to enter the U.S. for up to29 days.

How do I get the B1/B2Visa?

In order to qualify for the B1/B2 visa, crewmembers mustestablish three requirements: one, a residence abroad that they don’t intend toabandon; two, intent to enter the U.S. for a period of limited duration; andthree, that they seek admission for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimateactivities relating to business or pleasure.

To obtain the visa, crewmembers must fill out the DS-160form, create an account on usvisa-info.comand pay the non-immigrant fee. Once theDS-160 form is submitted and you receive your confirmation number, schedule aconsular interview.

Laura Ross, an attorney at Robert Allen Law in Miami,Florida, recommends that crew apply for the B1/B2 visa at the U.S. Consulate intheir home country. “We recommend that crew take documents to their consularinterview that show they have a residence outside of the United States thatthey do not intend to abandon. For example, the crew can take a copy of theirbank account statements, evidence that they own or lease real property abroad,etc. Any ties abroad to show they intend to return to their home country.”

Ross notes that establishing residence abroad can bedifficult if a crewmember has worked on a vessel for years as ties to the homecountry may not be as strong. “They should take anything and everything thatties them to their home country,” she advises. If employed, crew should alsotake a letter from the employer to the consular interview showing that thevessel is foreign flagged, foreign owned and the crew will be paid by a foreignsource.

According to Ami Ira, managing director and owner of CrewUnlimited, crewmembers can also demonstrate proof of foreign residency byshowing a bank statement, mortgage statement, investment statement, utilitybill or evidence of their foreign address.

Does the B1 Visa haveany restrictions?

Yes. While the B1/B2 visa allows crewmembers to travelanywhere in the U.S., it does not give them work authorization in the U.S.

Since the B1/B2 visa does not provide employmentauthorization, crew must be careful and avoid engaging in employment, saysRoss, adding that any and all activities performed by crew in the U.S. must beincidental to work that will primarily be performed outside the U.S.

The crewmember is restricted to working for a foreigncompany on a foreign-flagged and foreign-owned vessel and must be paid by aforeign source. While a crewmember may not receive a salary from a U.S. sourcefor work connected to his or her activities in the U.S., a U.S. source mayprovide them with an expense allowance or reimbursement for expenses incidentalto the temporary stay.

This is important for crew to remember, because being paidon a B1 visa from a U.S. bank account may create problems with obtaining orrenewing a B1 visa in the future.

How long is the visavalid?

TheB1 visa will be valid according to the reciprocity schedule between the U.S.and the crewmember’s country of origin. Visa reciprocity schedules can be foundat

The visa only allows crew to travel to the U.S. Once theyhave been admitted to the country, the visa becomes insignificant and thecrewmember receives “status.” At this time, they receive an I-94 stamp in theirpassport that will dictate the amount of time they have to stay in the U.S. It’simportant to note that the status doesn’t end when the visa expires.

U.S.Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the discretion to decide the length oftime granted on the I-94. Ross says that typical durations are 6-month or 12-monthincrements for the B1/B2 visa; however, CBP has the authority to issue theseperiods for shorter periods of time. The industry has recently seen statusdurations as limited as three months issued to crew.

Crew must depart the U.S. before their status expires. Theycan renew their status via the I-539, which costs $300 and is rarely approved,according to Ira. She suggests applying in The Bahamas as it’s typically theeasiest place to renew.

“Do not overstay your I-94,” she stresses. “It will resultin deportation, make you ineligible to extend your I-94 status and restrictyour admission to the U.S. for three to ten years.”

Is there anything elseI should…or shouldn’t…do?

“Whenentering the United States, it is very important that the crew understand thatthey are permitted to come to the United States to perform work incidental totheir foreign employment. They are not coming to the United States to work fora U.S. employer because they do not have work authorization,” says Ross.

Crew should tell CBP that they are entering the U.S. to meeta foreign-flagged vessel, owned by a foreign employer that will be cruisingtemporarily in the United States before departing the United States forinternational waters.

Just remember, it’s always important to abide by the law. Ifthere are any aspects of the visa process that are a little foggy to you,clarify them with an attorney or your crew agent before you apply.