Unmasking the Truth: What’s the deal with B1B2 Visas?

19 November 2009 By Janine Ketterer

As we come to the end of our two-week web focus on visas, it’s time to tackle the all-important, all argument-provoking visa that has crew from here to Timbuktu scratching their heads. There are plenty of opinions on who can and should be able to find work in the U.S. on a B1/B2 visa, but what are the real legal implications? As seen in’s forums, there is quite a bit of misinformation floating about when it comes to the B1/B2 visa. Let’s set the record straight.

What actually is a B1/B2 visa?

According to the U.S. State Department website, “The visitor visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure, tourism or medical treatment (B-2). International travelers with visitor visas comprise a large portion of temporary visitor travel to the United States every year.”

How does one obtain a B1/B2?
The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) dictates this about yacht crew in order for them to obtain a B1 visa: “Crewmen of a private yacht who are able to establish that they have a residence abroad which they do not intend to abandon, regardless of the nationality of the private yacht. The yacht is to sail out of a foreign home port and cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29 days.”

According to Elliot Norman, a crew immigration lawyer with Williams Mullen Immigration Practice Group, crew must apply for one and since September 11, 2001, obtain a personal interview at a U.S. Embassy.

“Procedures and appointments vary from U.S. Consulate to U.S. Consulate. Crew should consult the embassy website,” Norman says. Once you have set an appointment, you must be sure you have the proper documentation. Crew should fill out a visa application as well as an anti-terrorism checklist. Also, proof of a residence in your home country and proof of strong ties to your home country are needed to indicate that you do not intend to abandon your home.

Can a non-American with a B1/B2 visa look for work while in the States?
Yes is the simple answer.

Interestingly, it’s legal for crew to look for work while they are on holiday in the U.S., “Provided your primary reason for entering [the U.S.] was other than looking for work,” according to Norman. So crew lawfully in the U.S. in tourist status, whether carrying a 90-day visa waiver or a B1/B2 visa with an I-94 embarkation card stamped B2, indeed can register at an agency and look for work.

But if a crewmember is offered a job, there’s more to the picture than carrying their duffel up the passerelle and moving on board. First, the vessel must be non-U.S. flagged.

Secondly, it’s the I-94 embarkation card that dictates one’s right to work, not the B1/B2. If a crewmember arrived in the country and received an I-94 entry card stamped B2 (pleasure/tourism), they can’t accept work. They would have to leave the country and return with the yacht’s papers in order to be stamped in B1 (business) status. It is important to mention that they cannot legally daywork.

Of course, foreign-flagged boats in the U.S. can fly crew in from various parts of the world as long as the crewmember holds a B1/B2 visa. They would arrive in the U.S. in B1 status and be able to work.

Crew must be wary of time constraints. A standard B1/B2 visa from a U.S. Consulate is valid for five to 10 years. The I-94 card specifies the duration of a stay. When a crewmember enters the U.S., he or she will be questioned by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and will be stamped into the country for up to six months; the actual time is up to the CBP’s discretion at the time of entry. If crew require a longer stay, an extension on the B1 can be requested. Alternatively, crew can leave the U.S., clear into a foreign port then return to the U.S. requesting B1 status for another six months.

When switching boats is it necessary to switch B1/B2 visas?
No, crew do not need to obtain another B1/B2 when joining a new boat as long as the visa is still valid. Again, it’s the I-94 card received at the last entry to the U.S. that dictates what the crewmember can do legally. The I-94 card is yacht/job-specific, so if crew arrive in the U.S. on one boat and want to switch jobs while in the U.S., legally they need to leave the country and return with the new yacht’s papers to be allowed to work on the new boat. A new B1/B2 visa is not needed.

It is very important to play by all the rules, such as adhering to the status given on your I-94, never overstaying your time and not dayworking illegally. As famously declared by Cher Horowitz in the classic teen movie Clueless, “And in conclusion, may I please remind you it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.”

As long as your visas are in order, of course!

Related Topics:

Visa Implications of Caribbean Dockwalking

The Hidden Benefits of a Seaman’s Book

Crew Visas: Can Yacht Agents Help?