Generally, foreign crewmembers who follow the rules and have all the necessary paperwork shouldn’t have any issues obtaining visas and being admitted into the U.S., but unfortunately this is not the case. And this plight isn’t only affecting yacht crew, owners, too, are feeling the effects of this issue. There are long-term negative consequences to U.S. customs and immigration denying foreign crewmembers. Yards, marinas and companies that provide crew services all will feel the effects and, potentially, owners and captains may choose to stop bringing yachts to the U.S. because of this issue.
The main conspirator in this situation seems to be Nassau, although foreign crew also report issues in other locations, including Canada and Costa Rica. Bray advises captains and crewmembers to avoid clearing into the U.S. through Nassau at all costs. There has been a significant increase in issues there with the visa and yacht crew. This is not limited to new junior crew, but also Bray is aware of five employed captains with correct paperwork and a handful of senior crewmembers who have not received admittance into the U.S.
In order to help alleviate some of the issues crew have, Bray has compiled a list of Dos and Don’ts for foreign captains and crewmembers when clearing customs and immigration into the U.S.
It should be noted that all the immigration officers commented on how a B1 visa is extremely broad, and with the growth of the yachting industry over the last decade a “yachting” visa would be beneficial to all parties.
• Try to fly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami — immigration officials in these locations have a better understanding of the yachting industry and visas than officials elsewhere in the U.S.
• Have all of the relevant paperwork if coming in on a B1 (vessel registration, letter etc…)
• Show intent on returning to your home country. Ideally something along the lines of a mortgage or property, related contract, bills, car ownership etc…
• Immediately request to speak with a supervisor if you face any issue
• Have evidence of your employing company, and, if possible, where you are paid from, unless it is a U.S. source. Officials want to see foreign entity to your home account
• Study visa rules and regulations so you know where you stand (visit: https://www.us-immigration.com/how-to/apply-for-us-tourist-visa/ and https://visaguide.world/us-visa/nonimmigrant/study-exchange-visas/f1/)
• If an extensive yard period, it also helps to have a letter from the yard indicating the length of time and work to be carried out
• Come in on a B2 and look for work or get hired. If you do find a job, you must leave and return on a relevant B1 visa
• Receive pay directly from an American owner or bank account
• Open an American bank account
• Make a habit of staying six months and leaving only for only two or three days to The Bahamas or Caribbean
• Have evidence of looking for work when you enter the country (online or in person)
• Come in on the visa waiver program and look for work
• Looking for work on foreign-flag yachts is not technically illegal whilst in the U.S., but immigration officials say that they would not encourage it
• The length of stay on B1/B2 will depend on evidence, your letter, yacht itinerary plan and the officer’s discretion
• Getting stamped back in after a recent previous period in the U.S. always is tricky
• The length of time allowed in the U.S. generally is acknowledged to be six months for every 12-month period, but this also is subject to discretion
Some yacht management and accounting companies are now withholding taxes from foreign crew during their time in American waters by way of tax ID numbers. The officers were not aware of this and commented on how this could pose problems down the road as it indicates intent and ties to the U.S. This also may be problematic for the owning company or owner.
The officials Bray spoke with stated that they do not make a habit of searching out yacht crew who are not abiding by the rules, but, if they come across crewmembers breaking the law, they must act. They also mention that dockwalking and events often are when they find crewmembers not abiding by the rules, but they do not go knocking on crew house doors. However, Bray has heard of immigration officials logging on to Facebook and searching out profiles or checking dayworking websites. Bray advises crew to Google your name along with the word “yacht” to check the results.
Since Bray met with officials, he knows another crewmember who was working on a yacht in the U.S. who was deported while doing a visa run. He can only assume from the recent increase in cases that immigration has decided to begin enforcing rules that they seemingly had previously overlooked, including the amount of time spent in the U.S. and visa type and status.