Part 3: How do you avoid problems obtaining a visa for your crew?
By Elizabeth Ginns — February 2003
Clearly, for crew members who enter U.S. ports for months at a time, the 29-day limitation is a source of concern. At the Superyacht Society's seminar, Garofano said that the INS will limit the length of stay to 30 days only if the individual and the immigration field officer cannot determine a reason for a longer stay. He added that people who have had no "problems" at immigration previously should have no problems now, as long as they can articulate a justifiable reason for being in the United States and can prove that they do not intend to establish U.S. residency. Garofano spoke of one particular individual who was rushing through his U.S. immigration screening; when questioned about the hurry by the immigration official, the individual responded, "I've got to get to the bank before it closes to make my mortgage payment." The individual trying to establish residency in the United States and the one who can't prove that his/her homeport is abroad, is the one who's going to have problems not the crew member who's here for a six-week stay before heading off to another destination, reportedly.
How do you avoid problems obtaining a visa for your crew? Garofano says it is crucial that they have documentation proving a permanent residence abroad to which they intend to return, that your captain keep sailing logs that establish your vessel's homeport as being abroad, a notarized copy of the cruising itinerary from the captain/owner, etc.
Still, eliminating all problems is impossible, no matter how clearly the laws are spelled out. Mullen cited an example of a South African crew member who left the United States while the yacht he was working on went in for a refit. When he tried to re-enter and return to work, he was granted a four-day visa from the immigration officer who admitted him, which was not enough time for his purposes. The appropriate immigration official for the area was contacted, the situation was quickly resolved, and the crew member was given a visa of adequate duration. Mullen says it's important for the INS to make sure that each immigration officer is well versed in policies pertaining to the marine industry. "The officials down here in Florida and in Savannah and in places where megayachts come in and out are used to admitting foreign crew members, but if someone was trying to enter in Chicago or some other place where it's not as common, he/she might run into a problem," says Mullen.
So, if the proposals go into effect, the duration of an individual's stay in the United States will be determined on a case-by-case basis. But as long as the foreign crew member entering the country is able to prove that he/she is not planning on establishing U.S. residency and has a permanent residence abroad, there should be no problems at immigration. The INS says it is not looking to scare off foreign-flagged vessels, it's just tightening up existing policies to help protect U.S. citizens in the post-9/11 world.
Immigration and Naturalization Service Phone: (305) 762-3464. www.ins.gov.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.