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Immigration Doesn't Take American Express

Making sure your crewmembers have the proper visa documents is essential in maintaining a well-run yacht. If one of them doesn't, you may have to quickly substitute a crewmember untrained in the ways of your vessel, which can both burden the rest of the crew and add risk to your onboard operations. A little forethought in obtaining the appropriate visas will help the boat operate more smoothly and stay on schedule.

I f your boat is American-flagged, the U.S. law stipulates that only American citizens or those holding a Resident Alien card (typically called a green card) can work onboard her. If the crew will be outside the United States for more than one year, Resident Alien cardholders need to apply for an extension.

But the overwhelming majority of U.S.-owned megayachts are not flagged in the United States, and if your yacht is one of these, different rules apply. For boats entering U.S. waters under a foreign flag, any non-American crewmembers will need either a visa or a visa waiver. (American and Canadian crewmembers should be fine with just their passports.)

There are a slew of different visas that may be applicable, but the most common one for yacht crews is the B/1-B/2 non-immigration visa. The B/1 is a business visa, which stipulates that the holder has permission to work in the United States. The B/2 visa is a tourist visa that grants the crewmember the right to be in the United States when he or she is not working. Each crewmember should request a B1/B2 visa so either type can be used, depending on the circumstances of the visit.

T here's a lot of confusion amongst yacht captains, crews, and owners about when and where different visas are needed, so much so that at last year's Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the U.S. Superyacht Association, in conjunction with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF), assembled a panel to address the issues of crew visas. One of the most helpful (and most questioned) panelists was Anthony Pagliai of the U.S. State Department, who explained its stance on the gamut of complicated visa issues. But, even at the end of the conference, the best that he and the other panelists could do was to lay out general guidelines, because most concerns need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

However, one issue that Pagliai was clear on was the need for crewmembers to come prepared to their interviews conducted by the Department of State consular officers at the embassy or consulate when they apply for their visas. "You wouldn't go into a job interview and scratch your head when people ask you questions," he said in his opening statement. He added that a lot of the time people will come and say "I'm going to crew on a yacht," but don't know basics like whether the boat is registered for commercial or for purely private use. Some helpful documents to bring along are a copy of the ship's registry, a list of specs on the vessel including tonnage, any marine licensure the prospective crewmember has obtained, previous passports, and a letter of assignment signed by the captain stating what tasks the crewmember will be performing aboard (how long he or she is hired on for, where the yacht will be cruising, etc.).

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.