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FLIBS17: Visa snafu costs US at least one yacht visit

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By Lucy Chabot Reed

M/Y Savannah, the new 274-foot (83.5m) Feadship that turned heads at last year’s show, has decided not to visit South Florida this fall because of difficulties some of its 22-member crew have had obtaining B1/B2 visas. Several were issued C1/D visas, which are meant for crew on commercial vessels and limited to 29 days.

But because the yacht is listed on a few websites as available for charter, consular officers interpreted that as being commercial and issued the C1/Ds. M/Y Savannah carries a Marshall Islands flag and can have limited charters under its private registration.

“The boat is privately registered, and the rules say we need a B1/B2,” said Capt. Michael Dailey, delivery captain on Savannah and other large yachts. “Being given a C1/D is like being given tickets to a double feature that are only good for the first movie. It doesn’t work for what we need to do.”

Capt. Dailey has been instructed to take the yacht directly from the Med next week to its winter cruising grounds in the Southern Caribbean.

As a relief and delivery captain, Capt. Dailey has crossed the ocean five times this year alone, and has worked on at least as many large vessels. In a phone conversation yesterday from La Ciotat, France, he relayed similar visa stories from each one.

  • Four crew on a 200+ yacht came back from the U.S. embassy in Paris with C1/D visas, and one came back with a B1 for a year. They had previously all been denied. The yacht is leaving the Med later this month, and the plan was to come to Florida. But Capt. Dailey said it will depend on whether crew get their B1/B2 visas.

“They had planned to stay six weeks, but if half the crew get C1/Ds, they won’t do what they planned to do,” he said. “If they hadn’t had the hassle, all that work would have been done in Palm Beach.”

Dailey said that even the captain, an industry veteran who had had 10-year B1/B2 visas in the past, was denied on his most recent application. He has reapplied in a different embassy.

  • One of the rotational second officers on M/Y TV — the largest yacht in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show this year at 257 feet (78.4m) — was to report for duty on Monday, but is still in the Med awaiting his visa. At his interview in Florence, he handed the consular officer all his paperwork from the privately registered yacht. The officer immediately did an internet search on the yacht’s name and saw it listed for charter. Five minutes after he had arrived, the second officer was denied and sent away. He has since reapplied for his B1/B2 in Madrid, but is awaiting his passport to see how long the visa will be valid. UPDATE: He received his visa in the mail today, and it was renewed for 10 years.

“You look it up on the internet and suddenly it’s the God’s honest truth,” said Capt. Dailey, an American. “It’s not the people in Washington [that are the problem]; it’s the people at the various embassies around the world — some civil servant paid with my tax dollars, deciding to use Google instead of relying on the official documentation from the vessel’s master.”

M/Y TV carries a Cayman flag and, like many yachts, flips its commercial registration to private during its crossing so that it enters the United States as a private vessel.

  • On M/Y Constellation, a 262-foot (80m) private yacht, the crew all received their B1/B2s, but one came back with a C1/D.

“What they obviously don’t understand at the embassy level is that yachts can charter here in the Med or the Caribbean on a commercial registration and then switch registrations to enter into the U.S. as a private yacht,” Capt. Dailey said. “And many make the switch, like I just did on TV on the way across. The yachts and management companies all know full well they cannot charter in the U.S.”

About a dozen large yachts share the shipyard in La Ciotat with Capt. Dailey and Savannah, many of whom are still deciding on their winter programs, he said. An American who lives in South Florida, Dailey said he’s worried that more captains will choose to avoid U.S. port calls due to the hassles their crew are having getting B1/B2 visas.

Capt. Michael Dailey

“Crew have been denied visas previously for any number of reasons, which are completely valid,” Capt. Dailey said. “That’s random. This is rash. It’s been happening for about a month, and I’m hearing all the guys complain about the same thing. It’s happening embassy-wide.”

Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard are scheduled to take questions from yacht captains and crew at the annual luncheon hosted by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida on Saturday at noon. (Invitations are required; email nicole@miasf.org or visit M/V Grand Floridian on the face dock at Bahia Mar to request one.)

“If we address this all together, we could draft a memo that could go up the chain of command,” Capt. Dailey suggested. “CBP could help you all get to the bottom of this rash of C1/D visas being issued instead of B1/B2s, and why embassies are relying on Google to issue visas.”

It may be too late for M/Y Savannah, which is scheduled to leave France next week and head to the Caribbean. It had planned to stop in South Florida to provision for a lengthy, off-the-beaten-path season.

“They had some maintenance work to do, and they wanted to give some of the crew time off,” he said. “They wanted to stay longer than 29 days.

“The biggest impact is going to be right there in Fort Lauderdale — not in Charleston or San Diego, but in South Florida where all the big yachts go,” he said from France yesterday. “If anything over 40m stops calling on Fort Lauderdale, we’re all going to wake up and say what the hell? It’s going to turn South Florida into a ghost town. That’s just unacceptable.”

Any captains or crew who have had experience in the past couple of months applying for and/or obtaining a visa, please share your story, good or bad. This is our chance to address the issue with the officials who can do something about it.

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of Triton Today. Comments are welcome below.

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About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

View all posts by Lucy Chabot Reed →

5 thoughts on “FLIBS17: Visa snafu costs US at least one yacht visit

  1. Jeff Huffman

    This is a difficult situation. For many reasons. It will cost FL revenue for the work being done. However nobody seems to consider the impact on US jobs. The non-US crew are getting some of the best jobs in the industry. Some owners and managers do not even consider US crew for their vessels. So do I personally feel bad about this? No I do not. Far too many jobs are being taken by non-US crew in my opinion. I am currently running a small vessel. Luckily the owner is amazing as this is what matters anyway. I hope that this does not seem narrow minded and uncaring but I have a family to support.

  2. Walter

    There exists absolutely no reason why Yacht Crew should be issued a 1, 5 or 10 year B1/B2 visa. Conversely crew that are issued a C1-D visa are allowed to go to customs every 28 days and renew them for an additional 28 days if in fact their vessel needs to stay in U.S. Waters past the initial 28 days. B1/B2 visas have been abused by crew and captains for years. The visa fraud associated with these visa is ridiculous. There are HUNDREDS of illegals walking around Ft. Lauderdale this very week seeking day work and positions full time on visas that are fraudulent. You know it, I know it, now customs and immigration enforcement and embassy counselors know it. Chances are the crew that were denied have been abusing the visa system for years. The loss of these vessels at the FLL Boat Show means nothing, they’re just a small drop in a multi billion dollar bucket.

  3. a yachtie

    Interesting reading this article when two “experts” of the industry from an article last week on this site (Charter to private can impact crew visa) endorse going for a C1/D.

  4. Hohum

    Yes, the 1st. comment does sound small-minded. Yachting is an international pastime and career, yachts with some or all American crew visit and/or charter in countries where it is legal to do so all over the world. Were the countries around the Med, Caribbean, and Pacific to impose a 28 day visa limit for visiting US crew, there would be no jobs for US crew on large yachts. Be careful what you wish for.

  5. Milena G

    I am confused because I have C1/D visa valid for 5 years and I have been working with this visa in commercials mega yachts. But I planned work in a private yacht; with this visa can I applied?

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