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The Agent’s Corner: Navigate the alphabet soup of US visas

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The Agent’s Corner: by Deb Radtke

It’s the time of year when many large yachts are heading to the United States and we are getting a lot of inquiries regarding U.S. visas. Here are the basics to navigate the process:

B1: non-immigrant visa for business up to six months. This is the best and most acceptable visa for yacht crew.

B2: non-immigrant visa for tourism up to six months. If crew are coming here on vacation, this is the visa you want. You can not accept a job or start a job on a vessel in the U.S. while traveling on a B2 visa. Proper protocol is to depart the U.S., finalize your employment contract, then  return to join the vessel.

So what is the B1/B2? This is two visas in one, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who stamps you in has the option to stamp you in either as a tourist or for business. Most crew get this combination.

C1: transit visa for crew on vessels and airlines. This is for crew who arrive on one vessel and possibly travel to another port to depart on another vessel. It is limited to 29 days. On rare occasions, crew can get it extended.

D: Crew member D visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons working on board commercial sea vessels or international airlines in the U.S., providing services required for normal operation and intending to depart the U.S. on the same vessel or any other vessel within 29 days.

C1/D is a combination of the above and is the visa used by commercial mariners. If crew apply for a visa and the vessel is listed for charter, officials may say this is the visa crew must get.

ESTA: visa waiver for business or tourism 90 days. This is becoming an increasingly popular visa for rotational crew or crew joining a vessel that will depart within 90 days. Crew can also go to and from the Bahamas on the vessel with an ESTA as long as the original entry into the U.S.  is on a signatory carrier. Although a few yachts do have signatory carrier status, typically this refers to commercial airlines. Crew are restricted to the 90 days stamped on the original entry.

Benefits of the ESTA include that no appointment with an embassy is necessary. It is applied for online and can be completed quickly. Crew members must be a national of one of the 38 countries or territories that are part of the Visa Waiver Program.

What visa should a crew member get? It depends on his or her timeline, whether they are from a visa waiver country, and whether they will be flying in to meet a vessel. Consider using the ESTA, but keep in mind that you will need to have a significant departure within 90 days. A significant departure does not include Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas.

What is important to remember during a visa appointment? The directive that the embassy officials have when determining each visa application is to assume that everyone who applies intends to permanently immigrate to the U.S., no matter what visa they are applying for. So the onus is on the applicant to prove otherwise. Provide evidence of strong ties to your home country.

In the case of a denial, one of the common reasons is that the boat can be found online for charter. In this case, crew can apply for the C1/D visa and ask if it is possible to get a B1/B2 visa also. This is standard practice in the aviation industry, where many crew work on both commercial and private planes.

Attitude is also a key factor during the interview. Be professional and confident. Do not cross the line into arrogance. Remember, a U.S. visa is not a right, it is a privilege.

Capt. Deb Radtke owns American Yacht Agents in Fort Lauderdale (www.americanyachtagents.net). After 16 years working on yachts, she found her niche shoreside assisting vessels visiting the U.S. East Coast and Great Lakes. Comments are welcome below.

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