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Monaco19: Making slow progress in U.S. visa, entry challenge

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By Lucy Chabot Reed

The people who navigate the field between non-U.S. yacht crew and U.S. immigration officials offered several hopeful messages at a seminar yesterday during the Monaco Yacht Show — and one bit of advice:

“No one is entitled to a visa to visit the United States,” said Duncan Smith, a yachting industry liaison to the U.S. government. “You have to remember you are making a request for the privilege to come here.”

With that in mind, crew can adopt a more humble attitude that will serve them well when the entry-level foreign services employee has to make a decision about which visa they will get, and indeed whether they will get one at all.

“The directive for consular officers is to assume that every person seeking a visa to enter the United States wants to stay, so you have to prove that you aren’t staying,” said Deb Radtke, owner of American Yacht Agents, shore support for private yachts. Crew can do that by showing ties to their home country such as owning a home, having a bank account, or having a car.

“When a consular officer asks ‘where are you going to live’, new crew get excited and say they are going to live on the yacht,” Smith said. “No, the yacht is where you work.”

“You have to have a home somewhere else,” Radtke said. 

Hosted by Robert Allen Law and American Yacht Agents, the session sought to provide some answers to the visa and immigration issues yacht crew face when visiting the United States, chief among them obtaining the visa to begin with. Some crew apply at a U.S. embassy and are given 10-year visas; others applying in an embassy in a different city with similar credentials but receive one-year visas. 

Word of those scenarios spread, resulting in yacht crew all visiting a specific consulate office, say in Rome, and avoiding a more convenient one, say in London, for fear of being issued the shorter-term visa.

Crew should be aware that these consular officers will use the internet and social media to research whether their application and interview answers match the real world, several at the seminar said.

Knowing that anyone visiting the U.S. must be doing just that, visiting, “don’t post on Facebook about the new puppy you have in the front yard of your new house in Fort Lauderdale,” advised Graeme Lord with Fairport Yacht Support in Fort Lauderdale.

When applying for a U.S. visa, crew should request both the B1-B2 (the typically preferred visa for yacht crew) as well as the C-1/D (more often used for commercial seamen). That way, if the border patrol officer insists the crew member needs the C-1/D, he/she can still enter the U.S., then manage the paperwork to change their status.

Up until about a year ago, the state department — which issues visas in consular offices all over the world — and customs and border protection — which grants admission at the border based on that visa — haven’t worked together well, often insisting on different things (such as the B1-B2 vs. C-1/D discrepancy).

But that’s changing, Smith said.

“We haven’t had a lot of incidents recently,” he said. “The State Department has made a concerted effort to work this out. They’ve made a statement to CBP asking if their new strategy makes sense, but they haven’t gotten a response yet.”

There was some conversation about cruising licenses and the challenge in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades where officials have denied the license after an internet search showed the vessel was available for charter, indicating it was a commercial vessel and therefore ineligible for a cruising license.

Although eligible for charter outside U.S. waters, foreign yachts that enter the U.S. are visiting for private use and ineligible for charter. But U.S. Coast Guard officer issuing the cruising permit may not understand that or don’t believe it.

Radtke made the point that just because a yacht does not have a cruising license does not mean it cannot cruise in the U.S. It just means that clearance must be made in and out of every port. A cruising license simply eliminates that paperwork.

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

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About Lucy Chabot Reed

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

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