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Agent’s Corner: Can’t leave the US? Protect that B1 and apply for an extension

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The Agent’s Corner: by Capt. Deb Radtke

COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty to the yachting industry; cruising plans are in flux, some vessels are temporarily laid up.

For international crew in the U.S. on B1 visas working on vessels that are in limbo, the pandemic brings to crew the added concern of protecting their visa and status. Crew changes are still happening, but the decreased number of international flights has many crew worried that they may not be able to leave in time to meet their due-out date. 

For those crew who have a due-out date in April, May or even June, it has been recommended that they apply for a stay of extension of up to an additional six months. The form for this is the I-539, which can be applied for online by setting up an account with USCIS (US Citizenship & Immigration Service). It costs a $370 filing fee, plus an $85 biometrics fee. All status updates and biometrics appointments come via the USCIS account.

Current processing time is about 45 days. If the extension is accepted, then the crew member is good to stay until the new due-out date. If the extension is rejected, USCIS will notify the crew member when they need to depart. If notification of rejection comes after the original due-out date, departure is usually required within 24 to 48 hours.

When applying for the extension of stay, crew will need to provide backup material justifying the need to stay. Similar to applying for a visa, have handy the ship’s papers and support letters from the captain, management company, or agent.

Most importantly, my advice is for crew to apply early so they do not risk an overstay. Some crew may think, “Why should I spend the money on the filing fee if I might get a flight out?” An overstay runs the risk of that B1 visa being cancelled and the crew member then not being allowed back in the U.S. for several years. 

Consider applying for the I-539 as a type of insurance.

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

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