With crossing season in full swing, this time of year sees many crew organising B1/B2 visas in order to crew on yachts cruising in US waters. But this year there are more reports than ever of crew receiving shortened, or in some cases rejected, visa applications, and not all US Embassies seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
“There are a lot of crew requesting the B1/B2 visa every year and the current issue is down to a strengthening of the way the rules are interpreted,” explains Mark Ravnholt of Catalano Shipping Services. “We are currently advising crew not to use the word ‘charter’ at any point during their interview – and say ‘voyages’ and ‘relocation’ rather than ‘cruise’ or ‘guest trip’.”
This also means that it is unadvisable for crew to be presenting boat papers or registry documentation that gives the boat a commercial status. “Anything that the officers at the embassies will be able to link to commercial activity can lead to an officer asking crew to apply for C1/D rather than B1/B2, which is not very convenient in the yachting world,” adds Ravnholt.
Evolution Agents, who are only able to advise regarding tendencies and experiences at the US Embassy in Madrid, have also noticed this trend. Having recently had two clients refused visas – something that the company had never experienced before. Fortunately the two crewmembers were invited to reapply and were successful the following week, both receiving 10-year visas.
“It seems there are two issues currently at play,” advises Evolution’s Kerry Allerton. “The US visa department in Madrid is concerned about commercial activity in US waters and a crewmember´s intentions for visiting. Applicants should provide supporting documentation showing ties to their home country and evidence that their vessel is not chartering in US waters.”
Other variances on experiences came down to the nationality of the crewmember. “Amongst our clients we are seeing five-year visas and 10-year visas being granted and from what I can tell it depends more on nationality rather than circumstance,” Allerton continues. “For example, I see many Australians receiving five-year visas, whereas their fellow New Zealand crewmembers often receive 10-year visas.”
“If this is a new challenge the yachting industry is facing, we will have to live up to the requirements and adapt, as we always do in this industry, but if we can continue B1/B2 visas it sure will make crew life easier and that is what we aim to do still,” concludes Ravnholt.
“I have only had a few denials of the files treated this year and I have seen denial for a crewmember holding the exact same papers and documents as his crew mate on the same boat who passed just before. So we can only strongly recommend crew to get properly prepared for the interviews.”