In the current political climate, the United States is the centre of the world’s attention as the impact of a Trump administration becomes clear. It seems the US borders are stricter than ever and this, of course, is a growing concern for the superyacht industry that is made up of foreign crew. But even prior to Trump’s presidency, there were reports circulating in the industry about an increase of foreign crew experiencing difficulties in obtaining the appropriate visa required to work on a yacht visiting the US. Some believe the issue to be part of a nationwide crackdown on visas and foreign entry into the country.
B-1/B-2 visas are classed as visitor visas, and are described by the US authorities as being ‘for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2)’. Periods of stay for B-1 visas may be granted initially for a duration long enough to allow the visitor to conduct business up to a maximum of six months, and can be extended for another six months. Because of the permitted length of stay, and because no fixed schedule is needed, these categories are the most suitable visa options for foreign crew working on yachts.
The US embassy in the United Kingdom gives visa application information and recommendations on its website that specifies “If you will be working on a private yacht sailing out of a foreign port and cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29 days, you require a B-1 visa”. However, many of the reports of crewmembers having problems obtaining such visas suggest the issues are affecting mainly those working on charter yachts.
The fact is that without proper knowledge of the superyacht industry, US embassies may interpret a charter yacht as falling into the commercial transport category. This means it is inadvisable 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 C-1/D visa rather than B-1/B-2, which is not very convenient in the yachting world,” says Mark Ravnholt of Catalano Shipping Services.
There is, however, some confusion surrounding the actual extent of the problem. While there is much scaremongering circulating on yacht-crew forums, social-media platforms and the yachting media, there are also those who believe the problem is minimal. At their Superyacht Summit in March 2017, knowledgeable members of the US Superyacht Association were of the view that the perception is worse than the reality. For example, Debora Radtke, owner of American Yacht Agents, recently looked into one report of a crewmember being denied a visa in London. She discovered that the refusal stemmed from the crewmember not having the proper paperwork.
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