Over the last six months there have been increasing reports of charter crew unable to obtain, or renew, B1/B2 visas needed to work on a yacht visiting the United States. Some believe that the issue is part of a nationwide crackdown on visas and foreign entry into the US.
“There are indeed lots of discussions about the difficulties for [crew] to obtain their B1/B2 visas,” says Esther Delamare, senior crew manager at Hill Robinson. “We have had several yachts leaving for the US/Caribbean and the crew all managed to get their visas in different places. However, some crew were given B1/B2 visas with the name of the yacht written on, meaning it is only valid for that particular yacht.”
As a general trend, Delamare believes that all embassies are making the rules stricter, while there are still a few candidates ‘here and there’ that are managing to get a B1/B2 visa.
B1/B2 visas are classed as visitor visas and are described as ‘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)’. The US Bureau of Consular Affair’s website also states that; “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”. It is possible, therefore, that embassies are choosing to cast a harsher view on yachts engaged in charter.
Amongst the fervour, a contentious US-based Twitter account has emerged, seemingly targeting foreign crew in the US. The account, which goes by the name of AmexYachtCrew, has also attacked a number of recruitment agencies for their hand in the matter. “Entering the U.S. with a B1/B2 and looking for work or taking classes is visa fraud,” reads one such tweet typical of the account’s standpoint.
Furthermore, the individual(s) behind the account appear to be taking the matter into their own hands. Another tweet says; “Best kept jobs are found illegally, which is why we report crew hired illegally and captains that hire them especially! U.S. crew first!”
This tweet, among others, echoes the familiar sentiment and slogan that the Trump administration has perpetuated throughout its campaign: 'Buy American and hire American'.
While AmexYachtCrew may just be a harmless tirade on social media, it reflects an industry-wide problem. “Eventually all current valid visas will expire and then what?” asks Laurence Lewis, director at YPI Crew. “Will it only be Americans able to work on yachts traveling to America?
Lewis adds that the situation has serious potential to damage the US superyacht industry in the long term if it continues. “I foresee that non US-flagged yachts will just avoid the US and stay in the Caribbean if crew cannot get access,” she concludes.
If whole crews are unable to obtain B1/B2 visas in the future, it may well force a change in itineraries for some yachts. However, there are other possibilities to consider. Crew have traditionally always sought B1/B2 visas for their flexibility and convenience, but there is another visa available to crew.
Crewmember (D) visas are described as ‘for persons working on board sea vessels or international airlines in the United States, providing services required for normal operation and intending to depart the United States on the same vessel or any other vessel within 29 days’. If crew travel to the United States to join the vessel, in addition to a crewmember (D) visa, they also need a transit (C-1) visa, or a combination C-1/D visa. While this may not be the most suitable option, due to the 29-day limit, the industry may have to adapt to it if the trend continues.