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Crew facing problems obtaining B1/B2 visas

Crew looking to obtain B1/B2 visas to work on charter yachts in US waters are reportedly facing increased difficulty in being approved for the visa, with many agencies reporting much higher levels of shortened and rejected visa applications amongst its clients.

Jason Turner reached out to Yachting Pages and told us, “Myself and hundreds of crew are being denied B1/B2 visas, reasons are pretty much the same across the board: ‘vessel advertised as available for charter’.

“My captain, on both positions I just lost due to this, stipulated very clearly non-commercial use in US waters, also the management companies did the same — all documentation was the same I've been producing since 1989.”

There has been a tightening of how authorities look at applications for B1/B2 visas, though so far it appears there have inconsistencies in how the application process is enforced across different US Embassies.

Mark Ravnholt of Catalano Shipping Services explained to us, “Crew [boat crew] have to ask for C1/D visas as per visa rules. ‘Crew' means commercial ship’s crew: cargo, ferry, cruise ship... and this will give access to transit through the US to join or depart from the ship.

“Yacht crew should ask for B1/B2 (business/pleasure and above all for people arriving by a private mean of transport). Weather a yacht is commercial or pleasure registered, the means of transport does not have a fixed schedule and therefore it’s considered a private means of transport.”

It appears choice use of language can help, with Mark recommending the use of the words ‘voyages’ and ‘relocation’ instead of ‘cruise’ and ‘guest trip’, and no use of the word ‘charter’ at all. Mark also offered some general interview advice for crew looking to obtain B1/B2 visas:

  • Try to avoid saying words that can lead to an unpleasant situation for the immigration officer needing to decide all by themselves weather you are commercial or pleasure, as the commercial status will lead to a denial for B1/B2.
  • Get supporting letters from the boat not stating the commercial status of the yacht
  • If the yacht has a commercial registry, try not to show the registry; only a crew list and captains letter all stripped from the word ‘commercial’

The salient point is that yachts are regarded as private vessels as they are without a fixed schedule, so a B1/B2 visa ­– the more desirable visitor visa for many reasons – should be obtainable.

Mark went on, “I’ve seen crew from the same ship, with the same supporting documents, having had their DS160 prepared together on board to avoid discrepancy, some getting an OK and some getting a refusal.

“It is of utmost importance what you say at the interview. Do not tell anything but the truth, but leave out the wording leading to think you are a commercial crew member.”

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