White Paper on Visa and Entry Issues for the Large Yacht Industry
by John Mann and Corey Ranslem
The large yacht industry has dealt with visa and entry issues for several years. The industry trade organizations have dedicated time through various committees to address these issues with differing levels of concentration depending on the organization and current political climate. The U.S. Superyacht Association (USSA) and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF) along with other regional organizations spent hundreds of volunteer and staff hours working these issues back in the early to Mid-2000’s. The visa and entry regulations changed after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001 as the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Codes were developed internationally and the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and its corresponding regulations were developed domestically. Through the success of the trade organizations, the number of issues with yachts crews relating to visas and entry dropped substantially. This helped to change the perception within the large yacht industry thereby increasing the number of yachts visiting the United States and increasing the revenues for companies involved in the industry.
The issues with visas and entry will always be a part of the large yacht sector of the maritime industry as large yacht crews fall within two potential visa categories. Solving the problem will involve not only constant dedication to these issues by the industry trade organizations, but also various company stake holders within the industry. This White Paper is a guide for the industry in continuing to address and mitigate the visa and entry issues. The background for this document comes from the extensive experience of the authors and their companies; Bluewater Books and Charts and International Maritime Security Associates, INC. leading the visa and entry issue focus through various trade organizations nationally.
Bluewater Books & Charts is a provider of paper and electronic navigation products to recreational boaters and large yachts. Bluewater is an official distributor for government hydrographic offices including the US, UK, France, Canada and Cuba. In addition, Bluewater sells electronic charts, publications, navigation software, logbooks, flags, navigation instruments, safety signage and medical kits. Bluewater’s Superyacht Bridge Services division is the yachting industry’s leading purveyor of large yacht navigation products and services. Bridge Services staff assists yachts to ensure compliance with flag state regulations through a range of services that includes folio management, onboard and onshore chart correction services, electronic publication updating and passage planning. Bluewater is ISO 9001 certified at its Fort Lauderdale showroom and London, UK office. The company’s president has had extensive involvement in visa and entry issues at both the federal and local level with CBP, USCG and State Department as a member of the MIASF and USSA board of directors.
International Maritime Security Associates, INC (IMSA) is a veteran owned small business with extensive government and commercial maritime experience. The company currently provides risk management, regulatory compliance, and security expertise in the maritime industry through the use of people and technology. IMSA’s flagship software product is ARMS (Automated Risk Management Solution). The award-winning ARMS software platform provides geographically specific, real-time, risk and threat intelligence to vessels while integrating their specific response protocols. The company’s CEO has been involved with several trade organizations dealing with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, The U.S. State Department, and other federal and state agencies specifically dealing with visas, entry, immigration and other security and risk management issues. The CEO is recognized as an expert in U.S. Federal Court on maritime security related matters and routinely consults and testifies on lawsuits.
There are four issues to address as part of visa and entry requires. First, as political climates change, enforcement actions continue to increase. Second, yacht crew requirements encompass different visa classes and this can be confusing to regulatory agencies and crew members. Third, regulatory agencies need direct industry contacts to engage on behalf of the industry. Fourth, crew members don’t always understand the correct visa they require for entry or have the proper education and training on the changing visas and entry issues.
Visa and entry issues have been a waxing and waning focus of the large yacht industry since the early 2000’s. Maritime security and entry procedures to the United States and the enforcement of those laws and regulations changed dramatically after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. The ISPS Codes were developed internationally as a basis for maritime security. The MTSA law was enacted in 2002 along with a slew of federal regulations and changes to existing federal regulations and a step-up of enforcement of visa and entry procedures to the United States. This was the starting point for visa and entry issues with large yacht crews. This was also the time industry trade organizations realized they needed to be part of the solution for the industry by establishing relationships with the enforcement agencies and educating crew members.
Large yacht crews fall into a unique situation when it comes to visas and entry into the United States. The vast majority of all foreign flagged yachts enter the United States as private, pleasure vessels. Under this entry, crew members require a B1/B2 visa [B1 – tourism; B2 – extended stay for business] for entry because they are working on a non-commercial vessel. However, some large yachts do enter the United States as commercial vessel. Crews on these vessels would require a C1/D visa [C1 – transit visa for crews, D – commercial crew for vessel and aircraft]. Large yacht crews need to be educated on the process of obtaining the visa and the entry procedures for the U.S.
The U.S. State Department is the main agency responsible for interviewing crew and issuing visas for entry into the United States. There are key words and situations State Department officials look for during the visa interview. If the consular officer believes the potential visa holder is looking to establish residence in the U.S. the visa will be denied. Consular officers and their superiors at the U.S. Embassies change positions every few years, so once an industry connection has been established, it can be lost due to transfer. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for entry into the United States at the border entry points (air, land and sea). Regardless of the type of visa, CBP can still deny entry upon arrival. CBP also suffers from the same transfer and attrition as the State Department.
The authors of this White Paper implemented a comprehensive solution as part of the trade organizations in the Mid-2000’s. First the trade organizations need to re-establish relationships with regulatory and enforcement agencies on the local and national level as the regulatory agencies will not pursue these relationships. Personnel within these agencies shift positions every few years. If the industry organizations and stake holders have regular meetings and engagement with these agencies, they will then pass along industry contacts as part of a formal pass down process when positional rotations happen. This active engagement provides an opportunity for the industry to continue to educate the regulatory agencies on the large yacht market and the benefits the market brings to the U.S. in terms of business and trade. These relationships also facilitate a direct point of contact for the agencies when it comes to enforcement issues and actions. Through these relationships the industry and regulators are better informed and incidents decline.
Second, the industry needs to continue to engage in education and outreach to large yacht crews on the proper visa and entry procedures depending on the type of vessel and its operations. This engagement and outreach will ensure the yacht crews understand the process, but also have a point of contact if there are any issues or problems. Engagement with the regulatory agencies through the trade organizations facilitates a better discussion and many times a quicker resolution to issues.
Third, through direct engagement with the regulatory agencies, the industry has a much better handle on visa and entry issues, regulatory issues, and is part of the discussion when agencies want to propose regulatory changes. This communication also facilities the industry’s ability to propose regulatory changes to improve conditions within the industry. A key to working with regulatory agencies in Washington DC is engagement. They will typically work with industry groups and organizations to make changes to regulations and ensure those changes push through the process. Proposing regulatory or changes to laws without regulatory engagement results in potentially unintended consequences.
This simple process of active engagement has worked well in the past and facilitated a substantial reduction in visa and entry issues, thereby improving the industry perception outside the United States. The main goal of this engagement process is to continue to facilitate trade and bring more vessels to the United States increasing the overall business for companies in the U.S. The large yacht industry, companies, and trades in the United States are best in the world and a negative perception of entry and visas will only cause long term issues within the industry if they are not addressed. Industry trade organizations on the national and local level along with key stake holders can easily follow this framework to reduce visa and entry issues and increase the business for the U.S. industry.
Points of Contact:
Bluewater Books and Charts
International Maritime Security Associates, INC
Corey D. Ranslem