September 26, 2003BIMCO makes some progress on crew visas
BIMCO's says its unrelenting efforts to illustrate the difficulties that U.S. visa policy has created in the maritime trades have now resulted in the acquisition of valuable advice and guidance provided by U.S. officials.
On September 17, BIMCO officials met with officials of the U.S. State Department International Affairs Group in Washington DC to discuss concerns regarding US policy affecting foreign seafarers employed on ships trading to U.S. ports. During the meeting BIMCO was informed that on July 18 the Director of the State Department Office of Field Support and Liaison Visa Office sent instructions to all U.S. Embassies and Consulates to give priority to seafarers seeking visas.
The message informed staff that a temporary exception to the personal appearance requirement would be granted by the State Department to accommodate visaed crew list applications. However this exception will only be available until the State Department's proposed final rules take effect.
Comments made during the meeting indicate, however, that when new rules take effect personal appearances will be required in conjunction with initial individual visa applications, but later waived when visa extensions are sought (as long as the initial application included the applicant's photo and biometric data). On the other hand, BIMCO Officials were told that the crew list visa was still "operational", and efforts were being made to facilitate the international movements of seafarers in transit. It will not be necessary for seafarers to apply for visas at U.S. Consular offices situated in their country of citizenship, nor would seafarers be required to specify the US port of entry on their applications.
BIMCO was also given advice regarding visa validity periods, which can be based on reciprocal agreements between the U.S and the applicants' respective countries of citizenship, depending on the discretion of the issuing officer. With respect to Filipino applicants, the maximum visa validity period is five years.
Having now received this information from the State Department and redistributed it to all of its owner members, BIMCO hopes that a noticeable degree of improvement will be seen with respect to seafarers acquiring visas for calls at U.S. ports as well as to seafarers in transit via US territories.
BIMCO, established in 1905, is the world's largest private association of shipping companies, with more than 2,550 members in 123 countries. The owner-members of BIMCO control a fleet of 525 million DWT thereby representing 65% of the world's merchant fleet. Among its many activities, the organization provides strictly professional, non-political information and counselling services for the maritime community including owners, brokers, agents and club members. BIMCO is an official observer at the International Maritime Organization.