July 20, 2004

State Department issues final rule eliminating crew list visas

On World Maritime Day, September 30, 2004, shipowners' and seafarers' organizations will unite in lobbying governments to facilitate the provision of shore leave for seafarers.

Seafarers visiting the U.S., though, are finding it more difficult to gain a visa that will allow them to come ashore.

Now, the U.S. Department of State has published notication in today's Federal Register adapting as a final rule its prior interim rule eliminating crew list visas

In today's Federal Register the State Department says it has has eliminated the crew list visa for security reasons. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department has reviewed its regulations to ensure that every effort is being made to screen out undesirable aliens. By eliminating the crew list visa, the Department will ensure that each crewmember entering the United States is be required to complete the nonimmigrant visa application forms, submit a valid passport and undergo an interview and background checks. Additionally, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (Pub. L. 107-173) requires that all visas issued after October 26, 2004 have a biometric indicator. This means crew list visas would necessarily be eliminated by that date.

Discussing the seafarers' ID in proposed ILO Convention 185, the State Department says "it is likely to take years for such a document to be developed and adopted widely. Further, one of the principal reasons for requiring individual visas is the need, for security purposes, for a consular officer to personally interview each applicant. Adoption of the new ID card will not address the need for interviews."

"Regarding difficulties for crewmen obtaining individual visas caused by last-minute scheduling, the Department recognizes the problem, but continues to believe that the security of the U.S. demands individual crew visas despite the dislocations that the requirement may cause initially. Nevertheless, the Department hopes that shipping companies and unions will encourage their employees and members to obtain visas where there is a reasonable possibility that a crewman may be required to enter the U. S. at any time. The visa, once obtained, and depending upon bilateral reciprocity for like documents held by U.S. seamen, will generally be valid for up to five years. Therefore, once individual crew visas are obtained and used generally by seamen working for companies that ship to the U.S., there should be reasonable certainty that most of the crew will be able to enter the U.S. on short notice."

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