Due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, yachts that planned to emerge from service yards or to prepare for the Med season are in limbo. Therefore, some crewmembers are in countries they hadn’t planned to be in currently. If foreign nationals are among your superyacht crew on U.S. shores, check their visas. The good news is, they can and should file for an extension of stay. However, approval isn’t an overnight process. Furthermore, and more important, industry professionals cannot plead on behalf of superyacht crew stuck stateside if they overstay their visa.
The warning comes from yacht agents and industry groups like the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF). Non-American crewmembers reporting stateside to work aboard a yacht must do so with a B1 visa. The maximum duration of stay is six months. “If they arrived for Christmas—say, November or December—they’re coming up on six months,” Debora Radtke, president of American Yacht Agents, points out.
Among the eight boats she’s currently dealing with, Radtke says about a dozen crewmembers have B1 visas expiring this month or next. Meanwhile, Patience Cohn, MIASF’s industry liaison, says she knows of multiple instances of yachts changing plans. “Boats that were absolutely planning to head to the Med next month aren’t going there,” she emphasizes, due to COVID-19. “Some crew planned to leave soon but can’t get out for the foreseeable future.” Since few crewmembers are proactive in exploring extension options well in advance, this exacerbates issues. Yacht agents like Radtke can help answer questions and get answers from government officials. However, “We can’t help you if you haven’t filed an I-539,” she warns.
I-539 is a form from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees the United States’ lawful immigration system. The form allows individuals on temporary visas, including the B1, to do a number of things, including extending their stay. Thankfully, superyacht crew stuck stateside can apply for the I-539 online. They additionally need to pay a $370 filing fee, plus an $85 biometrics services fee. All correspondence pertaining to the application, such as status updates and a biometrics appointment, comes via their USCIS account.
Crew can expect to receive a near-instant notification from USCIS that their application was received. Regardless, “It takes 45 days minimum to get an answer,” according to Cohn, meaning the time needed for a visa-extension request to be processed and approved.
If superyacht crew stuck stateside end up departing before they receive an answer, it’s not a problem, Radtke says. But, if the extension is denied, they must leave within the specified timeframe.
Bottom line: “There are avenues to keep you legal,” Radtke says. Contact your yacht manager or yacht agent for assistance.