Foreign citizens who wish to visit the US for different reasons must apply for a nonimmigrant visa based on the reason for visiting or entering the US. Crewmembers must also obtain a crewmember visa (D) if they are working onboard an international airline or commercial sea vessels in the US.

While applying for nonimmigrant visas typically does not require an attorney, you might still need help in the form of guidance, preparing paperwork, and advice on the best approaches to your crewmember visa. California Immigration Attorney is a law firm dedicated to serving foreign citizens who wish to enter or work in the US.

Overview and Application Process

Foreigners intending to visit the US for other reasons other than becoming permanent residents must apply for a nonimmigrant visa. These visas allow foreigners to visit and remain in the country temporarily. You can apply for different nonimmigrant visas based on the reason you want to enter or visit the US.

Foreign crew members serving in international airlines and commercial sea vessels in the US must have a crewmember visa. Some of the people who need the visa include:

  • Pilots of flight attendants on commercial airplanes
  • Captains, engineers, or deckhands on sea vessels
  • Lifeguards, waiters, cooks, beauticians, and other service personnel on a cruise ship
  • Trainees onboard training vessels

You can apply for a crewmember visa at the US embassy or consulate in your country. You will need to fill out an online application through Form DS-160.

While filling the form:

  • Enter correct and truthful information as requested
  • Provide answers to all questions in English characters except when giving your name in your native alphabet
  • Answer with “does not apply” for questions that are not applicable
  • Review all information you have provided for accuracy
  • Print the confirmation page

Note that your application session will expire after 20 minutes of inactivity, and you will have to restart your application. You can temporarily save your application on the website, but if you cannot complete the application in one sitting, you should save the application to your local files so that you can continue from where you stopped. Delete your file after the successful completion of the application if you are using a public computer.

You could also save your complete application before submitting it, which will help when correcting mistakes in case of visa denial or save you time during future applications.

Once you complete the online application, you should print the confirmation page to present during your interview.

You must also attach a photo with your online application that meets the stated photograph requirements.

The requirements for photos include:

  • All photos must be in color.
  • The photo must be sized such that the head (from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head) is between 50 and 69% of the image's total height.
  • The photo must have been taken within the last six months and reflects your current appearance.
  • You must take the photo while facing the camera directly and in a full-face view.
  • You must take the photo in a white or off-white background.
  • You must wear a neutral facial expression with both eyes open when taking the photo.
  • You should not wear a head covering or hat covering the hairline unless it is part of your daily wear for religious reasons. However, your face must be fully visible, and the head covering should not cast shadows on your face.
  • You should not wear a uniform when taking the photo unless it is your daily religious wear.
  • Your photo should not include headphones or similar devices.
  • You cannot have eyeglasses on your visa photos unless you cannot remove the glasses for medical reasons. If you are citing medical reasons for having your glasses on, you must provide a statement signed by a healthcare professional. The frames must not cover your eye; the glasses should not have glare that obscures the eyes and should not cast shadows that obscure the eyes.
  • You can wear hearing aids or similar devices if you normally wear them.

The consulate or embassy will not accept photos that:

  • You scanned the driver's license of an official document.
  • Snapshots
  • Full-length photographs
  • Mobile phone photos
  • Magazine photographs

You must also pay visa fees to apply for the visa, including a fee for filing form DS-160 and other applicable fees such as reciprocity fees.

Citizens of some countries must pay a visa issuance fee if their country charges US citizens a visa fee for the same visa category. These reciprocity fees apply in addition to a visa application fee, but you pay them after the approval of your visa.

The fees you pay during the application are non-refundable regardless of whether your visa is approved. Payment of these fees is also mandatory to allow the processing of your visa.

Apart from your photographs and a confirmation page, you will need to present the following documents to support your request for a crewmember visa:

  • Receipts indicating that you have paid all the applicable fees
  • A letter from your employer or company describing the purpose of your trip
  • Proof of ties to your home country to prove that you do not intend to stay in the US for more than 29 days
  • A letter from your employer with details such as the vessel's name, the period in which you will be in the US, the date and port of entry and exit, a description of your job position and duties, and your salary when you will be in the US.
  • Employer work records
  • A Continuous Discharge Certificate
  • Travel authorization for your organization
  • Certificates to verify your qualifications
  • Criminal records
  • Civil documents such as police records and police records

Depending on the embassy which you apply, you might be required to present additional documents; therefore, you must be ready to provide them upon request.

Ties to your home country are an important consideration for nonimmigrant visa applications. The US embassy or consulate must determine that you have strong roots in your country that will compel you to leave the US as scheduled. Some of the aspects that indicate strong ties to your community include:

  • Employment
  • Family
  • Relationships with friends
  • Land ownership in your home country
  • Your financial resources

Visa Interview

You must schedule a visa interview with the US embassy in your home country if you are aged between 14 and 79 years. You will receive an interview confirmation letter with the date, time, and venue of the interview. You must arrive at the interview at the specified time since delays will lengthen the visa processing time.

Remember to bring all the requested documents during the interview. If you pass the interview, you could receive an approval or denial of your visa within two weeks and another two weeks to receive your passport if the visa application is approved.

Other important tips for your visa interview include:

  • Dress professionally
  • Avoid bringing prohibited items (you can check the list of prohibited items from the US embassy or consulate where you applied for your visa)
  • Review any supporting materials before the interview to ascertain their accuracy
  • Speak calmly and slowly when answering questions so that you can clearly articulate your message
  • Be honest: cover-ups, exaggerations, and deception will increase the likelihood of denial.

While most visa applications are approved, the consulate or embassy could deny your visa applications for various reasons:

  • You failed to provide sufficient information in your application, making it hard for the consular officer to determine your eligibility for a crewmember visa. Inadequate supporting documents could also contribute to the denial of your visa.
  • You are inadmissible or ineligible for a visa based on the provisions of the law.
  • You have a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude, which disqualifies you from being admitted into the US.
  • You were convicted for a drug crime that makes you ineligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • You have at least two criminal convictions with a confinement sentence of at least five years.
  • You committed fraud (including concealing material facts) to obtain a visa.
  • You previously overstayed your authorized time in the US.

Depending on the reason for denial, you can reapply for a visa with the required information and have it approved. In some cases, however, you will always get the same reason for denial anytime you apply for a visa, especially for visa denials arising from immigration ineligibility.

You can still reapply for a visa and have it approved if the underlying reason for denial was:

  • An incomplete application
  • Administrative processing
  • The consulate cannot establish strong ties to your home country that will compel you to leave the US after your temporary stay.
  • You have the finances to support your stay in the US (you will not become a public charge)

Some of the grounds for permanent ineligibility include:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation of material facts in your application (material facts include truthful details which if disclosed in your application could have made you ineligible for a nonimmigrant visa)
  • Staying in the US for longer than authorized in your visa without obtaining the required permission to extend your stay or entering and staying in the US without the necessary authorization (the ineligibility based on unlawfully staying in the US ranges from 3 to 10 years based on the underlying circumstance)

In some cases, ineligibility can be due to a health-related reason such as:

  • Having a communicable disease with a significant public health concern
  • You have a mental or behavioral condition that is likely to or has caused a threat to the safety, welfare, or property of other people.

You could apply for a waiver of ineligibility to allow you to apply for the D visa. A waiver of ineligibilities refers to provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that allow visa applications to apply for a waiver of certain ineligibilities that led to their visa denial.

The consular or embassy will advise you to apply for a waiver of ineligibility if you meet certain factors:

  • The availability of a waiver of ineligibility under the disqualifying law
  • You are fully qualified for a crewmember visa except for the specific ineligibility.
  • You are applying for a nonimmigrant visa, and the consular officer recommends to the Department of Homeland Security that you receive a waiver.

The consular officer will also provide information on applying for a waiver of ineligibility and the officer to which you should submit your application.

Other reasons that disqualify you from receiving a crewmember visa include:

  • You will be performing primarily dry dock services under warranty while the vessel is docked at a US port (in this case, you might qualify for a B-1 visa)
  • You are a temporary crewmember on a fishing vessel, which has an operating base or homeport in the US, in which case you should apply for an H-2 visa.
  • You are a replacement coasting officer for a vessel that does not remain on US waters for longer than 29 days.
  • You are a crewmember on a private yacht that will cruise in US waters for longer than 29 days.
  • You are a crewmember sailing to the Outer Continental Shelf.

Once the US consulate or embassy grants you your crewmember visa, you can make travel arrangements. You should also review the visa to ensure it reflects accurate details of your nonimmigrant visa category, your bibliographic information, and photographs.
While serving as a crewmember in the US, you have to abide by certain restrictions, including:

  • You must depart from the same port you landed in as part of your duties.
  • You cannot change your visa status on a crewmember visa (this means that you cannot apply to become a permanent citizen if you entered the US using a crewmember visa)
  • You cannot study or work in the US while on a D visa (your visa category only allows you to work in the ship or vessel for which you received the visa.)
  • You cannot work in a different vessel or airline except that in which you arrived.
  • You cannot bring your family members to the US through a D visa, but they can apply for different visa categories such as a tourist visa.
  • You cannot perform longshore work at a US port.

Foreign crewmembers are generally prohibited from working as longshoremen on docked shops on US ports. Some exceptions, however, allow them to serve under this capacity, including:

  • Loading and unloading hazardous cargo after the US Department of Transportation issues appropriate environmental and safety regulations
  • In ports where it is the prevailing practice for foreign crewmembers with D visas to work as longshoremen in the ports usually due to a collective bargaining agreement. Where such an agreement is missing, the shipowner must get an Attestation agreement with the US Department of Labor.

Even with an attestation, foreign crewmembers with a D visa cannot work as longshoremen if:

  • The activity they undertake is prohibited at the local port.
  • There is a strike or lockout.
  • The decision to allow foreign crewmen to work as longshoremen at a local port is intended to influence a labor election's outcomes.
  • The foreign crew members intending to serve as longshoremen on a US port fail to provide a notice of the attestation to the bargaining representative of longshoremen at the local port.

Administrative Processing

Sometimes the consular officer delays the visa approval process by subjecting your application to further review. This is unlike a visa denial since it involves further evaluation and screening to determine whether you have disqualifying criminal convictions, the security risks you pose to the US, and previous immigration violations.

Usually, the consulate or embassy where you filed your application will send you a notice informing you about the hold in your application as the consulate conducts further evaluations. You might be required to provide additional information to help establish your eligibility.

The outcome of an administrative hearing varies based on the circumstances of each case. Some could lead to the denial or approval of your visa, based on what the reviewers find.

Administrative processing takes up to 60 days. The processing time depends on the location of the consulate or embassy and the circumstances of your case.

Overstaying your Visa

A crewmember visa is valid only for 29 days, after which you must leave the US. Overstaying your visa could lead to permanent ineligibility for a US visa in the future.

One of the common problems of overstaying your visa is the assumption that you misrepresented your intent when applying for a visa. Remember that you had to state your intention to return to your home country during your nonimmigrant D visa application.

Even after your 29 days of being in the US expire, you still have a 180-day window within which to depart the country without triggering legal action against you. Staying for more than 180 days when you should have left the country will result in an unlawful presence bar and deportation.

Most cases of overstaying a crewmember visa are deemed as initial misrepresentations of your intent to return to your home country after your authorized stay. Such assumptions can ruin future attempts to secure a nonimmigrant visa, especially if you overstay for more than 180 days.

Holders of crewmember visas cannot apply for an extension of their stay or modification of their status. Therefore, you have to reapply for another visa category if you wish to reenter the US.

You are allowed to apply for another visa six months after the last day of your departure from the US.

Working with an Immigration Law Attorney

Most people can handle their visa application process by themselves, especially if they are used to applying for crewmember visas. However, the constant changes in law and application requirements can be overwhelming for a crewmember to keep up with or learn every time you need to apply for a visa.

You might also face visa denials and need to pursue additional legal channels such as petitions and waivers of ineligibility to have your visa approved. Other potential issues related to crewmember visas include overstaying your visa.

These instances can mean the difference between getting a visa to work as a crewmember in a vessel operating in the US.

Immigration attorneys help you in different ways by guiding you through the applicable laws for crewmember visas, what denials mean and what you can do about them, and possible immigration problems associated with the visa, such as deportation in case of an overstay that exceeds 180 days.

An attorney will also provide actionable advice on the steps you can take to prepare for the interview, including what to expect. Your attorney will not be present to guide you through the interview itself, however, but by following the right advice, you can successfully go through the visa interview.

Apart from handling matters related directly to crewmember visas, you can consult an immigration attorney for details on changing your status, eligible nonimmigrant visa categories, and bringing your family to the US.

If you decide to work with an immigration attorney, make sure you are dealing with someone who understands immigration law about nonimmigrant crew members both in the US and in your home country.

Make sure to ask the attorney about their experience and qualifications that make them an ideal candidate to help you with your case. You should also consider the cost of the attorney and your ability to raise adequate funds to cover your counsel.

Although the price is a significant factor in choosing a lawyer, it should not be the major determining factor overriding consideration, such as experience in nonimmigrant visa cases.

Find an Immigrant Law Attorney Near Me

Handling immigration issues, even applying for a non-immigration visa, can be complicated. You have to navigate different laws, filing procedures, interviews, and travel regulations and restrictions.

Few foreign citizens understand these laws, and some do not know where to find the right information pertaining to their crewmember visa application.

California Immigration Attorney bridges this gap by providing you with reliable information to help you throughout the visa application process. We are ready to guide you through the right type of visa to apply for, and any legal issues that might arise during your stay in the US while holding a nonimmigrant visa.

Contact our offices at 424-789-8809 for a consultation.