A worsening problem with visa for seafarers

Upon arrival at port a seafarer would normally finished his job and turn over his duties in order to go ashore. After a 15 to 27 days of voyage at sea, we normally get excited whenever we see land. Putting aside the idea of having a visa, a typical seafarer would normally ask permission to the officer in charge in order to go ashore. Imagine the disappointment of a seafarer whenever his shore leave is denied due to not having a visa. Why do they really require seafarers to have a visa? We only stay a few days or most of the time less than 24 hours alongside a port.

Why they require Visas

Visa, a document whereby a duly authorized government agency gives a citizen of another country permission to enter the country or, occasionally, permission to leave.” – wikipedia. Fair enough don’t you think? But the thing is, we don’t stay that long on a country. It’s either we join a vessel, disembarked a vessel, visit a doctor, or go ashore. But since its a requirement, we better follow it.

Does visa benefits seafarers?

Implementation of visa on seafarers does not benefit us. I say this for certain reasons. Mariners travel around the world most of the time. It is difficult and often impossible to secure a visa while you’re onboard and suddenly you receive an order to go to a certain country that requires you to have a visa. Aside from the fact that it takes a lot of days to secure a visa just to change crew, it also became one of the reason for overstaying of crew onboard.

If you don’t have visa?

  • What could happen to you if in case you suddenly get sick or you need immediate medical assistance? You would probably remain onboard awaiting orders.
  • What if you’re contract has expired and you need to go home? You would probably stay onboard until you leave that country and wait for your chance to go home on another convenient port.
  • What if there is an emergency, a family problem that forces you to go home? You would probably stay onboard and wait for the next convenient port that don’t require visa.

These are just a few of the reasons why. We can never really say what you and the others think about this. Our opinion varies differently whenever the topic about securing a visa arises.

Let me quote to you an article that Fred Fry wrote:

“The ILO formulates international labor standards in the form of Conventions and Recommendations setting minimum standards of basic labor rights: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labor, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.

One item that the ILO has under its wing is Seafarer Identification. Since seafarers travel around the world and don’t always know where they are going, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the right visa before arriving at a port. This is where the ILO comes in, with a Convention that sets the rules for seafarer identification to permit the movement of seafarers with limited restrictions/visa issues.

The old Convention was passed in 1958, and after the terror attacks of September 11, it was realized that an updated convention was needed. So in the summer of 2003 the new Convention (Number 185) was adopted and it came into force on 9 February 2005. There is just one small problem, the US does not like the new Convention. Specifically, they don’t like the following clause in the Convention:

Shore leave

4. Each Member for which this Convention is in force shall, in the shortest possible time, and unless clear grounds exist for doubting the authenticity of the seafarers’ identity document, permit the entry into its territory of a seafarer holding a valid seafarer’s identity document, when entry is requested for temporary shore leave while the ship is in port.

6. For the purpose of shore leave seafarers shall not be required to hold a visa. Any Member which is not in a position to fully implement this requirement shall ensure that its laws and regulations or practice provide arrangements that are substantially equivalent.

The problem here is that the US does require visas for seafarers wishing to go ashore in US Ports. In the past they used to issue Crew Visas that were issued to the crew upon arrival. This is no longer possible. Therein lies the problem. If you are a seafarer and you are coming to the US, you need to get a visa before you join the ship, especially if you plan on joining it in the US. Immigration won’t let you into the Country unless you have a visa. This Convention tried to eliminate the Visa requirement in the US or at least force the US to make it easier for seafarers to get a visa once here. – continues

The ILO has been trying to get the US to commit to ratification of this convention with little success so far. I suspect that this Convention is all but dead, taking into account the reaction of congress in the DP World Port ownership issue. Imagine the furor in congress and the public if it is suggested that they sign up to an international convention that will result in seafarers from around the world (including North Korea and Iran) into the country without proper due diligence.” C185 Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003fredfryinternational.

I’d also like to show to you one of the visa related news article by “Aftenposten“, a norwegian news paper that posted an article entitled “Norwegian seafarers not welcome on US land“:

“We feel we are being treated like potential terrorists,” Captain Tor Gisle Bjerknes told Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten.

“It doesn’t help if the person is European, a captain, and has had a US visa for years,” said Captain Otto Vollan on the Bow Fortune, another ship in the Odfjell fleet.

The seafarers say the restrictions violate bilateral shipping agreements and could even cause health problems — when a seafarer needs to visit a doctor or dentist, for example.

A new ID card is under development to allow seafarers to go on land worldwide without the need for a visa, but after five years of waiting, it remains unclear when the card will come into use.

The US has signalled that it doesn’t want to ratify the ID card, and so far only 13 countries have given it the green light. France is the only Western European country to have said yes to the ID card.

Have your say

Based on the above information, do you think that we should be granted the liberty to go ashore, disembark a vessel, join a vessel, and see a doctor without a visa? Does this kind of restriction regarding visa would promote safety for personnel onboard the ship? Will the “Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention” pushed through? If you want to share your opinion, write your comment and be heard.

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21 Responses to “A worsening problem with visa for seafarers”

  1. OldSailor says:

    I want to know whether such rules are applicable to international aircraft pilots and air crew ? Whether they also face similar problems ?

  2. Yup,
    The feeling of not being able to go shore is very bitter.
    i have expirenced that with my junior officer from Philipines. we sailed for a 45 days voyage and he wasent able to go shore. The next voyagewas for 32 days.

    you i agree with you, There must not be a visa ristriction for seafarers

  3. chris chris says:

    @ OldSailor

    I’m not sure if it’s the same thing about aircraft pilots and crew. But if in case they face the same similar problem, it’s gonna be very disappointing too.

    @ Nandkishore Gitte

    I agree with you. I had an O/S before that needs medical attention, but since he has no visa the immigration says it’s either he hires 2 body guards to escort him to the doctor and back to the ship and he or the company will pay the two policeman a certain amount per hour. So he decided not to go and wait for the next accessible port and accept his faith. A very disappointing feeling indeed.

  4. […] Maritime has “A worsening problem with visa for seafarers“. Yes, the whole visa issue for seafarers is stupid. It is not just the US though, the ILO […]

  5. Valfer E. Gutas says:

    i just got denied a while ago at the us embassy!!i was really wondering why that us consulate denied me? i answered all of his questions… i really need to get onboard and earn money because im the one entrusted to buy medication maintenance of my family.my father has high blood and maintaining medicine , my mom has goiter and my younger brother has a maintenance too since he was a child..those consulate are inconsiderable..some even got a us visa without any experience while i wasnt able to.. hope to hear somthing from u..

  6. sam says:

    this is true…i even got the same probs with valfer.us consul should tell the reason after denying…us visa cost a lot…

  7. jhun says:

    wer free to say what we feel about this probs on maritime us visa…

  8. sonia balla says:

    i’m a wife of a master. i applied for a US visa for the purpose of joining my husband on board. furtunately the visa was granted but sad to know that it is a seafarer’s visa, R C-1/D. with this type of visa, can i be able to go out fr the vessel and stay for a few days ashore while in US?
    kindly advise me of the benefit/disadvantage of said visa.
    thank you

  9. gans says:

    a applied last april 20 2010 and got denied…..im wondering why the consul denied me…
    very disspointed that time because im just a simple man who wishes to worl legally in a cruise ship..

  10. gans says:

    i hope the next time the US consulate would consider my visa application…
    Im just want to work honestly and legally in a cruise ship to help my mother who is very sick…

  11. Mr. Marzan says:

    Sir,
    Greetings! I appreciate your column and very valuable comments for the welfare or our seafarers worldwide.

    As a matter fact, the deployment of young seafarers in our company is getting hard because of the US Visa requirement prior to dispatch.

    I hope the US Government will reconsider to ease the issuance of US Visa for new seafarers.

    More power

  12. salvador c. marzan says:

    if the united states imposed a tight rules on shoreleave for seafarers, may be the other country should do the same thing (reciprocal basis) “,

  13. salvador c. marzan says:

    Sir/Mam,
    anyone can give me an information regarding the rate per hour (cost) for guard/police who will conduct an escort for seafarers without visa who wish to avail a shoreleave? and how much would be the penalty for the vessel who has a crew member without US visa upoin entering the US teritory.

    thank you

  14. chris chris says:

    Escort for security ranges from 300USD per hour and above. For crew without US Visa there are no penalties, however they cannot go ashore, go to hospital, or sign off in america. They must stay on the ship at all times…

  15. shadz says:

    .we hope that the government shal help us 4 the pirates indeed…..

  16. joel loon says:

    i wish my visa will be granted on friday

  17. just got my us visa.. thank you Lord… 🙂

  18. Peter O.s, Ab says:

    Hey good thing for this Site… So we who have been turn down like me…can be heard. Last year I just had to join a ship in the US. And was turn right down…. So I could not get the job… Very sad for me . I hope we can all have the I’D card!!! I hope the US embassy can look in to the matter of giving seamen visa.

  19. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I’m quite sure I will learn a
    lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

  20. randy padao says:

    i wish my visa will be granted on tuesday next wik

  21. chris chris says:

    @randy padao
    I wish you luck and tell us if it turns out ok 🙂

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