The Center for Seafarers' Rights (CSR) of the Seamen's Church Institute of New York & New Jersey has called on the U.S. State Department to postpone the elimination of crew list visas until October 2004.
"The United States should not eliminate the most accessible and utilized
means merchant mariners have for applying for shore leave until an adequate internationally acceptable replacement for an identity document exists," said Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights.
"The United States already places a significant hardship on foreign merchant mariners by being the only major maritime country in the world that requires crewmember visas at all."
Currently, there are two varieties of United States crew visas: individual and crew list.
By requiring visas, the U.S. violates the International Maritime Organization Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic
prohibition on member states requiring visas as a condition of shore leave.
Section 103 of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002
, passed by Congress on November 14, 2002, gives the administration two years to negotiate an international agreement, or an amendment to an international agreement, that provides for a uniform, comprehensive, international system of identification.
"CSR does not advocate blanket issuance of shore leave, nor for the removal of strict security measures to evaluate and anticipate illegal entry to the U.S., for reasons economic or otherwise," said Stevenson. "The vetting of crew lists by United States security agencies is more extensive than those done by United States consulates. Requirements for shore leave should be reasonably calculated to prevent illegal entry without unreasonablyburdening mariners and their employers. Strict security measures do not
need to diminish the already limited freedoms and opportunities for shore leave that seafarers possess."
CSR is encouraging U.S. State Department officials to provide a two-year
transitional period before eliminating the visa, in line with the timetables provided for in the Maritime Security Act
of 2002 and in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.
Eliminating crew list visas would require foreign seafarers wishing to apply for shore leave in the United States to obtain an individual crew visa.
Crew members often begin contracts with no anticipation of visiting the United States and have little disposable income to get a visa "just in case." The $100 fee for an individual crew visa is a significant expense for merchant mariners, many of whom who earn less than $500 per month.
Shipowners pay the crew list visa fees rather than individual crewmembers. "Requiring individual merchant mariners to absorb the significant expense of an individual United States crew visa places an unreasonable economic burden
on foreign merchant mariners," said Stevenson. "Until an international
agreement on seafarer identity cards emerges, crewmembers desperately need
the alternative to individual visas that crew list visas provide."