The Center for Seafarers
' Rights of the Seamen's Church Institute of New York
& New Jersey
has called on the U.S. State Department to exempt crew visas from a proposed November 1 increase in visa application fees. "High visa processing fees
already charged by the United States puts the
cost of visas out of reach of many seafarers and ships' operators thereby depriving crews of shore leave in the United States," said Douglas B.
Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights. "Most foreign merchant mariners face extended periods at sea with long work hours and in cramped living conditions without contact with their families. Denial of shore leave so severely affects the mental and physical state of seafarers that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized
shore leave as an 'elemental necessity.'"
Most shore leave is denied to merchant mariners in the United States simply
because they have been unable to obtain a visa. For many seafarers, the existing $65.00 fee is excessive.
If the visa processing fee is raised to $100.00 and the various other identification systems that are being contemplated in the United States
Congress and the International Labor Organization are implemented, the costs that a merchant mariner would have to pay to receive his fundamental right to shore leave could easily exceed several month's wages.
"Our American economy and security depend upon merchant shipping and their crews," said Stevenson. "Yet, in the current climate, immigration officials have denied mariners who have not been able to obtain visas shore
leave even to receive essential medical or dental care. The restrictions were rationalized on maritime security grounds, in spite of lacking any
information indicating the mariners posed a security risk."
The Center for Seafarers' Rights is requesting that the U.S. State department to exempt the D-1 and D-2 crew visas from this processing fee.