BIMCO's unrelenting efforts to illustrate the difficulties that U.S. visa policy has created in the maritime trades have now resulted in the acquisition of valuable advice and guidance provided by US officials.
On September 17, BIMCO officials met with officials of the US State Department International Affairs Group in Washington DC to discuss concerns regarding US policy affecting foreign seafarers employed on ships trading to US ports. During the meeting BIMCO was informed that on 18 July 2003 the Director of the US State Department Office
of Field Support and Liaison Visa Office sent instructions to all US Embassies and Consulates to give priority to seafarers seeking visas.
The message informed staff that a temporary exception to the personal appearance requirement would be granted by the State Department to accommodate visaed crew list applications. However this exception will only be available until the State Department's proposed final rules take effect.
Comments made during the meeting indicate, however, that when new rules take effect personal appearances will be required in conjunction with initial individual visa applications, but later waived when visa extensions are sought (as long as the initial application included the applicant's photo and biometric data). On the other hand, BIMCO Officials were told that the crew list visa was still "operational", and efforts were being made to facilitate the international movements of seafarers in transit. It will not be necessary for seafarers to apply for visas at US Consular offices situated in their country of citizenship, nor would seafarers be required to specify the US port of entry on their applications.
BIMCO was also given advice regarding visa validity periods, which can be based on reciprocal agreements between the US and the applicants' respective countries of citizenship, depending on the discretion of the issuing officer. With respect to Filipino applicants, the maximum visa validity period is five years.
Having now received this information from the State Department and redistributed it to all of its owner members, BIMCO hopes that a noticeable degree of improvement will be seen with respect to seafarers acquiring visas for calls at US ports as well as to seafarers in transit via US territories.