It is a known fact that the Philippines is the leading supplier of maritime manpower. Approximately 30% (or even more) of the world’s seafarers are Filipinos, who bravely take the assignments regardless of the dangers involved such as piracy and terrorism. As such, the world looks to Filipino seafarers to meet that maritime industry’s ever growing need for maritime officers and crewmen.
Filipino seafarers are deployed to different parts of the world, such as Europe, Middle East, Persian Gulf and to the United States. For ships that enter the United States’ territorial waters and/or ports, the crew member will not need a visa if he/she stays on board for up to a limited number of days. However, there are situations where a visa will be required. These instances include staying over the allowed limited time period, or when a crewmember wishes to de-board the vessel, or in certain emergency situations, or when it is necessary to fly to the United States to join a vessel.
This seaman’s visa falls under the non-immigrant visa category and the holder of such visa generally cannot change his or her status while in the United States. To apply for the visa, a personal interview at the U.S. Embassy is required in addition to the requisite forms and photos and also the supporting original documents listed below: (List is not exhaustive).
1. Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB) issued by the Philippine Department of Transportation and Communication’s Maritime Authority (MARINA)
2. Seafarer’s Registration Card (SRC) issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), with attached signed photo
3. First page of the original valid Overseas Employment Commission Certification (OEC) issued by the POEA or a POEA in-house processed OEC issued by certified agencies.
4. Seafarer recruitment agency guarantee letter with signature and all appropriate information. Each seafarer must be issued an individual guarantee letter with each application.
5. Employment history – applicant’s job experience from age 21 up to present
6. All seaman’s books that have expired in the past ten years and any additional seaman’s book or passport which contains a U.S. visa
7. Signed and valid contract of employment in POEA format
8. Original Basic Safety Course (BSC) training certificate with Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR) (photocopies are not accepted)
9. College transcripts and diplomas (first-time seafarers)
10. Certifications of training (first-time seafarers)
11. Employment certification letters from previous employers (first-time seafarers)
12. For seafarers taking unusual or uncommon seafaring positions, seafarer recruitment agencies must provide a complete job description and indicate whether the position is a temporary or permanent component of the ship’s crew. In some circumstances, seafarer applicants may be requested to submit a complete itinerary for the vessel or a U.S. Coast Guard ship clearance letter
13. Copy of the VisaPoint™ Interview Confirmation Page
These documents are submitted to the interviewing consular officer during the interview. In some cases, other additional documents may be requested and having complete documents is not a guarantee for visa issuance.
On the other end of the stick, to ensure the adequate and timely acquisition of crew members, the ship owners must qualify and prove that there is a legitimate need for the crewmember based on how and when the crewmember will enter the United States. On the part of the crew member, you should communicate with your designated Manning agency to ensure you have accurate information (travel dates, ship details, route, etc.) for the visa interview.
As job opportunities for Filipino seafarers continue to come in, the numbers of applicants for the seafarer visa increase as well. It is important that you are prepared with your documents and English ability during your visa interview to increase your chances of securing the visa. Do not hesitate to clarify issues with regard to your application, contract or travel plans with your manning agency or better yet, consult with a lawyer.
Atty. Michael Templo is an attorney admitted to practice law in New York State and Federal Courts and is a partner at Templo & Templo with offices in New York, USA and Makati City, Philippines. Atty. Templo specializes in US Immigration matters. Atty. Mike Templo is also a host for the weekly show “Crossing Borders” which airs every Thursday at 10:30PM on ANC and 2:30PM on TFC http://crossingborderstv.multiply.com. The discussion above is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional. For your comments and questions, Atty. Templo can be reached at email@example.com or log on to www.templolaw.com.