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USA: Immigration Problems of which to be Aware

By Dave Ungless of SV Sanna — last modified Mar 15, 2016 09:23 AM
Since Visa Waiver regulations do not apply when entering the USA by private yacht, Dave Ungless has some advice for boaters regarding Immigration.

Published: 2014-09-03 23:00:00
Countries: Canada , Hawaii , USA

USA: Immigration Problems of which to be Aware

SV Sänna

We had problems with US Immigration in Ketchikan, Alaska when entering from Prince Rupert, BC. We resolved it satisfactorily after some effort but I think it would be wise to forewarn other cruising vessels heading the same way from Hawaii. Please see below...

We are a UK registered yacht arriving in Hawaii from Tahiti in July 2013 and were issued a normal twelve month cruising license by US Customs & Homeland Security in Hilo. The officials there were extremely friendly and helpful. Personally, we arrived with ten year multiple entry B1/B2 Visas issued in New Zealand into our UK passports, a requirement under US law if arriving by private vessel. The visa waiver program is not valid. Upon arrival in Hawaii we were given normal six month entry stamps into our passports allowing ourselves to stay six months and our boat to stay twelve months thru the winter in Hawaii. We returned to the UK for a short while and re-entered the US to Hawaii by plane in March 2014, being given another six month passport entry stamp into the US as expected.

Our plan was then to sail from Hawaii to British Columbia, Canada in June 2014 before the expiry of our twelve month cruising permit issued the previous July and our six month personal entry stamp issued in March. We would then re-enter the US into Alaska from Canada having exited the US in Hawaii with all relevant port clearance documentation. Therefore, we would be issued with a new US twelve month cruising permit in Alaska, having been outside of US territorial waters for the required minimum fifteen days and also having entered another country through a designated port of entry. We would then receive another six month entry stamp into our passports having been out of the US for seven weeks. We departed Hawaii and arrived in Prince Rupert, BC three weeks later as planned, stayed a month and then entered the US through Ketchikan, Alaska in late July 2014.

We were duly issued a new twelve month cruising permit by US Customs as expected but they refused to stamp our passports, saying we had entered the US through Hawaii in March and our six months period in the US began at that point. They stated that entering Canada does not constitute leaving the US and is designated as 'border hopping'. Therefore, we could only stay in Alaska personally until August although the boat could stay twelve months. No appeal was granted.

 

We later raised the issue with US Customs & Homeland Security in Juneau, Alaska and requested a meeting with the director of operations, which was granted. This was done through an exceptionally helpful Customs official in Wrangell. The director of operations decided the immigration officials in Ketchikan had been incorrect in their application of US Immigration laws and issued personal stamps for six months backdated from the date of arrival in Ketchikan, on the basis that we'd been out of the US for seven weeks including the crossing from Hawaii of twenty one days and thirty days stay in BC. They accepted our vessel had been out of the US thus triggering the issue of a new cruising permit and, as crew on that vessel, we must of been out of the US too.

Please note. Any foreign flagged vessel entering the US from Canada is classed as an arrival from a foreign port and qualifies for a new cruising permit. The same applies to foreign national crew onboard, subject to visa requirements, who are entitled to new six month, or possibly twelve month entry stamps into their passports. If Customs officials in Ketchikan apply this incorrectly then refer the matter to US Customs HQ Alaska in Juneau who are extremely helpful and will gladly assist foreign flagged private cruising vessels classed as valued visitors just like any other tourist, providing such vessels and crews abide by the reporting requirements and regulations laid down, which are not onerous. We understand Customs HQ in Juneau will notify Customs in Ketchikan and other Alaskan designated ports of entry clarifying the issue but this is by no means guaranteed.

Dave Ungless
Skipper
SV Sänna

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