America Has a Chance for Positive Change

Jan 30, 2013

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights

As President Obama and the United States Senate approach consensus on comprehensive immigration reform, they have a great opportunity to enhance maritime security in the United States and other countries, to bring the United States into compliance with its international obligations and to improve seafarers’ lives—upon whose labors our lives and prosperity depend. They can accomplish this by eliminating crewmember D-1 visas or waiving them for seafarers who have valid ILO-185 Seafarer Identity Documents.

In response to the United States’ initiatives following the September 11, 2001, attacks, the International Labour Organization adopted the Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention (Revised), 2003, commonly known as ILO-185. The convention’s authors designed this international agreement to enhance maritime security worldwide by establishing a reliable international system for positively identifying professional seafarers and providing them with trustworthy biometric identification documents. ILO-185 also simplifies shipowners’ and seafarers’ “red tape” for shore leave by eliminating the need for seafarers with ILO-185 identification documents to also have United States D-1 visas.

Unfortunately, the United States has not ratified ILO-185. It remains one of the few countries in the world that still requires seafarers to have a visa before they can go on shore leave. This requirement also puts the United States in conflict with its international obligations under the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL). The FAL Convention prohibits the United States and other signatory nations from requiring seafarers to have a visa for shore leave.

United States ratification of ILO-185 would provide a great incentive for other maritime nations to do likewise, thereby vastly increasing the number of seafarers holding biometric identity documents. All seafarers—whether they have a visa or not—undergo background checks each time their vessel enters the United States. The pre-arrival background checks are equivalent to those given visa applicants. Background checks depend on positively verifying the checked person’s identity. ILO-185 identification documents would positively identify all of the crewmembers on a ship. Relying on visas, on the other hand, would not. Not all seafarers on ships in United States ports need to have a visa. Visas are required only for those seafarers applying for shore leave. Seafarers who do not have visas or trustworthy biometric identification documents, like ILO-185 identity documents, can find it difficult to establish their identity as professional seafarers.

Please urge President Obama and Congress to enhance maritime security and improve seafarers’ lives by removing the United States’ obstacle to ratifying ILO-185. Eliminating the crewmember D-1 visa or waiving the visa requirement for seafarers holding ILO-185 can do this.

You can write to President Obama at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

You can write to your Senator at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

You can write to you Representative in Congress at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/