Last updated: 03:15 PM ET, Sun June 14 2015

Customs Explains End of Cruises-to-Nowhere

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Resorts World Bimini | Theresa Norton | June 14, 2015

Customs Explains End of Cruises-to-Nowhere

PHOTO: Crew visas on the Bimini SuperFast cruise ship was behind the decision to end cruises-to-nowhere (Courtesy of Resorts World Bimini)

When cruise lines revealed last week they would no longer operate cruises-to-nowhere, many wondered what the reason was for the sudden change. Now U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has explained why.

It has to do with crew visas and holding all cruise ships to the same standards.

Some background: Most foreign cruise ship workers get D-1 visas, which the U.S. State Department says are “non-immigrant visas for persons working onboard sea vessels or international airlines in the United States, providing services required for normal operation and intending to depart the United States on the same vessel or any other vessel within 29 days.”

And those D-1 visas are not intended for crew members on cruises-to-nowhere that don’t visit foreign ports, because they are essentially viewed as domestic operations.

That view was upheld in a 2014 court case filed by Bimini SuperFast, a cruise ship that was denied in its quest to operate gambling cruises-to-nowhere from South Florida in addition to shuttling passengers to Resorts World Bimini in the Bahamas.

“As explained in a 2014 federal court opinion (Bimini SuperFast v. Winkowksi), it has been the long-standing position of CBP that D-1 visa holders are not eligible to serve as crew members on cruises-to-nowhere,” a CBP statement said. “A D-1 visa holder is eligible to serve as a crew member on a vessel only if the crew member ‘intends to land (in the U.S.) temporarily and solely in the pursuit of his calling as a crewman and to depart from the United States with the vessel.’ CBP has long explained that cruises-to-nowhere do not ‘depart’ from the United States because they do not land in a foreign port or territory. Therefore, D-1 visa holders are not eligible to serve as crewmembers aboard cruises-to-nowhere, and such cruises must be staffed by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents authorized to work in the United States.”

When Bimini SuperFast was denied the ability to use D-1 visaholders as crew on gambling cruises, the rule apparently began to be more strongly enforced on mainstream cruise lines, which infrequently operate cruises-to-nowhere. When they do, they are often marketed as quick getaways or samplers for first-time cruisers. Or, during pre-inaugural festivities for new ships, two-night cruises-to-nowhere are often used to introduce the ship to travel agents and travel writers.

With the official CBP statement explaining the decision, an agency spokesperson also forwarded a copy of the Bimini SuperFast v. Winkowksi opinion, dated Jan. 10, 2014.

Bimini SuperFast argued that cruises-to-nowhere are not involved in coastwise trade “and thus do not trigger any U.S. citizen crewing requirement,” and that the D-1 crewmembers are in compliance because they “do intend and in fact depart daily (on the cruise to Bimini), enter a foreign port, and enter the U.S. temporarily and solely for the purpose of performing their duties on board the vessel.”

But CBP officials maintained “that the cruise-to-nowhere is a domestic movement of its vessel” and that Bimini SuperFast’s workers on gambling cruises essentially are not cruise ship crewmembers but “employees of a vessel providing entertainment within the United States.”

If Bimini SuperFast wanted to continue the cruises-to-nowhere, “they must employ persons legally authorized to work in the United States since such cruises did not touch a foreign port, making the voyage entirely domestic and rendering it ineligible to be crewed by individuals with D-1 visas,” according to CBP’s opinion.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with CBP and agreed that its actions were “not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to the law.”

The big-ship cruise industry rarely hires all-American crew, primarily due to the high cost of complying with U.S. labor laws and regulations.


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