Luncheon offers insight on customs, sales tax cap November 24, 2015

On the last day of FLIBS, MIASF hosted a Captain’s and Crew Luncheon featuring panelists from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs & Border Protection and state Department of Revenue, who provided valuable information on dealing with common issues involving crew visas, the new sales tax cap on refits and repairs and much more.

The sales tax portion of the panel featured Karen Lake, a tax specialist with Berkowitz Pollack Brant, and Tammy Miller, deputy director of technical assistance and dispute resolution with the Florida Department of Revenue. They shared new advice from the DOR on implementing the $60,000 tax cap and answered questions about details including definitions, contracts, payments, invoices and more.

Below is an excerpt from The Triton about some of the issues covered during the Coast Guard and CBP portion of the luncheon:


The Triton: Best way for yachts to enter U.S. through customs? With documents and a smile

For foreign yacht crew, the gamble they take with their career every time they enter the United States can be unnerving.

Most, of course, navigate the procedure just fine and never have a problem. But when someone gets tied up in the process, word spreads rapidly and many wonder if it could happen to them next time.

A panel of three officers from the U.S. Coast Guard, five officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and one immigration attorney spent two hours on the final day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show offering advice on how to make sure it doesn’t.

Fort Lauderdale is the world’s yacht crew employment hub, so “ease of access is critical for our businesses and our crew,” said Graeme Lord, owner of Fairport Yacht Support, a yacht management firm in Fort Lauderdale, and moderator of the panel.

Confusion sometimes arises around the visa. Seeing the word “crew” might make some officers suggest the C1/D visa is more appropriate, but that visa is designed for crew on commercial vessels such as cruise ships and tankers and only allows admission for less than 29 days.

Foreign crew coming to join a yacht in the United States should have the combined B1-B2 visa. Issued together from the crew member’s home country, the B1 portion applies to visitors for business, the B2 to visitors for pleasure.

“Make sure they come in with B1 status,” said Jody Godmere, watch commander with CBP in Fort Lauderdale. “Under their B2, they cannot work.”

The key to a smooth entry is to have the proper documentation, including the visa and a letter from the captain of the boat the crew member is joining. That letter should indicate the intent of the visit, which is to join a private yacht for a specific length of time.

“Specifically state the section of law that applies on the letter from the captain,” Godmere said. “People they encounter at the airport may have never worked at a seaport, and they might not understand.”

A thorough letter from the captain can help avoid that. Capt. Bill Hipple of the 130-foot M/Y Lady Kath has a crew letter that works, he said. It includes the crew member’s home address and passport information. It requests entry under the B1 to join a foreign-flagged yacht cruising in U.S. waters, and cites the relevant law. Click here for a copy of Capt. Hipple’s sample letter.

Assuming the officer at entry acknowledges that the B1-B2 visa is appropriate, sometimes issues arise over answers the crew member gives in the brief interview at the border. Basically, the officer is trying to establish that this foreign national is truly coming in for a visit and intends to return to his home country, called non-immigrant intent. The officer may ask where home is. (Do not say the boat, or a crew house in Fort Lauderdale.)

“It’s always somewhere outside the U.S., otherwise, you don’t have a non-immigrant intent,” said Fort Lauderdale-based attorney Scott Hershenson, who specializes in immigration issues. “Home is always where mom and dad are, not on 17th Street Causeway.”

If things aren’t going well, don’t get frustrated, several panelists advised.

“Smile,” said Michael Silva, duty officer with CBP’s Miami and Tampa Field Office. “Trying to mitigate the issue at the lowest level is not going to work. Rather than getting into a confrontation with the officer, kindly request to speak to a supervisor. Say ‘Thank you. May I speak to your supervisor?’ They have to respond.”

To view the complete article, visit

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