Even today, there is a very real distinction between economies across the world. For many in developing nations, living in the west can seem like a dream come true. For cruise ship crew, the temptation to jump ship lurks at every port as the picturesque landscape and squeaky clean seaside towns beckon.
The lure of jumping ship is great as we often perceive western countries, particularly the US, as lands of great opportunities, high salaries and a good life. The reality can be starkly different, especially when you have no documents and have overstayed your visa. It is simply a struggle from the bottom.
In the current economic and political climate, international borders have been brought under extreme scrutiny. Across Europe and the US, even valid tourist visa applications are being rejected on a slight suspicion of possible overstaying.
In such a scenario, jumping ship or overstaying visas poses huge problems for cruise ship crew. Some companies remain quite concerned about this possibility and in rare cases, there could be an agent or security guard escorting departing crew from the ship to the airport.
As cruise ship crew, you are eligible for a C1/D visa to the US – and similar visas in other Western nations – which permit you to remain in the country as long as the ship stays in that particular port. Once the ship has departed the port, you are expected to have left the country. Most cruise ship companies buy tickets for departing crew for the same day their contract on board ends.
If you do overstay, the consequences can be quite serious on the work front, and you may never be eligible for another US visa again. According to the rules, if you overstay your visa by 180 days, but less than a year, you can be barred from re-entering the US for up to three years. If you overstay for even a day more than a year, you are looking at a 10-year-ban on entering the US.
Consider the consequences of this. You will officially be an illegal immigrant, and the western world is increasingly cracking down on people without valid documentation. You may be able to find work but generally on the low-end of the hierarchy. This means being paid minimum wage, but shelling out for food, utilities and rent.
If you take Florida as an example, where many cruise ships begin their trips from, the minimum wage is about US$8.25 per hour. A studio apartment on average costs about US$1200 to rent per month and electricity bills average about US$130 monthly. In addition, you will have to pay for gas to cook food, and groceries will set you back around US$270 each month. Each trip to a primary care doctor will set you back $95 or more. And this estimation does not cover transportation and any other expenses, such as state taxes or entertainment.
Cruise ship crew who still take the hard route and jump ship eventually feel the need to come home to see family they have left behind. Some do not see relatives for decades. This becomes a huge dilemma given the ban on re-entering the US. Even if they do leave and attempt to apply for another visa – say a work permit, this offence will pop up in the system and it is most likely that the overseeing officer will deny them the visa as trust has been lost.
There are others who marry citizens and try to use this route as a way to get a green card. The US has been taking measures to avoid dishonest unions or marriages of convenience, and each application is thoroughly scrutinised. Laws typically require that the citizen spouse returns to the offender’s country to stay out the period of the entry ban, except in very dire circumstances such as medical requirements.
Jumping ship and overstaying a visa is certainly not the best idea to create opportunities. It is far better to take the legal route.