America Has A Chance for Positive Change (updated)

Feb 9, 2018

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

The top issue for President Trump’s administration and the United States Congress is reforming United States immigration law.  As part of reforming immigration law, the United States has a great opportunity to enhance maritime security by eliminating or waiving the requirement for seafarers who have valid  ILO-185 Seafarer Identity Documents to also have a D-1 crewmember visa to go on shore leave in the United States.  This would also bring the United States into compliance with its international obligations and improve seafarers’ lives—upon whose labors our lives and prosperity depend.  

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 yet to ratify 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 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 made for 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 Trump and Congress to enhance maritime security and improve seafarers’ lives by removing or waiving the requirement for crewmembers who have valid ILO-185 Seafarers’ Identity Documents to also have D-1 visas.  

You can write to President Trump 

You can write to your Senator at: 

You can write to you Representative in Congress at: 

A special link for kids who wish to reach out to congress can be found here. Thanks to the children’s group at the Brenham Community Center, TX, for bringing this to our attention.