On February 9, 2011, after an intensive 2+ year effort by maritime industry representatives, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") and the Department of State ("DOS") announced the creation of an annotated version of the B-1 visa—issued to a foreign citizen visiting the United States for business purposes—that will allow a foreign maritime worker to apply for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential ("TWIC"). The announcement is an important step in ensuring that foreign maritime workers can obtain the necessary credentials to do their jobs when ships they are responsible for are in U.S. ports. This new process was necessary because the Transportation Security Administration's ("TSA") TWIC final rule, published on January 25, 2007, did not include the B-1 visa on its list of TWIC eligible immigration categories, thus prohibiting B-1 visa holders from applying for a TWIC.
The challenges that the omission of the B-1 visa in the TWIC final rule posed became apparent during implementation of the TWIC program during 2008 and 2009 when key individuals could not gain access to many of their vessels calling on U.S. ports without undue delays or excessive costs. Following input and continual advocacy from maritime industry stakeholders over the next few years, however, DHS and DOS finally collaborated to create a process allowing maritime personnel that fall within the B-1 visa category to be eligible for a TWIC.
Under this new process, a foreign maritime worker desiring a TWIC must provide notice to the DOS upon application for a B-1 visa, as well as a letter from his or her employer indicating that the individual will be required to access or perform services in secure areas of maritime facilities. DOS has sent a cable to all Consulates outlining the process, so there should be no unnecessary delays. Provided the applicant is otherwise eligible for the B-1 visa, the visa will be annotated with "TWIC Letter Received." Upon receipt of the B-1 visa with the TWIC annotation, the individual may then apply for a TWIC. As is the case for all TWIC applicants, these foreign maritime workers will get photographed and finger printed, pay the enrollment fee, and undergo rigorous background checks, including checks against the terrorist watch list, criminal history data - bases, and immigrations records.
It is important to note, however, that a TWIC does not entitle the holder to unescorted access to MTSA facilities; rather, it qualifies the TWIC holder for unescorted access at the discretion of the MTSA facility operator. It is also important to note that upon expiration of a visa, the TWIC must be surrendered and returned to TSA. Finally, when a nonimmigrant employee quits or is terminated during the 5-year validity period of their TWIC, the employer is required to provide notification to TSA within five business days
Article by Jeanne M. Grasso