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Visa policy


“Seafarers should be able to travel more easily in connection with crew changes and have access to shore leave.”

Priority KVNR: to establish a visa policy aligned to the needs of seafarers

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Due to the unpredictable nature of sailing schedules in the shipping industry, crew change logistics is a complicated matter. This complexity only increases if the application of a Schengen visa is part of the process. This is because the application for a Schengen visa must occur at the embassy of the Schengen Member State where the crew change will take place – while the country and port of call are sometimes only known at short notice.

The vast majority of vessels in the Dutch shipping industry sail according to irregular schedules that are usually determined per voyage – the so-called tramp trade.

Tramp trade can be truly global in nature, with voyages taking up to a number of weeks in duration. Short trips, last minute changes in the sailing schedule and stopovers however, occur on a regular basis. This is so-called ‘deep sea shipping’, where crew changes can often, but not always, be planned for a maximum period of a few weeks.

The second part of the Dutch tramp trade involves a sailing area that is generally limited to European waters. This is ‘short sea shipping’. Voyages tend to be short; most commonly with an average duration of less than a week and last minute sailing schedules. In short sea shipping operations, the next port of call is often only known (or it can change) at the last moment. Crew changes are planned well in advance, but in many cases the port where a crew change will take place is only known at the last moment; sometimes only a few days in advance.

The challenge

Seafarers should be eligible for five-year visas on the basis of their professional status. As such, a seafarer would have to apply for a visa to travel to board his ship less often. This would lead to improved logistics planning and a reduction of administrative tasks for both businesses and consular posts. Five-year visas would also minimise the need for application for a visa at the border while travelling to and from a ship.

The issue of visas for seafarers inherently demands a fast turnaround of a maximum of a few days. Regulations must take this into account in order to match the unpredictable nature of the shipping industry. An alternative option is that the visa application be submitted to the Schengen Member State when entering the Schengen area (at point of entry). Article 5 of the EU Visa Code could provide a suitable basis for this. This option would make it possible for short sea shipping seafarers to apply for a visa with the correct Schengen Member State in a timely manner.

From an operational point of view it is necessary that seafarers are able to travel to and from ships for necessary crew changes without hindrance. And, in the context of positive employment practices, it is also important for seafarers to have access to shore leave.

State of play

In its ongoing consultation about the revision of the EU visa code, the KVNR has brought the above points to the attention of the European Community Shipowners Associations (ECSA).