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COVID-19: Schengen immigration update for seafarers and superyacht crew
07 Jul 2020 10:00 am by Zainab Bouziane
COVID-19 restrictions have led to a lot of uncertainty about existing visas and ongoing visa applications, however, as lockdown measures are lifted across Europe seafarers are strongly recommended to utilise this time in lockdown to carefully prepare their visa applications, while they await the reopening of visa application centres, thereby avoiding the common pitfalls that lead to a rejected visa.
Written by Zainab Bouziane, Immigration Specialist, Xpatweb, for LexisNexis South Africa.
[Durban, 7 July 2020]
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted countries worldwide and resulted in the implementation of various measures such as international travel bans and “lockdown” to help curb the spread and ﬂatten the curve. Seafarers and superyacht crews working in Schengen countries have been adversely affected and have not been able to return for work purposes as all business and shipping activities have been halted. Many find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place due to expired visas, or visas due to expire, and which require urgent renewal before they can return.
Impact on Schengen visas and immigration
The impact has not only been felt by seafarers but on how Europe functions as a society. Immigration has come to a standstill with a lot of uncertainty arising around existing visas and ongoing visa applications.
Specifically, COVID-19 restrictions in Europe impacted application procedures for obtaining residence and work permits, as government offices reduced their services and/or closed during the past few months. Moreover, economic uncertainty related to the pandemic may have an impact on the demand for work permits.
However, the immigration authorities in most European countries have advised that all visas or permits that have expired or are going to expire during lockdown will be extended until further notice from the relevant governments.
Securing your home port – embassy update
Visa application centres across the board remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those who can extend their status in a country are encouraged to lodge their applications as soon as possible to avoid the foreseeable backlog and resultant wait for an available appointment when the application centres re-open.
Please note that one’s immigration status will not be negatively affected as a result of their not being able to attend an appointment. Extension dates, however, will be confirmed by governments and these may vary depending on the country.
Foreign embassies and missions are currently closed until further notice. However, depending on the country, the embassy and consulate may be reached by telephone or email.
What next for seafarers grounded ashore with valid visas?
Across Europe, lockdown measures are now being lifted cautiously in phases. As part of these phases, businesses in Europe and the education section were one of the first to reopen and resume. Other restrictions have been relaxed, and people are now able to travel for longer distances, as well as visit their relatives in small numbers. Travel between regions and to and from each country has been allowed from the first week of June.
Holders of work and residence permits in Schengen areas might be allowed to leave their home country to resume their work duties or for family reunification purposes, however, a special application process needs to be completed prior to making travel plans. This differs depending on the destination.
Navigating the storm – seafarers waiting for visas to travel to the Schengen Area
Obtaining a seaman visa for a Schengen area under normal circumstances is already an administrative burden and a complex process. Seafarers are required to submit their Schengen visas prior their departure to the Schengen area and oftentimes, having a valid Schengen visa is a pre-requisite to securing employment onboard vessels.
As such, it is strongly recommended that you utilise this time in lockdown to prepare your visa application whilst you await the reopening of visa application centres. In addition, applicants who provided their biometrics in the last 5 years do not have to be present when submitting their applications and may qualify for a longer duration validity visa depending on their visa history in the Schengen Visa zones.
We recommend you have a worthy visa specialist at your side when dealing with a seaman visa application, as they can ensure you fully meet all requirements and help you avoid common pitfalls that lead to a rejected visa.
 For a list of all the necessary details about the Schengen Area visit: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/.
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