Visa requirements

Issuance of visas for GA bizjet crew members and pax is becoming more restrictive because of increased concerns for border integrity and security.

By Grant McLaren

Appropriate travel documentation is essential for international GA travelers. Passports need to have sufficient remaining validity, which differs from country to country, and visa requirements must be understood. At VOG (Volgograd, Russia) obtaining visas on arrival are not an available.

Visa requirements for business aircraft travelers vary widely across the international operating environment, depending upon nationality, destination and whether they are crew members or passengers. While it's best practice to obtain any required visas in advance of the day of operation, there are opportunities to obtain visas on arrival (VOA) or short-term flightcrew visa exemptions. However, caution should be exercised as rules may be interpreted differently from port to port and even among individual immigration agents at particular ports.

If you're flying to Cambodia or Vietnam, VOA is a largely reliable and quick process, but advance planning and pre-trip coordination with your local ground handler always helps expedite the process. As another example, no visas are required for crew or passengers when making a single international tech stop in Russia, but full visa mandates kick in if you make a 2nd stop in the country.

And in China, crew members need to possess "C" type crew visas unless they're traveling one direction as active crew and repositioning on another international leg as an airline passenger. In this case, crew members need to have both a "C" visa plus a tourist or business visa – unless their handler of international support provider (ISP) has prepared a Customs Letter to cover the situation with local immigration authorities. Should this go wrong, crew members may either be deported or delayed significantly in country.

Jeppesen ITP Team Lead Stacy Hodges brings up a case of an AOG of a US-registered aircraft in China. "The mechanic, who held a 'C' visa, flew over to China on a commercial flight but did not have a letter from customs allowing him to use his visa for commercial flight entry," relates Hodges. "As immigration officials would not allow a short notice Customs Letter from the handler, the mechanic ended up waiting in the arrival airport lounge for about 20 hours before being put on a return flight to the US."

Visa-free entry and restrictions

Immigration officials at PEK (Beijing, China) prefer to see arriving GA crews having "C" type visas but they'll often accept standard business visas. In some cases, 72 hour visa-free access may also be granted at this location.

In some countries, including Brazil, Japan and India, active crew listed on the general declaration may arrive without visas if they don't plan on staying too long.
Brazil is somewhat unique in terms of visa-free access for crews in that it's usually available only for pilots, not flight attendants or flight mechanics. ISPs have reported of cases where FAs and FMs arrive without required visas and are immediately deported.
"Japan issues shore passes to crew members but there are associated restrictions and several different variations are available," says Jeppesen Technical Sales Mgr Nancy Pierce.

"There was a case recently where a flight attendant on a shore pass got sick and was not able to continue on the GA flight. This resulted in issues with immigration authorities in Japan as it involved changing the departure airport and moving from a GA flight to commercial airline flight. Fortunately, the ground handler was able to expedite required notifications and changes, and the flight attendant was able to depart Japan without issues."

Avfuel Account Exec David Kang explains that customs officials in India will permit crew to stay up to 3 days without visas, but only under certain conditions. "This type of shore pass is available to crew listed on the gen dec but it's only available at BOM (Mumbai, India). Crew needing to stay at BOM more than 3 days must possess a business visa in advance. Other airports in India do not have this option."

Although Russia still processes VOA at Moscow airports, this procedure can consume 2 or more hours on arrival. "VOA for crew are available at VKO (Vnukovo, Moscow, Russia) and DME (Domodedovo, Moscow, Russia) but are only processed 0900–1800 local at SVO (Sheremetyevo, Moscow, Russia). You may still be fined for arriving without a visa even though the VOA option is available, depending upon what the local customs/immigration agents decide that day," warns Universal Weather Trip Owner Cesar Brunel.

But what happens if you have an AOG, get sick or are otherwise delayed past your visa-free stay limitation? ITPS COO Phil Linebaugh recommends that both crew and passengers obtain required visas in advance for planned travel – even if VOA options are available – unless it's a short notice trip and there are no other practical options.

Linebaugh relates the case of a crew member who flew to Brazil on the company aircraft, arriving there without the need for a visa. Then he flew back stateside but found he was not able to board the airline flight back to Brazil. "The airline would not let him on because he did not have a visa for Brazil and he was not a crew member on the commercial flight," explains Linebaugh. The crew member then spent all day at the Brazilian consulate trying to obtain the required visa, and the passenger's return flight was delayed by 2 days."

Increasing complexities

Looking forward, we can assume that international vetting of passengers and crew will increase and become more complex within the international operating arena. More stringent visa requirements, additional documentation mandates, and even social media vetting, all seem to be in the cards going forward. "Opportunities for tightening visa and entry requirements are certainly there," says Brunel. "Anything is possible and it's a little scary to think about what's coming next. Social media, for example, may be subject to review before a visa is issued."

Canada, for example, recently implemented electronic travel authorization (eTA) requirements such that travelers with valid visas or visa exceptions now need to register online in addition to previous requirements.

"While US nationals do not currently need visas to enter the European Schengen region, this may change," observes Kang. "In response to the current political climate, the EU recently sent out guidance to member states to put visa requirements in place for US nationals. It's possible these changes could be put into place this year or next."
UAS Regional Ops Mgr Duke LeDuc expects visa requirements and qualification parameters to tighten, and recommends to be prepared.

"More and more countries are vetting passengers and crew more closely to ensure they know about you and the purpose of your trip. We expect this trend to continue. Requirements for local sponsors and business contacts are becoming more prevalent, and immigration authorities have become more adamant in terms of obtaining information and documentation prior to the day of operation.

We anticipate more vetting of crew and passengers prior to travel, probably more along the lines of Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) submission requirements." The CBP's APIS is a federal rule that requires electronic passenger manifest submissions from all commercial air and sea carriers for travelers arriving in or departing from the US.


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