Closed-loop travel - how not to become an "Illegal Immigrant"

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Mar 18, 2019
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#1
There likely is no recourse or compensation for us, but am posting for other unsuspecting travelers. We travel 100% of the time and always make sure our passports, visas and travel insurance cover every likely instance. We have a 1-year Visa for visiting Australia. Our visa requires that we depart Australia every 90 days - immigration is (intentionally?) vague on how long you must depart - some people take a flight to Bali or Thailand and immediately return. We found a Princess cruise that visited Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caladonia that we thought met the requirements. We went through customs in Sydney as we boarded and our first 2 ports were uninhabited, tropical island paradises. In Fiji, I asked "why aren't you stamping our passports?". No one could give us a good answer - it was a Saturday afternoon, Immigration was closed, my travel agent (first/last time to use her) was in South America and told me she had limited internet but suggested I call US immigration. (From a cruise ship? On a US mobile? From the South Pacific???). The ship's crew eventually reached someone who advised that if we continued on to Sydney, we would be immediately deported, lose all ongoing (prepaid) travel arrangements (out of Australia), and have a 3-year ban from returning. Because the cruise departs/returns to Australia, it is considered a "close-loop" and despite traveling in New Zealand's waters and port calls in 3 other countries, we were not considered to have left Australia, violating the terms of our Visa. The only option we were given was to disembark the cruise in Fiji, forfeiting 5 days of the cruise (approx $1500 USD), and opting to pay to stay in a local resort for 5 days, purchased meals and local transportation (Approx $1000 USD), and purchase a return flight to Sydney (approx $500 USD) to continue with our previously arranged, prepaid flights and travel arrangements. (We also had a pre-paid repositioning cruise booked out of Sydney with Princess, returning to the US which clearly demonstrated our intentions to depart Australia under the terms of our Visa). Princess gave us a voucher for a free drink upon our early disembarkation in Lautoka, but we were unable to use it.

As it is a Visa issue, travel insurance doesn't cover any of it. Neither our travel agent or Princess crew knew of this issue. We went through Australian immigration as we boarded the ship in Sydney. We never knew it was an issue to question to begin with. As a gesture of good will (and forfeiting 5 days of the cruise) I would have appreciated something from Princess in the form of future credit or upgrade - we are loyal returning customers.

We also did not know that our travel agent was a solo agent and had no back-up to work on our behalf during her absence. Calling immigration from a cruise ship in the South Pacific and being put on hold for 20 minutes was not something we could afford or have easy access to do.

We do extensive research before traveling and there is nothing that points to this situation. We learned the term "closed loop travel" from a fellow nomadic traveler who encountered the same situation in Europe. One would think departing a country by cruise ship and entering foreign territory would count the same as air travel!
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#2
Your travel agent should have known about closed-loop cruises, and would be the one to ask for a refund/credit. Princess accepted your booking and has no obligation (or reason) to inform you about Visa requirements, even if they knew. And it's always our responsibility as travelers to know the rules.

Regarding closed-loop cruises, since they begin and end in the country of origin, the rules regarding documentation are less strict. The USA does this as well. So yes, passengers are not considered to have "left the country" because they complete the cruise in a"loop". On the contrary, if you take a tour and enter another country you may have to carry a passport.

See this: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/74/~/documents-needed-to-take-a-cruise
 
Likes: ADM

Neil Maley

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#3
Ultimately, you are the one responsible for determining the status of any type of travel and what immigration requirements need to be met. It is not up to your travel agent. Nor is it up to the cruise line.

A travel agent is not an immigration expert. Our attorney has advised us we cannot answer any clients questions about what they require to travel if the are not US citizens with a US passport.

However, any cruise departing and returning to the same port is a closed loop cruise and passports aren’t stamped.

Did you ask your travel agent about any of this when you booked the cruise? Did you use an Australian agent?
 
Likes: LeeAnneC
Jan 6, 2015
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#4
I agree Neil, but this case is not about documentation. The cruise was cut short in order to fulfill the intent for which it was purchased: satisfaction of a visa requirement. The question is whether or not the travel agent knew of the intended purpose, and if so, why she did not explain that a closed-loop cruise would not fulfill said purpose . . .
 

Neil Maley

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#5
And that’s what we don’t know- did OP assume or did OP specifically state they needed passports stamped? Because the right answer the TA needed to give the OP was that they needed to check with their consulate to make sure the cruise met the requirements before they booked it.

They also say “We also had a pre-paid repositioning cruise booked out of Sydney with Princess, returning to the US which clearly demonstrated our intentions to depart Australia under the terms of our Visa). ”

No that doesn’t say anythung about demonstrating their intentions. If I am booking a cruise like this I am not asking if anyone is trying to meet immigration guidelines. You cannot assume a travel agent is a mind reader or an immigration agent.

The way the letter is worded it sounds more like there were assumptions and perhaps they didn’t ask the agent (or tell the agent) what their goal was. And the agent would have properly told them they needed to check with their consulate to determine if the cruise met the requirements. We need the OP to tell us exactly what they told the agent when they booked the cruise.
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#6
I don't understand. What I read indicates that, by definition, closed-loop cruises do NOT satisfy the "out-of-country" requirement. Am I wrong ?
 

Neil Maley

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#7
It depends on the country the cruise is leaving and going to and the nationality of the person cruising. If I as a US citizen are flying to Australia to board a closed loop cruise, it is an out of country cruise for me.

If one is specifically looking for what the OP needed, they needed to take the information to their consulate and have the consulate tell them it meets the requirement or not. And if they told the travel agent what they wanted from the cruise the agent AND cruise line should have properly advised them to check what with the immigration authorities.

If they told the agent all of this at time of booking and the agent didn’t tell them they needed to check with immigration, the agent is at fault. If they didn’t express this and made an assumption- then the agent did nothing wrong. The agent actually told them when they called what they needed to tell them when they booked- you need to talk to immigration. From the way the letter is written, it sounds like there were assumptions made by the OP that may not have been told to the agent when booking so I hope the OP comes back to clarify.

I do agree that the agent should have had back up though.

In fact every cruise line states that in their terms and conditions. From Princess:

(iii) Bring all necessary travel documents such as passports, visas, proof of citizenship, re-entry permits, minor's permissions, medical certificates showing all necessary vaccinations, and all other documents necessary for ports of call in the countries to which You will travel.

It is the Guest's sole responsibility to obtain and have available when necessary the appropriate valid travel documents. All Guests are advised to check with their travel agent or the appropriate government authority to determine the necessary documents. You will be refused boarding or disembarked without liability for refund, payment, compensation, or credit of any kind if You do not have proper documentation, and You will be subject to any fine or other costs incurred by Carrier which result from improper documentation or noncompliance with applicable regulations, which amount may be charged to Your stateroom account and/or credit card.
 

Dwayne Coward

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#8
I don't understand. What I read indicates that, by definition, closed-loop cruises do NOT satisfy the "out-of-country" requirement. Am I wrong ?
Only the Australian Immigrations officials can answer this question. The OP should have check this with them prior to the cruise. Because of the complexities of immigration issues based on citizenship and visa requirements, cruises lines, airlines and travel agents normally have a disclaimer or warning that it is the traveler's responsibility to ensure they meet all immigration requirements for where they are traveling. It appears the cruise line did check with immigration officials on their behalf during the cruise when asked, which is why they ended up leaving the cruise to prevent any problems.

With cruises, arrangements are normally made with the various countries immigration officials, so that passengers don't have to process through immigration or provide their passports to be stamped at each port. Even if they were able to get a stamp, only the Australian officials could have told them if this would have met the ETA visa requirements for a separate short stay.
 
Likes: Neil Maley
Jan 6, 2015
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#9
I think I understand now. In the closed-loop cruises we have taken, we never passed through customs in another country, which is where the stamping occurs. I found these which may be helpful:


https://australianvisaauthority.org/visa-info/

Can I leave and return to Australia using the same ETA?
An ETA allows multiple trips into Australia, so long as the maximum stay on any given visit is less than 3 months, or 90 days. If you leave for another country, then you may return to Australia as long as your ETA and passport are still valid. However, It is up to immigration officials to determine if you are trying to manipulate the system, so we recommend contacting an embassy if you are concerned with returning too soon. A general guideline is you need to be out of the country for 2+ weeks before returning, otherwise you may look into obtaining a subclass 600 visa instead of an ETA, which may permit you to stay longer in Australia.

Can I stay in Australia longer than 3 months?
A Tourist Visa (subclass 600) may be a good alternative if you plan on staying longer than 90 days in the country, but you will have to pay a higher premium. If you think it’s unlikely that you will stay in the country longer than 3 months, then you can also start with an ETA, then apply for a Tourist Visa extension (subclass 600) and extend your stay while in Australia. Just keep in mind that pricing and rules are subject to change.

Can I choose which date my visa will be active?
No. Once your ETA Visa is issued it will be active and valid for 12 months. Your 3 month visit will need to begin within that 12 month period. It does not matter how far in advance you apply for your ETA visa, so long as you plan on entering Australia within 12 months of your application date.
 
Likes: Mel65

jsn55

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Dec 26, 2014
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#10
This is a classic case of failed communication. Unless you asked your TA for visa/immigration advice, how could s/he know your goals for this cruise? I applaud you for posting so that others may be aware of the issue. Surely most travellers would "assume" that a cruise to other countries would satisfy your Australian visa requirements. So I'm happy you posted it and I wish we could tell you how to regain some of the unexpected expenses. You just never know what you don't know ... a prevailing problem with travel.
 
Mar 15, 2018
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#11
I'm sorry this happened to you. I don't really see that the blame can be placed on anyone - it's such an unusual situation that I wouldn't expect a TA to know it (they aren't experts on visas and immigration laws), but nor would I expect a traveler to know it either. I can totally see how you would assume that leaving the country means you're...leaving the country! Turns out -- not if you're doing a "closed loop cruise".

The only thing I might have suggested is to talk with other people who are doing what you've done, to see if they know of any pitfalls. Surely some other Americans spending lengthy stays in Australia would have encountered this, and could have warned you. You may want to do that going forward, to make sure there aren't some other odd pitfalls that you might run across.

I too just encountered a bizarre issue that has to do with immigration issues in the South Pacific...but I'm lucky, I found out in time to straighten it out! I'm doing a sailing trip on a private yacht this summer that starts in Samoa and ends in Fiji. So I bought a multi-city ticket that goes fro LAX to Samoa and then Fiji to LAX. I had a heck of a time buying that ticket - the airline wouldn't sell it and I couldn't figure out why! I did manage to buy it using an OTA...and then just happened to learn through a round-about way that the reason the airline wouldn't sell that itinerary is that it's effectively "illegal". US citizens can't fly into Samoa unless they have a flight OUT of Samoa! If you land in Samoa and don't have a flight out, they will not let you through immigration - they will immediately deport you back to the US.

Even with proof that I was on a planned sailing to another country won't matter - they'll still not let you in. So what I ultimately had to do was buy a one-way ticket from Samoa to Auckland for a couple days after my arrival, first class, fully refundable. Then, when I get to Samoa, I can use that for entry into the country, and then cancel it and get my money back.

This is such an arcane rule that few people even know about it, and I wouldn't have expected a TA to know about. Mine didn't! I'm SUPER lucky I didn't get burned - that could have been a disaster. The only way I learned of this was by talking to others who have done this sailing trip - they knew about it, and how to get around it.

Moral of the story: you don't know what you don't know. But...if you're doing anything unusual that involves visas or immigration, dig deep! .
 
Mar 18, 2019
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#12
Exactly! Hoping to help others. We never even heard of a "closed loop" cruise. Whenever we needed to depart Australia (to honor our visa requirements) we flew to Bali or Thailand for a few months. Did not even occur that a cruise ship travel didn't count. Our travel agent didn't know either. We specifically told her we were taking the cruise to satisfy our Australian Visa. Wasn't her job to check either. No flags were raised. The Australian immigration/visa website doesn't even tell you HOW long you need to be gone to meet Visa requirements. We thought we were in full compliance. Appreciate the fact that you didn't rag on me. Live and learn. We normally thoroughly research this but were totally blindsided as the situation isn't covered in any of the handbooks.
 
Mar 18, 2019
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#13
I think I understand now. In the closed-loop cruises we have taken, we never passed through customs in another country, which is where the stamping occurs. I found these which may be helpful:


https://australianvisaauthority.org/visa-info/

Can I leave and return to Australia using the same ETA?
An ETA allows multiple trips into Australia, so long as the maximum stay on any given visit is less than 3 months, or 90 days. If you leave for another country, then you may return to Australia as long as your ETA and passport are still valid. However, It is up to immigration officials to determine if you are trying to manipulate the system, so we recommend contacting an embassy if you are concerned with returning too soon. A general guideline is you need to be out of the country for 2+ weeks before returning, otherwise you may look into obtaining a subclass 600 visa instead of an ETA, which may permit you to stay longer in Australia.

Can I stay in Australia longer than 3 months?
A Tourist Visa (subclass 600) may be a good alternative if you plan on staying longer than 90 days in the country, but you will have to pay a higher premium. If you think it’s unlikely that you will stay in the country longer than 3 months, then you can also start with an ETA, then apply for a Tourist Visa extension (subclass 600) and extend your stay while in Australia. Just keep in mind that pricing and rules are subject to change.

Can I choose which date my visa will be active?
No. Once your ETA Visa is issued it will be active and valid for 12 months. Your 3 month visit will need to begin within that 12 month period. It does not matter how far in advance you apply for your ETA visa, so long as you plan on entering Australia within 12 months of your application date.
Thanks. We did see this, and thought we were honoring our Visa by leaving the country within the 90 day period and staying out of the country for 2 weeks. Notice it doesn't exempt cruise ships or "closed loop cruises".
 

Neil Maley

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#14
This is a valuable post for others that clarifies if you have special circumstances with immigration or visa travel its up to the passenger to contact the appropriate consulate to ask questions before you book. Thanks for the education.
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#15
If the information from that website is accurate, there are two important takeaways:

1. A Tourist Visa (subclass 600) will let you stay longer than the 3 months (1 year I believe) before leaving Australia
2. They recommend 2 weeks away from Australia when you do leave
 
Feb 3, 2019
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#16
if you have special circumstances with immigration or visa travel its up to the passenger to contact the appropriate consulate to ask questions before you book.
Just one clarification: You should be sure to contact the immigration authorities for whatever country you wish to enter.

First and foremost, consulates are always located outside the country in question.

Second, don't assume officials at any given consulate for any country will be able to answer immigration questions - for example, U.S. consular officials cannot provide legal advice regarding U.S. immigration (or any other topic). They can only determine whether an individual meets legal requirements to qualify for the particular type of U.S. visa for which he or she applies. CBP and USCIS are the ones who handle actual admissions and status determinations, and that's almost entirely from within the U.S.

In Tonibme's case, clarification and confirmation of Australian immigration requirements for resetting the 90-day-presence clock should have come from the Australian immigration authorities within Australia.
 
Feb 3, 2019
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#17
If the information from that website is accurate
That's a very big "if" - it's not an official website. A U.S.-based private company runs it:

"The website AustralianVisaAuthority.org is not affiliated with the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, or the Australian Government."

The "two weeks" recommendation seems to be conventional wisdom rather than any kind of guarantee, so I'd advise anyone to proceed with caution. It sounds like the ETA is a bit more flexible than the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, in that travelers who follow the rules may be able to live most of a year in Australia legally as "visitors" (not acceptable under U.S. law), but travelers should be sure they can always establish to immigration officials that they aren't working or otherwise violating the terms of the ETA.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#18
I really want to strongly agree and emphasize what R.L has pointed out —- the country being visited needs to be considered for visa questions — they are the ones that set the rules and the citizenship country may not know the intricacies of the country of landing.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#19
And even further to agree with R.L. This should be emphasized—

Beware with searching for visa info — And make sure that one goes to the actual government website — the one cited above is a perfect example of having a .org ending and only in small print does it say not affiliated with the Australian government.
Several years ago an elderly relative was coming to the US for a short visit and needed the ESTA.

The relative was taken in by one of these companies with a website like www.usaetsa.org or something similar and applied online — and later realized it was not the actual CPB.dhs website — ended up paying about $30 extra in service fees over the actual cost of the ESTA — just to transfer the info.

I consider those sites somewhat sleazy just like the OTAs which mirror sites of the actual travel provider (hotel or airline).
 
Jan 6, 2015
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#20
Tonibme stated how difficult it can be to get the "official" word:

"The Australian immigration/visa website doesn't even tell you HOW long you need to be gone to meet Visa requirements . . . We normally thoroughly research this but were totally blindsided as the situation isn't covered in any of the handbooks."​

This is why/when other sites are helpful. They will often, in my observation, provide information in a way that is more descriptive, easily read, and easily searched. Just because they end in ".org", does not automatically render them invalid, useless, or "sleazy". Often, they contain useful information.

I use them this way: take what they say as "possible" and then confirm with the government . . .
 
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