Updated 15 May 2024


Seafarers arriving on a ship are usually covered by section 8(1) of the 1971 Immigration Act rather than the Immigration Rules, because they are part of the crew. The act gives the following definitions:

  • ‘ship’ includes hovercraft and seaport includes hoverport

  • ‘captain’ means master of a ship or commander of an aircraft

  • ‘crew’ means all persons actually employed on the ship or aircraft. Staff such as security guards are not crew members within this definition

ILO identity documents

To enter the UK to join or change ships without a visa, seafarers must hold either a valid passport, or a Seafarers Identity Document (SID) containing photograph, signature (or fingerprints) and a description of the holder, including nationality. If these seafarers do not have a compliant SID they may apply for a joining ship visa, if they are joining a ship that is leaving UK waters.

Seafarers joining ships in the UK where the ILO 1958 convention applies

Seafarers travelling under contract to join a ship in the UK need entry clearance (if they are visa nationals), unless they hold a document issued by a country which has ratified the 1958 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Seafarers Identity Documents Convention No. 108 (see below).

The document must state that it is issued under the convention but the holder does not need to be a national of that country and can also be a stateless person. .

The UK agreed a new convention ILO185 in 2003 and intends to ratify if an effective method of implementation can be identified. To date, the UK has not ratified ILO185. A number of countries, whose seafarers previously qualified for visa exemption under ILO108, have ratified ILO185 (see below). As a result of ratifying ILO185 these countries have denounced ILO108. However, holders of documents issued by these countries do not require entry clearance to join a ship in the UK. This will be regularly reviewed and risk assessed on an intelligence basis by policy and intelligence colleagues.

Countries which have ratified the 1958 ILO convention

The convention has been ratified by the following countries:

  • Algeria

  • Angola

  • Antigua & Barbuda

  • Barbados

  • Belarus

  • Belize

  • Bulgaria

  • Cameroon

  • Canada

  • Czech Republic

  • Cuba

  • Denmark

  • Djibouti

  • Dominica

  • Estonia

  • Fiji

  • Finland

  • Ghana

  • Greece

  • Grenada

  • Guatemala

  • Guinea-Bissau

  • Guyana

  • Honduras

  • Iceland

  • Iran

  • Irish Republic

  • Italy

  • Kyrgyzstan

  • Latvia

  • Liberia

  • Lithuania

  • Malta

  • Mauritius

  • Mexico

  • Morocco

  • Norway

  • Panama

  • Poland

  • Portugal

  • Romania

  • St Lucia

  • St Vincent & The Grenadines

  • Seychelles

  • Slovenia

  • Solomon Islands

  • Sweden

  • Tajikistan

  • Turkey

  • Ukraine

  • United Kingdom

  • Uruguay

The following countries were previous signatories to Convention 108 who have now ratified Convention 185:

  • Azerbaijan

  • Brazil

  • France

  • India

  • Iraq

  • Luxembourg

  • Moldova

  • Russian Federation

  • Spain

  • Sri Lanka

  • Tunisia

Further information regarding the countries that have ratified the convention can be found on the International Labour Organisation website.

Seafarers applying for entry clearance to join a ship in the UK

A person applying for entry clearance to join a ship in the UK must satisfy the decision maker that they:

  • have bona fide documentary evidence of identity and status

  • are under contract to join, as a member of its crew, a ship in British waters and which is leaving British waters

  • do not intend to take other employment

  • do not intend to base themselves in the United Kingdom

  • intend to leave the UK on the next sailing

  • are not a person whom any of the general grounds for refusal or leave to enter set out in Part 9 of the Immigration Rules apply

The decision maker may issue entry clearance if they are satisfied that the ship to be joined is already at the particular port or will be when the seafarer arrives there.

Where the requirements listed above are not met, the decision maker will refuse the application as the person is making an application for a purpose not covered by the Immigration Rules.

Seafarers ‘visiting’ and ‘transiting’ the UK

Visa national seafarers coming to the UK for 6 months or less for the following reasons, require a visitor visa:

  • private visits

  • travelling as passengers

  • signing on ship’s articles as supernumeraries at nominal rates of pay

  • visiting as amateur yacht crew

Seafarers passing through the UK to join a ship in a port abroad must be dealt with as visitors in transit.

More information can be found at:

Visit the UK as a Standard Visitor: Overview - GOV.UK (

Visa to pass through the UK in transit: Overview - GOV.UK (

Seafarers arriving by ships in the United Kingdom

Under section 8(1) of the immigration act 1971 a person who arrives as a member of a ship’s crew at a port in the United Kingdom and intends leaving under engagement with the ship does not need leave to enter unless:

  • there is a deportation order in force against them

  • they have at any time been refused leave to enter and has not since been given leave to enter or remain

  • they have ever met the four conditions in section 2 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 (conditions relating to removal from the United Kingdom), reading subsection (3) of that section as if it referred to a person entering or arriving in the United Kingdom as mentioned in subsection (2) of that section on or after 7 March 2023

  • an immigration officer requires the person to submit to examination under paragraph 13(1)(a) to schedule 2 of the 1971 act

  • they are an offshore worker within the meaning of 11A (1) 1971 Act

Seafarers working in the UK

Under the immigration rules, a seafarer will need permission to work to:

  • join ferries operating between two UK ports, including ports in Northern Ireland

  • join ‘ro-ro’ services between UK ports which carry twelve or more lorry drivers

  • join dredgers operating in UK waters

  • join domestic freight services operating between UK ports

Permission to work is not required by the following:

  • those joining ferry services to ports outside the UK

  • those joining ships which will be operating out of a single UK port but where the voyage is leaving UK waters and the will operate entirely outside UK waters

  • entertainers, hairdressers and others not strictly crew members who are joining a ship to work on it during its voyage may be treated as contract seafarers, that is, not needing permission to work, provided you are satisfied that they are due to leave the UK on the ship’s next sailing

Stateless seafarers who hold United Kingdom ID documents

Stateless seafarers granted permission to stay in the UK will be issued with a Biometric Residence Card (BRP) as evidence of their leave. They are required to hold a valid travel document to travel out and re-enter the UK.

Entry clearance is not required if the seafarer holds a valid refugee or stateless travel document which is accompanied by a valid BRP or a valid biometric residence card (BRC), or a valid HO refugee or stateless person’s travel document that contains a current leave endorsement or a valid certificate of travel issued by the Home Office authorising re-entry without a visa.

Visa endorsement for crew joining a ship or plane

This endorsement is not for those in transit.

The endorsement a decision maker must use is:

  • main endorsement: Joining Ship

  • Cat D endorsement: Code 7; No recourse to public funds; To join ship*

  • Add endorsement – (name of ship) (name of port)

  • duration: 6 months

Refusing seafarers entry to the UK

Entry should be refused under sections 12(2) and 13(2) immigration act 1971.