Australian Government - Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

To protect Australia's borders and foster lawful trade and travel.

Vessel arrival - Customs requirements

Crew and passengers on vessels arriving in Australia are required to meet a number of requirements.  Specifically under the Migration Act 1958 all crew and passengers are required to present for Immigration Clearance.  Customs Seaports staff have the appropriate authorisation and delegations to undertake the Immigration Clearance function on behalf of DIAC.

Immigration Clearance

Under the Migration Act (S.172) all crew and passengers entering Australia are required to present for Immigration Clearance on arrival.  Any person arriving in Australia and who departs a vessel (port limits) prior to being Immigration cleared is deemed to have 'bypassed Immigration Clearance'.  Persons who have bypassed Immigration Clearance may become subject to certain actions by Customs or Immigration that may result in them becoming unlawful and subject to Immigration compliance action (eg. Visa may be ceased, may be subjected to restriction on board the vessel, etc).

A ship is deemed to have arrived under the Customs Act 1901, when it is secured within a Customs S.15 port (or at a place subject to a Customs S.58 permission).  Secured means when the vessel has dropped its anchor  (if it goes to anchorage) or when it is made all-fast (last-line) at a berth.

Customs will normally complete Immigration Clearance at the time the vessel arrives at the berth at its first port of arrival in Australia. However, this may also occur enroute from the last overseas port (eg. when Customs joins a cruise ship for its voyage to Australia) or at a subsequent port (eg. where Customs do not board at the vessels first port of arrival).  In some cases Customs may also provide Immigration Clearance for a vessel without actually boarding the vessels (discussed further below).

Crew and passengers arriving on vessels into Australia must satisfy the following requirements to be Immigration cleared:

  • Crew/passenger must hold a valid national passport;
  • Crew must hold a Maritime Crew Visa or other appropriate visa, which grants sea crew rights, granted against the same passport. During the transition period (1 Jul 07 - 31 Dec 07) crew may still be eligible for the grant of an SPV in which case they will not require an MCV.  From 1 Jan 08, the MCV will become mandatory for all crew;
  • For crew there must be another document that establishes the crew member's employment on the vessel (eg. crew list, ship's articles, seaman''s book, record of contract);
  • Passengers must hold an appropriate visa that allows their entry into Australia consistent with the purposes of their visit (eg. business visa, tourist visa, etc).
  • All crew/passengers must present in person for Immigration Clearance.  At this point Customs will complete a face-to-passport check to verify the identity of the passport holder.

Foreign crew who fail to meet the above requirements may be restricted on board the vessel.  In addition, the operator, master, charterer, and agent may also be liable for an infringement notice up to $5,000 for each person who is refused Immigration Clearance.

Regardless of whether or not crew have been Immigration cleared on arrival, under S.225 of the Migration Act 1958, at any point during its voyage in Australia, Customs may require the master of a vessel to muster the crew of the vessel in their presence.  This requirement extends to crew producing their relevant identity documents (i.e. passport).  For this reason it is recommended that all crew passports be held securely by the master of the vessel during its voyage in Australia and crew not be allowed to take personal possession of their passports.  For identification purpose ashore it is recommended that crew use some form of photographic identification, other than the passport (eg. photocopy of passport bio page, seaman's ID book, company ID card, etc).

Customs Form B523 - Seaports Immigration Clearance Advice

(This is a form that is held by Customs and distributed to Industry by Customs. The information below has been provided to explain how it will be administered by Customs)

As indicated above, it is important that the crew and passengers of vessels arriving in Australia are aware of their status and in particular whether or not they have been Immigration cleared.  For this reason from 1 July 2007, Customs will introduce a new 'Seaports Immigration Clearance Advice'  (Customs Form B523).  This advice will provide more certainty to ships agents and masters about when crew and passengers have been Immigration cleared, have been refused Immigration Clearance or are still in the process of being Immigration cleared.  The advice will be issued by Customs for every first port arrival vessel (excluding military vessels).  This advice is not a mandated requirement under any legislation; rather it is an administrative arrangement, which has been implemented to provide some transparency and certainty around the Immigration Clearance process.  It is recommended that a copy of this advice is kept by the master/agent after it has been issued by Customs.

The Immigration Clearance Advice can be issued by Customs as follows:

  • If the vessel is not to be boarded: Advice can be issued at any stage prior to the vessel's arrival. The advice will be provided by Customs (by hand, fax or e-mail) to the vessel's agent for delivery to the master.  Where Customs wish to revoke an advice after it has been issued they will make contact with the agent to advise them of this.
  • If the vessel is to be boarded: Advice is to be issued by the Customs Officers who have boarded the vessel at the conclusion of the Immigration Clearance activity.  The advice would normally be provided to the vessel's master.

It should be noted that this advice is issued once only for each arrival.  The advice indicates that all crew and passengers on board the vessel have been Immigration cleared, however it also allows for several exceptions to this, as follows:

  • Refused Immigration Clearance - Crew that have been formally refused Immigration Clearance will normally be restricted on board the vessel.  They are subject to the conditions listed on the Restricted on Board advice issued by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
  • Immigration Clearance Still in Progress - Crew that have not yet been Immigration cleared or been refused Clearance are still in Immigration Clearance.  As a result these crew should remain on board the vessel until they receive formal advice in relation to their status.  Should they disembark the vessel and leave the port limits they may be deemed to have bypassed Immigration Clearance and may be subject of restriction on board or other Immigration action.

Agents/masters will be advised as soon as possible of any change in status of a crew member by DIAC or Customs (eg. lifting of Restriction on Board or completion of Immigration Clearance).