Dear Tripped Up,
On August 6, my wife, two children, and I arrived at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal to board the MSC Meraviglia for a week-long cruise that included a stop in the Bahamas. I am a scientist in the United States on a work visa and waiting for my green card. So I followed my lawyer’s instructions and presented my Chinese passport and my “combo card” — an American document that grants immigrants in my situation authorization to work in the United States. in the United States and travel abroad. But MSC Cruises refused to let me board, saying the card didn’t guarantee I’d be readmitted to the country when the ship returned to Brooklyn. I quickly met two other would-be travelers in the same boat: Fadia, a 79-year-old Egyptian grandmother who was boarding with 19 relatives and friends, and Nargis, a Bangladeshi woman ready to go on a cruise with her husband. After hours of pleading our case, and even asking Fadia’s immigration lawyer to speak to staff over the phone, we were all sent home. MSC refunded me about $500 in fees and taxes, but I still have about $2,300 left to pay for the cruise fare for my family of four. Nargis and her husband were also not reimbursed, nor were Fadia and her son (who stayed with her while the rest of the group sailed). Can you help ? Heng, New Haven, Connecticut.
I don’t need to tell you how complex immigration law is, but let’s get everyone up to speed on how it affects cruise travel. Before ships allow you to board, they must verify that all passengers have sufficient documentation to re-enter the country at the end of the cruise. If the cruise line gets it wrong, it could face stiff penalties from the federal Customs and Border Protection agency. (The same rules apply to airlines.)
This is why they often err on the side of caution, in this case emphasizing “mistake.”
MSC Cruises said it would reimburse the three families and give each a credit toward a future cruise. In a statement, Field Sutton, director of communications for the American division of MSC Cruises, wrote:
“Several guests scheduled to sail on MSC Meraviglia departing from New York on August 6 were unable to board the ship due to a misunderstanding over the documents they provided for international travel. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
It appears that in all three cases, terminal staff were confused by this “combination card,” a driver’s license-sized document that the United States provided to you and other immigrants , in anticipation of obtaining a green card, for which the application process can take years.