Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began automating the I-94 arrival documentation process. Until now, individuals received white I94 or green I-94W arrival cards (green for visa waiver tourists), upon admission to the US, often clipped inside the passport. These have been essential for nonimmigrants to track their arrivals and departures. One of the things Congress expects CBP to do is track departures, which have not been tracked as well as arrivals. I94s have been critical to immigration lawyers and their clients to establish proof of lawful entry, deadlines for departure or for filing extensions of stay or change of status, and many other important issues that bear on legal status, change or maintenance of status. In addition, I-94s are one of the eligible documents that can be presented to employers as proof of work authorization for I-9 purposes. Thus, I-94s have been critical documents for many, many years. But now, under the new I-94 automation process, CBP will no longer provide paper I94s upon arrival in the US by sea or air! This means travelers need to be extra diligent about obtaining online verification of their status as soon as they arrive in the US, and no later than before their departure, since the data is cleared once a person departs.
CBP will continue to create the I-94, but will not give it to the traveler. Instead, the traveler has to remember to go online to download the I94 at www.cbp.gov/i94.
This is particularly important if seeking a Social Security card, a driver’s license, public benefits or employment. Travelers will receive a stamp in their passport to show the date of admission, class of admission, and expiration or “admitted-until” date.
When departing the US, people with paper I94s are required to turn them in to CBP or their commercial carrier (e.g., airline, ship, etc.). For those with electronic I94s, departures will be recorded by the carrier’s manifest.
For those individuals entitled to automatic revalidation, CBP will handle that electronically or with the paper I94s. Refugees, asylee follow-to-joins, and parolees will continue to receive paper I-94s. Paper I94s can be issued upon request as well. Automated I94s will be implemented at five pilot ports starting April 30, and thereafter at the remaining ports of entry over the next month. Seatac airport is scheduled for implementation by May 14, 2013. For more information, see CBP’s FAQs.
Sounds like a simple, expedient process, right? Think again. CBP officers routinely make mistakes on I-94s, getting the class of admission or the dates of valid admission wrong.
Although the passport will be swiped to generate the data, the inspecting officer will still have to enter the class and relevant dates, which is where the mistakes can happen. Mistakes can be corrected at the airport if the traveler is savvy enough to catch it before leaving the CBP area. However, if the mistake is not discovered until later, a visit to a local CBP Deferred Inspections office will be in order.
What if you forget to download your I94 information and months or years later you return to the US and need proof of status? That information may no longer be available at the site above. Instead, you would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get a copy of your file. That can take a year or more a year to receive.
What about people who do not use computers? Without kiosks for printing out I94s at air and sea ports, these folks may not know the importance of I94s until the first time they see an attorney, if at all.
What about employers who are used to seeing paper I94s? The print out of the electronic I94 may be used to verify work authorization status when accompanied by an identity document with photo. However, the passport stamp by itself is not acceptable evidence of work authorization. Therefore, employers may need to help their employees download the I94 from the CBP website.
If leaving the US by a land border where I94s are not routinely collected…yet, it is important to download the I94 and then present it to the CBP officer when leaving the USA (and keep a copy for yourself).
What about Canadians? They usually do not receive I94s or passport stamps when traveling through land borders. However, they will receive electronic I94s at pre-clearance airports and seaports, so the same rules and suggestions above apply. In all cases, it is recommended to arrive/depart at sea and airports early.
Other possible problems include a variety of state, local and other federal agencies that may not be familiar with the CBP changes to I94s. Therefore, it is advisable to keep a copy of your downloaded I94 for yourself and one for your attorney, if you are working with one. Also, carry a copy of the CBP’s instructions and FAQs to present to an agency in case they are perplexed about these new I94 procedures.