Customs and Border Protection’s I-94 Automation: Best Practices for Confusing Times

CBP has recently announced the automation of the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, for all sea and air arrivals. The rule is now effective, and is being phased in over a four week period starting April 30th, 2013.

Why is This Happening?

CBP has two reasons for this automation. First, the automation will provide a central, easily accessible location for the entry and exit information for nonimmigrants. In addition, CBP anticipates they will save time and money by automating the admissions process, and expects the savings to be around $15 million per year.

What is the New Admission Procedure for Nonimmigrants?

  1. CBP will continue to issue an admission stamp in the passports of nonimmigrants. The stamp will include a handwritten notation of the class of admission and authorized period of stay. Note: an unexpired admission or parole stamp in the passport will serve as evidence of alien registration, as required by 8 CFR § 264.1(b).
  2. Upon admission, a new electronic record will be created in the CBP database. The admission record can be retrieved and printed on a new website, www.cbp.gov/I94. The foreign national will be required to enter several pieces of information to retrieve the record, including name, passport number, date of admission, and port of admission. It is expected that the admission record would be uploaded and available within 24 hours of admission.
  3. Because the passport entry stamp will serve as the record of alien registration, there is no strict requirement to print the I-94 record. However, nonimmigrants may need to print it out for other purposes, as outlined below.

What About…

Automatic Visa Revalidation – The automatic visa revalidation process requires that the nonimmigrant have an unexpired I-94. “Original I-94” is defined under the new regulations as “any printout or electronic transmission of information from DHS systems containing the electronic record of admission or arrival/departure.” CBP has indicated that officers will be able to access the electronic system, and therefore there should be no problem in being readmitted even though the nonimmigrant will not have a physical document to show status. That said, the best practice would be to have the nonimmigrant still print out the I-94 to present upon admission through the automatic visa revalidation process.

USCIS – USCIS has confirmed that those needing the I-94 card to document status when applying for immigration benefits should include a print-out of the I-94 from the website mentioned above.

Employment Verification - A foreign national may present a foreign passport and a properly endorsed I-94 as proof of employment eligibility and identification for the I-9 process. Again, it is expected that the nonimmigrant would print out the I-94 for purposes of employment authorization verification.

Social Security & DMV ­– These agencies will not have access to the CBP database, and therefore nonimmigrants applying for social security numbers or for a driver’s license should take a print-out from the CBP website to serve as the I-94. At least in the beginning, it’s possible that officials at these agencies may not recognize the I-94 since it will be a print-out on plain paper, and they may not be familiar with the new automation process. Therefore, if a nonimmigrant is going to these agencies, it’s also a good idea to take a copy of the CBP announcement about the automation, to help explain the new system to the officials.

Best Practices

In light of this new system, and the already sometimes-difficult process in explaining immigration status or periods of stay when dealing with various agencies, what is a scrupulous nonimmigrant or his/her advisor to do? We will have a better idea of how things will work as the program rolls out, but for now:

  1. As always, check the handwritten notations that the CBP officer makes in the passport carefully before leaving the inspection station. Even though the I-94 is now automated, it is expected that to correct a mistake, the nonimmigrant will still have to go back to the port of entry. This could become even more difficult now since the error will have to be corrected not only on the stamp in the passport, but also possibly in the CBP database. Otherwise, the nonimmigrant may be printing out an I-94 later with incorrect information on it, or the I-94 may have information conflicting with the passport stamp.
  2. Print out the I-94 from the website mentioned above as soon as you can after entering, to make sure the information is correct. It will be less stressful to have it corrected immediately, rather than right before you need to have your H-1B extended, or driver’s licensed renewed, for example.
  3. To the extent possible, maintain a sense of humor, or at least some patience, as the new system rolls out and agencies and officials learn about the new process.

Good luck!

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