Questions and Answers regarding I-94 Automation and the Elimination of Paper I-94 Cards

by Lane Powell PC
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Why is CBP eliminating paper I-94 cards?  CBP believes that filling out and issuing paper I-94 cards is an unproductive use of time, for both government officers and travelers.  As part of post-9/11 initiatives put in place nearly a decade ago, information about travelers’ identities, travel documents, and U.S. visas is already in the U.S. government’s possession prior to their arrival to the United States on an air or sea carrier.  Arrivals and departures of foreign nationals by air and sea are already registered electronically by DHS through this system.  Therefore, CBP’s issuance of paper cards upon admission, and its collection, review, and data entry of cards at admission and departure is no longer a necessary effort.  Perhaps more significantly, the manpower necessary to manage the system built on paper cards represents a major cost which the government wishes to eliminate. 

I am a temporary worker or visitor to the United States.  How will I-94 elimination change my admission process?  If I won’t have a paper I-94 card, how can I prove my lawful admission?  At the time of your entry, you will still have an interview with a CBP officer regarding your purpose of coming to the United States and the length of your stay.  Your passport will be stamped, and the stamp will indicate the class of your admission (or parole) into the United States, and a date for expiration of your authorized stay.  There will still be an “I-94” record created and attached to your identity, but it will be in electronic, not paper form.  CBP has created a website (http://www.cbp.gov/I94), where you will be able to access all the data that used to be on the paper I-94 card hyperlink here.  To safeguard against privacy concerns, CBP’s I-94 website will require inputting multiple data points to log in to view the electronic I-94, including the following:

  • first, middle, and last name,
  • passport number,
  • country of citizenship
  • place of entry to the United States
  • date of entry into the United States, and
  • possibly more information.   

Reportedly, electronic I-94 admission data will be available online to travelers immediately following admission, and available to DHS stakeholders (e.g., State Departments of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration, colleges and universities, etc.) within approximately 24 hours.  For travelers who still wish to receive a paper I-94 card, CBP will issue paper cards upon request. 

I work at a U.S. company which hires foreign workers.  How will I be impacted by I-94 elimination?  The absence of paper I-94 cards will change the way workers can provide you with proof of maintenance of status when you are sponsoring them for work-authorized classification.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will expect electronic I-94 printouts to be retrieved and printed from the Internet, and submitted along with immigration petitions, and you may have to assist your workers in accessing this information.  Also, I-94 automation for air and sea travelers will change the documents you must accept when verifying a worker’s U.S. employment eligibility on Form I-9 or through the E-Verify system.  In addition to paper I-94 cards—which will still be issued to some travelers—companies should be prepared to accept printouts of electronic I-94 data from CBP’s website. This I-94 data should be used to complete I-9 and E-Verify forms just like data from paper I-94 cards.  Note that a passport stamp annotated with a work-authorized class of admission (e.g. H-1B) is not an acceptable document for I-9 purposes, and you must continue to fill out I-9 forms using I-94 data only. 

I’m worried about errors on my record that will be undetectable until I’ve already completed the admissions process.  Are there procedures for CBP to correct errors in electronic I-94 records?  With paper I-94 cards, it is easy to spot obvious errors in the date or class of admission which correlate to errors in CBP internal databases, and it is relatively simple to request correction at the time of admission if an error is made.  After I-94 automation, errors will likely not be detectable until after a traveler has completed the admissions process and left the CBP/international arrivals area of the airport or seaport.  If you note that there is a clear error in your electronic I-94 record, or a discrepancy exists between the admission stamp in your passport and your I-94 record, you will have to appear at a CBP Deferred Inspection office to resolve these issues.  We strongly recommend that all travelers with automated I-94s check their online records immediately upon admission to verify their accuracy. 

If I don’t have a paper I-94 card, will I still be expected to turn in any documentation, or otherwise report my departure from the United States?  According to CBP, in the advent of I-94 automation, you do not need to turn in any documentation at the time of departure, as long as you are departing the United States via air or sea.  Departure manifests for air and sea carriers are automatically registered in DHS databases in a similar fashion to arrivals, so your departure from the country will close out your I-94 admission record in the same way your arrival created the record.  However, if you depart the United States via a land border, your departure will not be automatically registered, so you will need to affirmatively report your departure.  CBP has provided limited guidance regarding how to effectively do this, but we recommend that you print out a copy of your electronic I-94, and give it to CBP or the adjacent country’s border agency (e.g. Canadian Border Service Agency) as you undergo the arrival and inspection process there.  Additionally, you might consider asking Canadian or Mexican border officials to date and stamp your passport to confirm your departure from the United States and entry to their country.  If you fail to do either of these things, CBP will continue to allow foreign travelers to submit proof of departure from the United States according to these instructions

I’m a Canadian citizen, so my passport isn’t usually stamped and I’m not usually issued a paper I-94 when I travel.  This change won’t affect me, will it?  Actually, it may.  Canadian visitors traveling to the United States by air or sea will now have electronic I-94 records created and attached to their identity.  As such, these individuals will go through the same process as all other foreign travelers, and will likely have their passports stamped and annotated with a visitor class of admission and, in most cases, a six-month period of authorized stay.  Canadian visitors will also be able to access their electronic I-94 records online.  Keep in mind, again, that I-94 automation will only be phased in at Pre-Clearance Operations at Canadian airports, and that procedures at the land borders will not change.  Foreseeably, CBP officers stamping and annotating passports for all Canadian travelers could cause increased wait times for U.S. immigration inspection at Canadian airports.  As I-94 automation is phased in for Pre-Clearance locations, we recommend you arrive extra early to the airport or book longer layovers if connecting to U.S.-bound flights. 

What other issues should I be aware of?   

  • Non-DHS agencies—federal, state and local—may not be fully aware or informed of the elimination of paper I-94 cards, and may still insist on presentation of paper I-94 cards to issue documents and benefits to foreign nationals.  At least during the first few months of I-94 automation, we strongly recommend printing a copy of CBP’s public notice regarding the elimination of paper I-94 cards and carrying it with you to any appointment at a federal, state or local agency where you might need to present I-94 data. 
  • Electronic I-94 data will only be available on CBP’s website for current, ongoing periods of admission.  In other words, once a foreign national with an automated I-94 record departs the United States, his or her admission data will no longer be accessible online.  Individuals who wish to maintain detailed information regarding their travel and admission should print and store I-94 records each time they enter the United States. 
  • The name linked to each automated I-94 record will reportedly be the name from the individual’s latest U.S. visa.  Individuals who have even a small discrepancy between the name listed on their passport and their U.S. visa may experience issues with Departments of Motor Vehicles or other state/local agencies, if they are required to present passport and I-94 documents on which their name is an exact match.  (Note that there is no such requirement for employers completing I-9 forms – I-9s can be properly completed as long as passport and I-94 both reasonably appear to relate to the individual presenting the documents.  Minor name discrepancies between documents are acceptable.)

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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