According to a travel update issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Agency is forging ahead with a plan to eliminate the issuance of Forms I-94 to individuals arriving at air and sea ports of entry. Forms I-94 will continue to be issued at land borders. For those arriving by air and by sea, the proposed admission procedures will consist of a passport stamp but no other documentation.

A Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) is given to foreign nationals entering the United States.   Upon entry, a CBP agent stamps the I-94 with the date of entry, annotates it with the immigration status given to the foreign national, and indicates how long the person may remain in lawful status in the United States.

This unassuming white card stapled into a foreign national’s passport is actually a critical piece of one’s immigration status. It serves as evidence that the person is in the United States legally and is used by hundreds of state and federal agencies as proof of eligibility for certain public benefits, such as a driver’s license. In some cases, combined with a valid foreign passport, a Form I-94 is a “List A” document for I-9 purposes. A valid I-94 also permits qualified foreign nationals to enter the United States using the Automatic Visa Revalidation provisions of 22 C.F.R. § 41.112(d) after brief travel to Canada or Mexico.

CBP has provided two justifications for the I-94’s demise.  First, CBP has stated that the information contained on the I-94 is no longer needed. The Department of State gathers the same information during the visa application process that takes place at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. Furthermore, CBP has access to the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), a database used by commercial carriers to record all incoming passenger information. Thus CBP already has the I-94 information by the time a person boards a plane headed to the United States. Second, CBP consumes approximately $19 million in staffing resources to issue and administer Form I-94s. Another $17 million is spent paying an airline contractor just to enter I-94 data into a database. This creates a huge financial incentive to slim down admission procedures.

At first blush, the justifications offered for the elimination of the I-94 seem perfectly reasonable. However, CBP has provided little practical guidance about the aftermath of their unilateral initiative. There has been no indication how this will impact an employer’s ability to complete a Form I-9 or a foreign national’s ability to obtain a driver’s license. Before CBP launches significant changes, the Agency should engage with state and federal stakeholders to study the full impact of this decision.