Travelers arriving at U.S. land-based ports of entry now can apply online for an I‑94 in advance of their arrival in exchange for a $6 fee under a new program U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on September 29, 2016.
The foreign national enters into the application all necessary data for I‑94 processing (including biographical information, passport details, visa details, and petition/SEVIS number) that ordinarily is collected in-person by CBP at the port of entry. The Commissioner of CBP said the new program “increases the efficiency of the entry process and reduces administrative duties for CBP officers—ultimately resulting in shorter waits for travelers requiring an I-94.”
Under this new system, an applicant can apply up to seven days in advance of arrival and, upon paying the fee, receive a “provisional I-94,” which will become effective after being presented at the land port of entry and being processed by CBP. If the applicant fails to process their I-94 within 7 days of submitting the application, the provisional I-94 will expire and the fee will be forfeited.
Compared to CBP’s normal I-94 system, travelers should expect fewer typographical errors on the I-94 under the new system, including name spelling, birth date, and passport number, and quicker land border processing times, though that remains to be seen. Finally, whereas travelers entering from the U.S.-Canada border are occasionally admitted without receiving an I-94 or an entry stamp in their passport, they will now have a better opportunity to create a formal record of admission to the U.S., which is recommended as best practice for acquiring later U.S. immigration benefits.
There are limitations to the new program. Only travelers entering through land ports of entry can apply—those entering by air or sea will not be eligible. The new program, moreover, will not solve what is regarded as the most significant flaw of the current I-94 system: the issuance of improper expiration dates (“Admit Until” date on the I-94). The new I-94 application does not give the traveler an opportunity to state or request the proper duration of status under the requested visa classification. The current process will continue in which the CBP officer adjudges the expiration date in-person based on a review of the traveler’s documents, which will result in erroneous expiration dates to be issued as before.