Starting on April 30, 2013, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began implementing the electronic I-94 process at air and sea ports of entry. Instead of providing the nonimmigrant with the traditional paper copy of the I-94 Arrival/Departure Record containing date and class of admission and expiration date of status, the nonimmigrant is given no paper form at all. The CBP stamps the nonimmigrant’s passport with an entry date and class of admission. The nonimmigrant can look up his/her I-94 admission record electronically on CBP’s website at www.cbp.gov/I94, using his first and family names, date of birth, passport number and country of issuance, date of last entry into the U.S., and class of admission.
Sounds efficient, right? Yes, when it works.
In the initial days of implementation at a limited number of ports of entry, the general feedback was that the new system was working. However, as more and more air and sea ports of entry implemented the system and eliminated the old paper-I-94 process, more and more errors emerged. Some of the common errors are:
- The electronic I-94 record cannot be located
- The admission category is not accurate
- The admission validity period is inconsistent with approved petition
- Mix-up of admission categories with family members
- Some family members have electronic I-94 record but some do not
By far, the most common error is that the electronic I-94 cannot be found in the system. This presents a problem to nonimmigrants who need to apply for benefits in the future, such as change of status or extension of status. These applications require the applicant to demonstrate valid nonimmigrant status in the U.S. with the I-94 record. Further, nonimmigrants entering the U.S. on work visas often need their I-94 records to demonstrate work authorization on the Form I-9. Without a valid electronic copy of the I-94 admission record, the nonimmigrant has trouble demonstrating his/her valid status.
Further, any error on the electronic I-94 is more difficult to correct. In the past, when CBP issued the paper-form I-94, the nonimmigrant could examine the I-94 prior to leaving the checkpoint for any errors or discrepancies, and requested a correction on the spot. However, with the new system, nonimmigrants cannot tell if their electronic I-94 records are accurate until after they have left the CBP inspection area and have access to the Internet. Further, nonimmigrants are more prone to forget about verifying their electronic I-94 records after leaving the port of entry.
We anticipate these initial errors with the electronic I-94 system will improve over time. However, until then, we strongly advise nonimmigrants to follow these precautionary measures:
- As soon as feasible after entering the U.S., check your electronic I-94 record and ensure that you have been admitted in the proper status, for the proper duration.
- Print out the electronic I-94, fold it, and keep it in your passport. I am mindful that this is not a “green practice”, but the I-94 is arguably the most important document evidencing your nonimmigrant status, and is surely worth a piece of paper.
- If you cannot locate your electronic I-94, or if there is any error on your I-94 record, do not hesitate to correct it. Find a CBP duty officer at the nearest USCIS office. Determine his/her hours of availability and visit him/her to correct the error. Bring your itinerary, boarding pass, and any other evidence of your proper entry into the U.S.