U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) has officially announced its intent to eliminate its use of paper I-94 arrival and departure cards, now given to temporary foreign visitors and workers at the time of their admission to the United States.  Instead of giving paper I-94 admission cards to foreign travelers, an I-94 record of admission will automatically be created and electronically attached to each traveler’s identity.

CBP will still stamp foreign travelers’ passports at entry and will annotate the stamp with the class of admission and the period of authorized stay.  I-94 admission data will also be accessible and printable through an Internet portal, which can be accessed by travelers at http://www.cbp.gov/I94 (this link will be live 30 days after the rule is published to the Federal Register).

CBP reports that the web portal for accessing electronic I-94 information will require multiple data points to log in and view admission data, including the following:

Traveler’s name as listed on their passport or U.S. visa;

  • Passport number;
  • Country of citizenship;
  • Date of birth;
  • Date of entry; and
  • Place of entry.

Initially, to implement I-94 automation, CBP will begin to stop issuing paper I-94 cards in late April 2013, to travelers arriving by air and sea at certain Ports of Entry.  The initiative will be rolled out in phases by region, with the following key provisions:

  • Week 1, beginning April 30, I-94 automation at airports will occur at Chicago O’Hare, Miami, Charlotte, Orlando and Las Vegas.
  • Week 2, beginning May 07, I-94 automation is expected at other major airports, including New York, Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, Detroit and Houston.
  • I-94 automation is expected to be phased into operations at West Coast airports and seaports — including Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii and Alaska — during the week of May 14.
  • At land border Ports of Entry in Canada and Mexico, temporary visitors and workers entering the United States, will continue to be issued paper I-94 cards until further notice.
  • Individuals in a few select categories of admission, such as asylees and refugees, will continue to be issued paper I-94 cards no matter where they enter the United States.

This change stands to have a wide-ranging impact on both foreign nationals and U.S. businesses.  I-94 admissions records are critically important, as they prove foreign nationals’ authorized status and period of stay in the country, and are routinely relied on by federal, state and local government agencies to issue driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers and other documents needed for individuals to live and work in the United States.  In turn, these U.S. identity documents are often necessary to facilitate U.S. employment.

I-94 admissions records in the post-paper era will present new challenges and problems as glitches in the new data integration systems are exposed.  Accordingly, human resources professionals and foreign workers alike should become familiar with the I-94 elimination initiative to attempt to avoid common points of confusion.