U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued an interim final rule that will streamline admissions to the U.S. by eliminating the paper I-94 card issued to nonimmigrant foreign nationals upon entry to the U.S. This update will provide answers to frequently asked questions about the Form I-94 and the automation process. Additional information can be found in our March update, CBP Announces Automation of Form I-94.

What is an I-94 card?

The I-94 card is the small white card issued by CBP to foreign nationals when they are admitted to the United States. This card, also known as an "Arrival/Departure Record," has been in use for many years. This card is granted by CBP at the port of entry and has served as proof of the foreign national's lawful presence in the U.S.

How is the I-94 card used?

The I-94 card is used for more than documentation of legal status in the United States. A number of activities and benefits in the U.S. have depended on a foreign national having a valid I-94 card. Common examples include:

  • Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification: The current Form I-9 allows employers to accept a foreign passport and Form I-94 as evidence of valid employment authorization in the U.S. 
  • Issuance of a Social Security Number: The Social Security Administration requests passports and I-94 cards to determine if a foreign national is eligible for a Social Security Number.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) forms: Most USCIS forms request the I-94 number as evidence the applicant or beneficiary has maintained lawful status. Some approval notices issued by USCIS include an I-94 card.
  • Issuance of a driver's license by state motor vehicle departments: Many states require proof of valid immigration status before issuing or renewing a driver's license. Production of a valid I-94 card is typically required for status verification. The driver's license expiration date is also connected to the expiration date of the I-94 card.
  • Automatic Visa Revalidation program: Immigration regulations currently allow individuals to re-enter the U.S. without a valid visa in limited circumstances. One requirement of this program is that the person has a valid I-94 card.

I understand that CBP is eliminating the paper I-94 card. When will this be effective and what will happen upon entry to the U.S.?

As of April 30, 2013, CBP will roll out a process to no longer issue a paper I-94 card to foreign nationals upon arrival to the U.S. via air or sea. Instead, the agency will create an electronic Form I-94 based on travel documents and information in its database. The CBP website outlines the Implementation Schedule at ports of entry.

How will foreign nationals be able to prove their legal status in the U.S.?

Upon arrival into the U.S. via air or sea, a CBP officer will provide a properly annotated admission stamp in foreign nationals' passport. A properly annotated admission stamp will include: (1) date of admission, (2) class of admission, and (3) admitted-until date. This annotated admission stamp can be used as proof of legal status in the U.S.; however, individuals may need a paper copy of their I-94 card for verification of immigration status or employment authorization.

Where can foreign nationals obtain a paper copy of their I-94 card?

By the end of April 2013, travelers will be able to access their I-94 information through the CBP website. In order to access the I-94 record online, the following information is needed: (1) family name, (2) first name, (3) date of birth, (4) passport number, (5) date of admission, and (6) class of admission.

When should foreign nationals access and print their electronic I-94 record information?

Foreign nationals should visit the CBP website immediately after entering the U.S. While travelers will not be able to use an electronic device in the inspection area of the airport, as soon as they leave the inspection area, they should be able to access their new I-94 record information. Travelers  should print the paper I-94 record as soon as they have access to a printer. We recommend printing two copies — one to carry as evidence of lawful status and one to store with permanent immigration records. A sample card is viewable on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Fact Sheet.

What if foreign nationals notice a mistake on their electronic I-94 record?

One of the reasons CBP is implementing the automation of I-94 records is to reduce mistakes. The new system does not require manual entry by CBP officers. The electronic I-94 record will be created based on the U.S. visa stamp and/or passport identification page. However, if a discrepancy is found on the electronic I-94 record, foreign nationals are advised to inform their attorney to have the record corrected. 

How long will the I-94 record be available online?

Only foreign nationals' current I-94 record will be accessible. Once foreign nationals depart the U.S., they will no longer have access to their most recent I-94 record. A new entry will be created each time foreign nationals enter the U.S..

Why should foreign nationals access and print their I-94 record immediately after entry?

There are several reasons for foreign nationals to access their record right after admission. First, to check the record to ensure that it is correct. Second, the printed record will provide travelers with evidence of their valid status in the U.S. Finally, the I-94 record will be purged from the system upon departure from the U.S. If an I-94 record is not printed, and there was a problem with the record, it may not come to light until a future admission or when filing for an immigration benefit.

Will the I-94 record be valid for the same purposes as the current paper I-94 card?

Yes. While there are regulations that will need to be addressed over time, CBP states that it has been working with stakeholders such as state driver and motor vehicle services, USCIS, and the Social Security Administration to streamline processes and ensure that all parties are aware of the new electronic system. The interim final rule amends 8 C.F.R. §1.4(d) with a new definition of "original I-94 card" to include "… any printout or electronic transmission of information from DHS systems containing the electronic record of admission or arrival/departure." The agency expects that the electronic I-94 record will be available to other agencies more quickly than current CBP records. While no one can guarantee that the new system will work perfectly from the start, it is expected to function well in short order. 

Are paper I-94 cards completely eliminated?

No, there are a few exceptions:

  • Travelers entering the U.S. by land will continue to receive a paper I-94 card.
  • Certain classes of foreign nationals will continue to receive paper I-94 cards, including refugees, asylees, parolees and travelers entering without a passport. CBP can choose to issue a paper I-94 card if it feels it is necessary. 
  • Travelers will also be able to request a paper I-94 card when entering the U.S.; however, they will be automatically sent to secondary inspection to receive the paper I-94 card.

How will foreign nationals be made aware of this change?

CBP will be providing an instruction sheet for the foreign nationals upon arrival to the U.S. The instructions will be available in 12 languages. This sheet will include instructions on how to access the electronic I-94 record on the new website, which will be active on April 30, 2013, at: www.cbp.gov/I94.

How can foreign nationals ensure that their departure is properly recorded?

Upon departure, if foreign nationals were issued a paper I-94 card, then the card needs to be surrendered to the commercial carrier or CBP. If foreign nationals were not issued a paper I-94 card and their entry was recorded electronically, CBP will record their departure using manifest information obtained from the carrier. After departure, foreign nationals will no longer be able to access their electronic I-94 record online.