Customs and Border Protection's Automation of Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) Goes Into Effect on April 27, 2013
Foreign national travelers to the United States are about to encounter one of the biggest changes to U.S. entry procedures since the adoption of the ESTA electronic pre-clearance process in 2009. On April 27, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors at air and sea ports-of-entry will no longer issue paper Form I-94 cards.
Under current procedures, travelers complete a Form I-94 while en route to the U.S. or immediately upon entry. CBP inspectors review, stamp and then detach a portion of a paper Form I-94. CBP attaches a portion of the Form I-94 to the foreign national traveler's passport at the time of entry or admission. The entry stamp on the paper I-94 card confirms that the traveler has been lawfully admitted to the U.S., the immigration status or class of admission, and for how long they may legally remain in the U.S. Presently, when they depart the U.S., they return or surrender the paper I-94 card.
CBP believes that transition to paperless admission process, for most individuals, will serve to reduce paperwork and streamline the entry process, thus resulting in significant savings in both manpower and materials. Yet, as CBP phases in the new paperless system over a period of four weeks starting April 27th, confusion likely will arise for airlines, inspectors and travelers alike. In another sign that the launch may not go smoothly, there have been reports that CBP training for its personnel on the new procedures has been uneven. Travelers may encounter entry delays at admission if inspectors are not fully briefed on the new procedures. In light of these changes and inevitable transition period, we wish to review what to expect on arrival and to make a few recommendations.
What to Expect Upon Arrival in the U.S.
Under the revised procedures, the CBP officers will create an electronic record of a foreign national traveler's arrival - date, class of admission, and expiration of stay. This information will be accessible within 24 hours of admission via a new, dedicated website. CBP will provide written instructions to all travelers upon arrival on how to access the website to review the information and, if desired, to print a paper record. Individual admission information will be stored and accessible up until the time of the individual's departure, but not after. For the time being, those entering the U.S. at land Ports-of-Entry will continue to receive paper I-94 cards. Upon departure, a foreign national traveler who was not issued a paper I-94 card and is leaving by air or sea will no longer need to surrender a paper I-94 card. However, individuals who presently possess a paper I-94 card will still need to turn it when they depart the U.S.
We strongly advise that non-immigrants access the CBP website to print a paper record of admission as soon as possible after arrival, and certainly before a subsequent departure.
Foreign national travelers should secure a paper record confirming their lawful status while they are in the U.S. Certainly, an individual who enters in a nonimmigrant work-authorized status will need evidence of lawful admission when beginning or resuming employment (for Form I-9 completion), to apply for a driver's license and/or to request a Social Security Number. Even for those non-immigrants planning a short visit - e.g., tourism - obtaining a paper record of admission via the CBP website will ensure that they have documentation of lawful admission should they later seek to extend their stay or seek a change of non-immigrant status.
While it is possible that, in the future, presentation of a traveler's stamped passport with the entry data may serve the same purpose as the current paper I-94 card, it is best to assume that, for now, other agencies and authorities who have been relying upon the Form I-94 card for information will continue to require a paper record. And, although we understand that airlines and ship lines may continue to provide paper forms upon request, we believe it best for all travelers to access and print their records from the CBP website immediately after arrival. Not only will this provide them with evidence of lawful admission, for themselves, employers or other institutions, but it also will allow a traveler to reconfirm the accuracy of the admission information in the CBP database (i.e., class and date of admission and expiration of status). When CBP records are incorrect, travelers may seek correction at a CBP Deferred Inspections office at a nearby airport; printing a paper record may be the only way to learn of such an error.
Like other highly anticipated improvements in U.S. entry and exit procedures, the paperless or automated I-94 process promises efficiency, but it may cause short-term difficulties given the many situations that call for a record of admission or period of authorized stay. For all its cumbersome qualities, the paper Form I-94 card has provided a portable and verifiable record of a traveler's entry and status that has worked reasonably well for many years. It may be some time before the new procedures live up to expectations.