Electronic I-94: Still Working Out The Bugs

sample of machine readable passport
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 4:15pm

United States Customs and Border Protection CBP now collects all of the data previously recorded on a paper Form I-94 stapled in a foreign national’s passport electronically. Since the transition from paper to electronic I-94 cards began this Spring, more and more issues have come to light on the accuracy of the information contained and the ability of foreign nationals to easily access their data. This has resulted in a variety of errors creating challenges for travelers, employees and companies alike.

What is an I-94 and why is it important?

I-94 cards are issued by CBP as evidence of a foreign nationals’ U.S. admission, U.S. visa classification and expiration dates. In order to apply for other U.S. immigration benefits, an individual must be able to show lawful non-immigrant status in the U.S. Also, I-94 data is required for an individual to receive a Social Security Number, to complete a Form I-9 for employment and to show evidence of their lawful U.S. status. If CBP's system is unable to locate an individual’s I-94 record, proving lawful status in the U.S. becomes significantly more complicated.

What types of issues have we seen with the electronic I-94?

A variety of issues have now come to light from individuals not being able to successfully locate their electronic I-94 to the data on the I-94 not being correctly recorded.
It was also quickly discovered that the CBP’s online system will not allow the entry of foreign passport numbers that contain over 10 digits. Unfortunately, there are foreign passports with numbers listed as the “Passport Number” on the top right hand corner of the biographic page which contain too many digits for CBP’s online system. For example, many Mexican passports contain numbers listed as “Passport Number” with 11 digits. Even if one was to enter just the first 10 digits of the 11 listed under “Passport Number” the I-94 will not be located.

This issue occurs is because CBP's online system requirements mirror the standards established for Machine Readable Travel Documents. These standards make it easy for automated systems to scan a travel document, however what is easy for a machine to scan is not as easily discerned by the human eye, and confusion can be compounded when what is labeled "Passport Number" is not actual the "Passport Number" used when scanning of the same document.

The photo above is an example of a machine readable passport. The machine readable portion of the passport is circled in blue. In order to retrieve the electronic I-94, one must use the “machine readable” passport number which can be found in the second data line at the lower left hand corner of the passport (See the red circle). The actual passport number to be used for the CBP's online system consists of the first 10 characters of the second line of data (omitting any special characters like < or >). So, in this example, you could enter XS12345673 into the CBP system to retrieve the I-94.

While foreign nationals with passport numbers of 9 digits or less should have no issue simply entering the number labeled as "passport number" on their passport to retrieve their I-94, use of the first 10 characters in the second line of data in the machine readable section (omitting any special characters like >) will work for them as well.

Other potential problems include the name not being recorded as it is noted on the passport. If the individual has several names, we recommend trying to enter the names in different areas if the I-94 is not being located. For example, if the individual has two last names, Jose Bonilla Gonzales but no middle names, if the I-94 is not being located, try to enter Jose Bonilla under the first name and Gonzales as the last name. If this does not work, check all immigration related documents for name variations or potential typographical errors. We recommend comparing the DS-160, the passport, the visa stamp and the I-94 to determine any alternate options for spelling.

How do I ensure my I-94 information is correct?

Previously, with paper I-94 cards, foreign national travelers were able to immediately review the card and recorded information, if that information was found to be incorrect, the traveler was able to request review and correction prior to leaving the U.S. port of entry. Now, the individual may not discover an error until after their arrival and admission to the U.S. when they are able to access a computer. Make sure you print your admission document as soon as possible after arriving it in the U.S. and consider carrying it with you while in the U.S. to ensure that you always have evidence of your status. If you are unable to successfully locate your electronic I-94 or it contains errors, please contact the attorney you work with at Maggio + Kattar immediately.