Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the federal agency that admits foreign nationals into the United States, recently announced that it is terminating its issuance of the paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. This change in CBP policy is critically important for foreign nationals entering and exiting the United States. In the past, the Form I-94 was one of the most important immigration-related documents that was issued to foreign nationals.
Current Paper Form I-94
The Form I-94 is a white card that the CBP officer staples into a foreign national’s passport after the officer inspects the national’s immigration documents. The form contains the foreign national’s name, date of birth, and country of citizenship. Each form also contains a unique 11-digit number.
Before the officer staples the card into the passport, the officer stamps the card with an admission stamp that states the port of entry through which the foreign national came to the United States. The officer also writes the foreign national’s nonimmigrant status (such as H-1B for a temporary worker or F-1 for an international student). Most importantly, the officer writes the date on which the foreign national’s lawful status expires. The foreign national must depart the U.S. on or before the status expiration date printed on the Form I-94 (or extend the lawful status before that date).
The status expiration date is the main reason the Form I-94 was so important. If questioned concerning their status in the U.S., foreign nationals could present authorities with their Form I-94 to prove that they are authorized to be in the country.
Another reason why the Form I-94 was important is because the form contained the CBP officer’s admission stamp which serves as proof of the foreign national’s legal entrance into the United States.
New Automated/Electronic Form I-94
CBP is terminating its issuance of this paper Form I-94 for most foreign nationals. Instead, officers will place the admission stamp directly in the foreign national’s passport. Officers will also make an electronic record of the Form I-94 and upload the information previously written on the form into a computer system. Foreign nationals will be able to access their electronic Form I-94 by visiting the website www.cbp.gov/I94 and printing their form. (Note that the website will not be active until thirty days after the new Form I-94 rules appears in the Federal Register).
This website will likely become very important, as foreign nationals will need to print a copy of their Form I-94 in order to apply for drivers’ licenses and social security numbers.
Increasing Efficiency and Decreasing the Admissions Processing Times
CBP’s goal with this change is to increase its processing efficiency, reduce its operating costs, and streamline/facilitate the admission process as a whole. CBP Deputy Commissioner Mr. David Aguilar estimates that the new electronic Form I-94 will save the agency approximately $15.5 million a year.
Foreign Nationals Who Will Still Receive the Paper Form I-94
According to CBP, the new automated Form I-94 procedure will only affect those foreign nationals who arrive by air and by sea. Therefore, those who enter the country at land borders will still be given the paper Form I-94.
Additionally, a small number of foreign nationals, such as parolees, refugees, and certain asylees, will also still be given the paper Form I-94, no matter if they enter the country by land, sea, or air.
This automation of the Form I-94 may do more harm than good. It will remain critically important that all foreign nationals know the exact date that their status expires. As stated, this date is the date that is printed on the Form I-94 – not the date that is listed on the foreign national’s approval notice. If a foreign national stays in the U.S. past the date his/her lawful status expires, the national begins accruing “unlawful presence” that can result in serious immigration consequence. In all likelihood, most foreign nationals will log in to the www.cbp.gov/I94 website to print a copy of their Form I-94, thereby merely passing on this task from the government to the national.
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