It seems innocuous – an anachronistic paper form being replaced by an electronic process. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will start a money saving and security enhancing project to end the issuance of the paper I-94 (arrival/departure) record at air and sea ports (not land) in a staged process starting April 30. http://tinyurl.com/cshmkkx CBP estimates that the process will save the agency about $15.5 million annually. CBP already implemented this transition to the electronic I-94 in the Visa Waiver Program – of course that was the green I-94W form. What’s not to like?
The issuance of the I-94 is that critical document evidencing the admission period and category of admission at our ports of entry. It is a key document number used in a variety of immigration processes as well as by Departments of Motor Vehicles nationwide as to applicants for driver’s licenses as well as the Social Security Administration regarding social security card applications.
CBP plans to have the paperless process completely implemented by May 21 at the end of the four week transition.
What is the new paperless process?
CBP is going back to just stamping the applicant’s passport with an admission stamp stating the date of admission, class of admission, and admission period of validity. Those admitted will also receive a flier advising them to go to a new website, http://tinyurl.com/cmrjsa9, in order to obtain their I-94 admission number. (also www.cbp.gov/I94 ) A video of this process is available at: http://tinyurl.com/c3mp2vw .
This number appears on the top left of the white I-94 card. As to the exit process for air and sea departures, it will no longer be necessary to return the paper I-94 upon departure after admission using the electronic I-94 process since electronic departure manifests can track this data. Of course, this return process does not cover those being admitted at air or sea ports and departing by land ports or vice versa. We are leaving that conundrum for another day.
So why do employers care?
Well, employers have a new Form I-9 that they must start using on May 7, if they have not already done so. That Form I-9 requires, when applicable, admission numbers both in Section 1 as to the employee and Section 2 for the employer. The viewing of the electronic I-94 is deemed by CBP’s new regulation to be a review of the “original” I-94. Of course, employers completing Section 2 of the Form I-9 must timely review originals of the work authorization and identity documents provided by a new employee. Employers can enter the data from an employee’s presented passport to access and print out the I-94 admission record from the new CBP website, if the employer is retaining the Form I-9 support documents. For those employers not copying such documents, it appears that viewing the information on the CBP website will equal a view of the original I-94 admission number when required. Let’s hope Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agree on that with CBP.
Employees who are work-authorized nonimmigrants in section 1 of the Form I-9 may need their admission number. In such cases, they will need access to the CBP website for this information.
It would certainly have been easier for employers and employees to use the admission stamp in the foreign passport provided by CBP to record the admission validity period versus the admission number. The CBP regulations define the I-94 to include this record of admission stamp on the passport. Unfortunately, the new Form I-9 requires as admission number when applicable – and a record … is not a number…
Why do travelers need to care?
1. Travelers must check the new CBP I-94 website when being admitted under this new electronic system to ensure that their admission category and period is correct in addition to their passport information. The consequences of a untimely departure from the U.S. can result in potential removal from the U.S. or future inadmissibility to the U.S. In addition, admission in the incorrect category can cause an employee not to be eligible to work in the U.S., for example.
2. Errors in the electronic I-94 may be corrected by CBP. http://tinyurl.com/cgrdsf8 The process requires the employee to go to a port of entry or a deferred inspection site to correct an erroneous admission record. Errors in the USCIS I-94 at the bottom of an I-797 approval notice are to be corrected by USCIS.
3. Here on the border, the readmission of a traveler with an expired visa 22 CFR §41.112(d) will be implicated as well. The presentation of the paper record will be replaced by referral to the database for those using the electronic I-94 process.
Let’s hope that database is robust and accurate. For those entering via the land border, paper I-94s will continue to be issued. Even in the air and sea port environments, the paper I-94 will still be used as to certain applicants for admission (e.g. parolees, asylees, etc). CBP needs to provide more guidance for the common issue of what to do when you combine the land entry and exit process though with this new electronic I-94 roll out – and for that reason, among others, the “beware” note is necessary.