US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced that, starting on 21 May 2013, the I-94 Arrival/ Departure Form will be automated and travellers to the USA will no longer be issued with a paper form in many instances.
The I-94 Arrival/ Departure Form is a paper card currently issued to travellers to the United States which indicates the date by which a person must leave the United States. It is the I-94 expiration date, rather than the expiration date of the visa in a person's passport, which dictates how long an individual is authorised to remain in the USA.
When plans to automate the I-94 and eliminate the paper form were announced, there were significant concerns expressed by US immigration lawyers and immigration law observers alike. This is due to the I-94 paper form being presently required by an array of US governmental agencies, including but not limited to:
- The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when a foreign national wishes to renew their US visa, or wishes to change to a different visa category;
- Social Security Administration in order to issue a social security card to a foreign national;
- Department of Motor Vehicle in order to issue or renew a state driver's license.
For more information about the concerns raised when plans to automate the I-94 Form were first announced, please see the firm's earlier post on this issue.
CBP's recent announcement addresses some of these initial concerns. In response to lobbying by US immigration professionals and other stakeholders, CBP added a web site where non-immigrant visa holders may access an electronic version of their I-94 and print out a copy. This is a critical and positive change for at least two reasons:
- It reduces, and possibly eliminates, the problems that may be faced by foreign nationals when dealing with US governmental agencies seeking a social security card or renewal of their visa, to name just a few. It remains to be seen how smoothly and quickly these changes will be integrated into the work of other US government agencies at the federal and state level.
- It allows a person to see what the expiration date of their I-94 is. The consequences of remaining in the USA beyond the date permitted by the I-94 can be very serious and it is extremely important for a foreign national to be aware of what their I-94 expiration date is. When the I-94 is automated, the maximum allowed stay will be hand written into a person's passport. However, since the process relies on manual entry, human mistakes are inevitable, leading to the regrettable situation where a foreign national unknowingly overstays his or her visa even though the handwritten I-94 expiry date has not passed. By allowing foreign nationals access to an official copy of their I-94, individuals will be able to verify that the date handwritten into their passport is indeed the correct date by which they must leave the United States. Of course, this course of action still places an added burden on US foreign travellers who may not be aware of the I-94's importance or the web site where one can obtain an official copy of the I-94 Form.
The changes will only apply to air and sea travellers. Foreign nationals entering the US at land border points will continue to be issued with a paper I-94, as well as certain classes of individuals such as refugees.
The American Immigration Law Office assists travellers to the USA with all facets of their US immigration matter. Contact the firm's US immigration lawyer in London for a consultation today!