U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will automate Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, for all air and sea arrivals — not land border port of entry arrivals — eliminating the paper Form I-94. The new process goes into effect on April 30, 2013.  The following is a description of the new automated admissions process and some key issues.

Electronic Record

CBP will no longer require international nonimmigrants to fill out a paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record upon arrival to the U.S. by air or sea. The agency will gather travelers’ arrival/departure information automatically from their electronic travel records. This automation is designed to streamline the entry process, facilitate security, and reduce federal costs. CBP estimates that it will save over $15 million a year.  Because advance information is only transmitted for air and sea travelers, CBP will still issue a paper Form I-94 at land border ports of entry.

The roll-out will be phased in throughout April and May; thus, nonimmigrants will continue to receive the paper Form I-94 until the automated process arrives at their airport or other port of entry.

Passport Stamp

Under the new process, CBP will issue an admission stamp in the passports of arriving nonimmigrants, as is current practice. The admitting CBP officer will make a handwritten notation indicating the status and authorized period of stay, similar to procedures used for travelers under the Visa Waiver Program. An electronic record for the arriving individual will be created upon admission.  This admission (or parole) stamp in a foreign passport will constitute evidence of alien registration as required under regulation. (Individuals without a foreign passport will be sent to CBP’s secondary inspection upon arrival into the U.S., where they will receive their electronic I-94 number. These individuals will be issued a paper I-94 with the pre-printed number crossed out, and the actual electronic I-94 number handwritten upon it.)

Computer Access to Arrival Record

Following automation, arriving nonimmigrants will be given a slip of paper directing them to www.CBP.gov/I94, a new CBP Web page (which is not scheduled to be live until the end of April) where individuals can view and verify the class and term of their admission in its electronic format. In order to access a given individual’s record of admission, seven data points will be needed, including name, passport number, date of admission, and port of admission. The Web portal allows nonimmigrants to print an admission record receipt. This data is expected to be accessible within approximately 24 hours of admission and available at any time. While CBP irons out the wrinkles of this new system, individuals are advised to check their admissions record.

Departing the U.S.

Individuals will not need to do anything differently upon exiting the United States. Those issued a paper Form I-94 would surrender it to the commercial carrier or to CBP upon departure. The departure will be recorded electronically with manifest information provided by the carrier or by CBP. If the individual did not receive a paper Form I-94, CBP will record the departure electronically via manifest information provided by the carrier or by CBP.

Correcting Errors

If an applicant was admitted incorrectly to the U.S., the applicant should visit a local CBP Deferred Inspection Site or port of entry to have his or her admission corrected. A list of Deferred Inspection Sites and ports of entry can be found at www.cbp.gov, under the “Ports” link at the bottom of the page.  If an applicant received an incorrect I-94 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the applicant should refer to Form I-102 available at www.uscis.gov/i-102.

Land Arrivals and Other Exceptions

Nonimmigrants arriving by land and certain classes of foreign nationals, such as refugees, asylum applicants, and parolees, will continue to receive paper Form I-94.  Information gathered by CBP when issuing a Form I-94 at a land border already is automatically uploaded to the CBP database.

Other Considerations

While there appears to be no legal reason compelling a nonimmigrant to print and keep a copy of Form I-94 from the CBP website, nonimmigrants who will need to demonstrate their class and term of admission for any ancillary purpose (e.g., I-9 employment eligibility verification, driver’s license application, Social Security number application) will need to print a copy of their admission record.

At least initially, air- and seaport arrivals will continue to have the option to request a paper Form I-94 to document their class and term of admission.  Both common carriers and CBP are expected to continue making paper forms available upon request. Nonimmigrants who do not have ready access to a computer and printer should avail themselves of this option.  CBP officers may also issue the paper I-94 in their discretion. Information from paper Forms I-94 will be manually entered into the CBP database.

Since the beginning of 2012, when CBP first indicated that it intended to eliminate the paper I-94, stakeholders raised a myriad of concerns associated with the paper I-94’s elimination. Of paramount concern was (and still is) the ability of state motor vehicle bureaus to address the change. Another issue involves foreign nationals seeking to use the automatic visa revalidation process.  Although CBP has advised that it will verify the I-94 electronically to re-validate an expired visa if the traveler meets the conditions of automatic revalidation, there is concern that this will not happen smoothly and without confusion. Another issue relates to the immigration forms themselves. Many USCIS petition and application forms used to request benefits, such as Forms I-129, I-130, and I-539, ask for a Form I-94 number. It appears that USCIS will print out the Form I-94.  Finally, it is unclear at this juncture whether the USCIS “Notice of Action” approving applications for change or extension of status (Form I-797) will continue to be issued with a Form I-94 at the bottom, as is current practice.

At least one benefit for the nonimmigrant is the elimination of the need to file for a replacement I-94 and pay a $330 fee to replace a lost record of admission.

Given the central role of Form I-94 in documenting proper admission and maintenance of status, the impact of its automation on the immigration process and ancillary benefits programs may be profound.

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