Form I-94

 

For anyone other than a lawful permanent resident or citizen of the United States, the I-94 form is likely one of the most important records generated by a U.S. government agency upon admission to the country.  This is because it shows when someone arrived, how long they are allowed to stay, and when and if they left.  It is also used to verify points of entry and departure. 

But for a long time, collecting and storing these records was a cumbersome — and costly process. It required that most nonimmigrant visitors fill out paper I-94 forms prior to entering the United States. United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would then send them to processing centers, where they were entered into databases by hand.

Most foreign visitors who come into the United States from Canada or Mexico by train or motor vehicle must still supply information for the I-94 forms the old-fashioned way. Specifically, they must complete the paper form provided at the border. That does not apply to foreign travelers coming into the country by plane or boat, however.  Rather than mandating that they complete the forms manually, CBP now uses its automated system to obtain relevant information for the I-94 from electronic travel records. It also assigns an I-94 number to each traveler for official purposes.

Instead of providing the traveler with the I-94 number, CBP stamps his or her passport upon arrival. The information stamped in the passport includes the the type of admission granted, the date of arrival and the date when he or she must leave the country.  In some cases, the passport is stamped with the letters “DS,” which stands for duration of status. This is usually the case for foreign exchange students, and it simply means that they can stay in the United States as long as their authorization to do so remains in effect.

It is interesting to note that CBP will issue paper copies of the I-94 to foreign travelers — including foreign exchange students — arriving by plane or boat when requested. But no matter how one obtains a paper copy of the form, it is important not only to keep it during the duration of the visit, but to surrender it upon departure.

Those who don’t receive paper copies of the I-94 may still obtain relevant information from the CBP and Department of Homeland Security’s official I-94 webpage. Specifically, this is where foreign travelers can find their travel histories for the past five years, get their most recent I-94 forms (numbers), apply for new ones and verify how much longer they can legally remain in the United States.

The ability to access this information is especially important when foreigners who are in the United States temporarily want to get driver’s licenses, or need to provide proof of their work authorization or lawful entry into the country. It is also vital for immigrants who want to change their status while they are here, or non-immigrants who want to stay longer than initially planned.

In order to obtain the information from the official I-94 website, however, foreign visitors and/or immigrants must provide certain information. The source of the information needed to apply for a new I-94, access a travel history or recent I-94 will be the travel document used when coming to the United States. That means it could be a passport, visa or border crossing card. The information from the document that is usually required is the traveler’s first and last name, and birthdate. In some cases the traveler must also provide the name of the country that issued the document, the document number date of issuance and the expiration date. To avoid confusion, the CBP requires that travelers enter first and last names and other relevant information as it appears in the “Machine Readable Zone” (MRZ) at the bottom of the document.

That being stated, there are many circumstances in which people trying to access their I-94 information may have trouble doing so. Specifically, they may find that they simply can’t retrieve the information or they find that their travel history contains errors. This can potentially affect someone’s ability to change their immigration status or extend their stay, but it is important not to panic. There are simple ways to rectify these mistakes, which we will share in an upcoming blog.

An experienced immigration attorney can also address problems with  the I-94 form. If you have questions or concerns about your I-94 form or I-94 number, contact Zontlaw for assistance today.

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