By Megan S. Turngren
RIS Staff Attorney
Beginning in May 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped issuing paper I-94 cards and instead began requiring that the foreign national access the I-94 information on the CBP website. For the past six months, both attorneys and foreign nationals have been working diligently to try to understand the new electronic I-94 system.
Under the new system, a foreign national will meet with an immigration officer upon entry. As before, the officer will stamp the foreign national’s passport with the port of entry and date of arrival. The CBP officer will also handwrite the admission symbol (i.e., “R-1”) and the date until which the foreign national is authorized to stay. However, the officer will not staple anything into the passport. Instead, the foreign national will be required (on their own) to print an electronic I-94 from the CBP website after arriving in the United States.
As the process has evolved, foreign nationals have encountered numerous issues trying to access the electronic I-94 information online. Finding the electronic I-94 information is often a game of trial and error.
As we have worked to understand the electronic I-94 program, we have found some ways to locate even the most hard-to-find electronic I-94s.
Verify that all information is entered accurately.
- One simple data entry error will prevent the ability to access the electronic I-94.
Check that the correct passport information is entered.
- Sometimes a foreign national will obtain a new passport while they are outside the U.S. When they return, it is possible to erroneously enter the previous passport number. Always ensure that the most up-to-date information is being used. However, that being said, if the information cannot be accessed using the new (correct) passport data, enter the previous passport data. The information could have been incorrectly entered by a CBP officer, especially if the foreign national had a visa in their previously-issued passport.
Consider multiple entry options for the passport number.
- If the passport number includes the date the passport was issued, try removing these digits when you enter the information into the CBP data entry form. This issue has been very common when accessing I-94 information for individuals with a Mexican passport. If the foreign national has a Mexican passport, try entering the passport number without the first two numbers listed in the passport number.
- Also, verify the passport number used when the foreign national submitted the DS-160 application online as part of the R-1 visa process. If there was a typographical error in the DS-160, try accessing the electronic I-94 information using the exact same number that was listed in the DS-160 form.
Attempt to enter the name in a different format.
- In some countries, the first name may be written as the last name on the passport. Due to this issue, we often see issues relating to how the name is used when accessing the electronic I-94.
- The passport may list a first and middle name, but the electronic I-94 may be entered listing both names as the first name. Alternatively, the middle name might not be included in the electronic I-94. If you are having difficulty finding the I-94, it is important to try different formats of the name to try to access the information.
- Also, if the name is hyphenated, try to access the information using the name with the hyphen. However, if it cannot be accessed this way, remove the hyphen and try again. Likewise, if the name has a space on the passport, try entering the name without a space on the electronic I-94 data form.
- The foreign national’s name may be spelled differently on the passport and visa. While CBP officers typically use the information provided on the passport, they may also enter the information provided on the visa.
The CBP website also provides tips to access the electronic I-94 information online.
If you cannot access the electronic I-94 information online, it is important to take the next step and visit the local CBP deferred inspection office. The CBP website has information about local deferred inspection offices, including the address and hours of operation. Be sure to contact the local deferred inspection site in advance of driving to the office to determine if they handle I-94 matters on a specific date or at a specific time.
Although the process for accessing the electronic I-94 may be confusing at times, it is imperative that a foreign national attempt to access the information as soon as he or she enters the United States. Please remember that the date stamped in the passport is NOT the I-94 expiration date. In fact, the two dates are not always the same. The electronic I-94 is the document that authorizes the foreign national’s legal stay inside the United States.
Special Caution to Frequent Travelers: Please note that the electronic I-94 will not be available after a foreign national exits the United States on a subsequent trip abroad. This can potentially be very problematic for clients who frequently travel abroad for missionary purposes. To avoid any hassles, it’s best to print out the I-94 as soon as possible once in the United States.