I-94 Automation Makes Life Easy for Form I-9 Process

Last August, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officially announced it was automating the I-94 process, many of us were unsure of the impact on foreign nationals and on employers during the Form I-9 verification process.  We expressed our concerns back in August 2012 here.

After months of anticipation, CBP (finally) published the official details today in the Federal Register.  You can access the publication and read the details here on our sister blog.

What is I-94 Automation?

Foreign nationals who enter the U.S. in non-immigrant status through land, sea and air ports are required to complete a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record upon arrival at the ports.  CBP will stamp and annotate the form and return the bottom portion back to the Foreign National. For many air and sea travelers, most of their biographic, admission and entry data is already culled by multiple databases.  Part of I-94 automation enables CBP to pull and organize this data, and provide it to the foreign national electronically rather than via paper (a process that was duplicative and time/cost-consuming).  Foreign nationals entering by land have yet to be incorporated into this automation process. The paper Form I-94 has been a commonly used List A document for many foreign nationals during I-9 employment eligibility verification.   Its elimination caused some concern and raised many questions.

Immediate Availability of I-94 Record

One concern was the availability of the data to the foreign national in order to present to the employer during the Form I-9 process.  If no paper Form I-94 were provided to the foreign national, how would he/she complete the Form I-9?  At one point, CBP had indicated this data would not be available to the foreign national for at least 30-45 days after entry! Confirmed in today’s stakeholder conference call, foreign nationals arriving by air and sea, who enter at a port that has implemented I-94 automation, will have immediate access to their I-94 data.  The data can be accessed on a secure website and printed out for presentation during the Form I-9 identity and employment verification process.  However, implementation of automation, which will take place over a four-week period, will not begin until April 30, 2013.

The True I-94 Number

In direct contrast to CBP’s proposal last year that multiple I-94 numbers (electronic and a temporary paper) might be issued (and probably as a direct result of the mutiny from many stakeholders), CBP clarified that the I-94 number available online to foreign nations who receive an electronic I-94 record will be the “true” I-94 number.  In essence, they’ll only receive one number electronically rather than multiple numbers for that initial entry.

Asylees, Refugees and Others Exempt

We wrote last October about Asylees and Refugees.  At that time, we were unsure how I-94 automation would impact this group of immigrants.  CBP confirmed in its interim final rule published today that Asylees and Refugees will continue to receive paper I-94 records.

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While I applaud the government in its efforts to go electronic, it does seem a bit ironic that an automated system would ultimately necessitate a paper printout, particularly for the I-9 process.  Maybe our concerns last year were all for naught, but it will be interesting to see how the process plays out in the months to come. The public is encouraged to comment during the next 30 days.  You can access our sister-blog for full details here on how to submit comments to CBP on the I-94 automation process.