Bye Bye I-94 Card – Coping with I-94 Automation

On August 7, 2012, without much fanfare, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) released a travel update informing foreign travelers that the I-94 Arrival Departure Card will officially be undergoing an automation process. Practically, this news was very important.

All ports of entries will be issuing “electronic I-94” records to travelers, which may take between 30 to 45 days to be registered in the I-94 database. Some ports of entries may still issue paper I-94 records but those numbers would not match the electronic I-94 records.  There has been no clear indication of a method that allow foreign nationals to be able to access the electronic I-94 record.  [You can imagine the confusion this would cause.]

For those who have been following the automation process, this announcement was anticipated, but many had hoped for much more instructive details. Back in February 2012, CBP held a stakeholder meeting with various government agencies, including DMVs and other immigrant and refugee non-profit/community organizations. DMVs, in particular, voiced many concerns about the transformation of the I-94 record. The use of multiple, non-matching I-94 records for one foreign national raised concerns about the costs to re-program DMV software, store and maintain data, and cross-matching I-94 records against foreign national immigration records. It appears the recent announcement by CBP did little to allay those concerns. It’s also unclear how some of the nation’s largest DMVs may be managing the added cost for the I-94 automation in light of the many budget constraints faced by many states. In fact, AILA released a practice advisory detailing much of the concerns previously raised by the DMVs and other organizations with the method for unilaterally shifting I-94 card issuance from paper to electronic. (AILA Members, see AILA Doc. 12081352, August 13, 2012)

While CBP acknowledged that foreign travelers may need to provide proof of legal status in the U.S. to various interested parties during their initial 30-45 day stay, it’s unclear what the proper instructions may be for travelers to facilitate that process successfully. As most practitioners know, the I-94 card has, in the past, been the cornerstone of a foreign traveler’s stay in the U.S. (not to mention required by federal regulations). Without access to the “proper” I-94 record, it’s unclear how foreign travelers should successfully navigate through lawful employment protocols, such as completing the Form I-9, registering for a driver’s license or other standard processes. Will a stamp in the foreign traveler’s unexpired passport really be enough to satisfy a query for legal status in the U.S.? With this practice advisory from CBP, it’s clear that immigration practitioners should actively follow up with clients who have traveled internationally and entered the U.S. recently to confirm proper notations of all passport entry stamps.

An immigration case management system that has a robust and user-friendly tracking system can help practitioners stay up-to-date regularly. Otherwise, improperly recorded notations on a passport stamp can mean more work for practitioners to request corrections with local inspection offices. Practitioners may very well also be issuing more “security letters” to clients in the event such letters may need to be presented to various government agencies to explain the I-94 automation process.

What do you think of CBP’s unilateral shift in policy? How will your organization accommodate CBP’s new practice? We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comments.  Subscribe to our blog to stay updated.