Government Proposes to Eliminate Paper I-94 Card

  • September 10, 2012
  • Richard Newman

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a branch of the Dept. of Homeland Security, has proposed to stop issuing the paper Form I-94 arrival-departure card to foreign nationals entering the United States at airports and other ports of entry. They plan to replace the paper I-94 with an automated arrival database system, which could happen in the very near future.

The I-94 is the white card (waiver I-94 is green) that foreign nationals entering the US complete on the plane and then get stamped with their visa status type (e.g. B-2, F-1, H-1B, L-1, E-2, etc.) when they go through immigration inspections at the airport and states the authorized amount of time the person is allowed to remain in the United States. It is only used for nonimmigrants, not green card holders.

The paper Form I-94 has been used for decades. The elimination of Form I-94 will have a significant impact on many immigration requirements and procedures. It is likely to change the way employers verify work eligibility on Form I-9 and in the E-verify system.
It could also delay issuance of benefits that depend on I-94 information, such as social security numbers and driver’s licenses.

Automated System

In the near future, CBP is expected to stop issuing I-94s to most nonimmigrants and instead will use an automated system to record each person’s arrival. Travelers will receive a stamp in their passport noting their visa status and the date their period of authorized stay expires. CBP may create an online portal to allow foreign nationals to check their status and period of authorized stay, and even print out a record of their entry to the United States.

Travelers entering at land ports (i.e. not airports) such as entering by car or bus at the border with Canada and Mexico, will continue to receive I-94s, as will refugees and some other classes of foreign nationals.

Impact of Eliminating Form I-94

Under the present rules, the I-94 is used as proof of lawful immigration status in the US. Many federal and state agencies use the I-94 to verify whether a foreign national is allowed certain benefits, including a social security number, driver’s license, and others. The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services also has rules that require the foreign national to carry the I-94 as proof of their immigration status.

It is not yet known how the elimination of the I-94 will affect these procedures and rules.
During the transition period to an automated system, CBP has announced delays of 4-6 weeks to enter I-94 data in the governments systems. This has caused many foreign nationals to experience delays of several weeks in receiving social security numbers and driver’s licenses, since those agencies must first verify the person’s status on the federal database before they can grant the benefit.