While you were busy trying to get those H-1B cap cases ready for filing, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“CBP”) released a new Interim Final Rule, and scheduled a Stakeholder Engagement teleconference about the automation of Form I-94, Entry-Departure Card, and shift to an electronic records system, with less than 3 hours advance notice. I got the e-mail announcing the stakeholder call at 12:15 on March 27th, for a 3:00pm call on the same day.
On that Stakeholder Engagement call, I asked if CBP was planning to devote any of the much-touted savings from this initiative to expand the hours or staffing for Deferred Inspections, where travelers must go after admission to get an erroneous record corrected. The answer was “none.” They expect this shift to an all-electronic I-94 to work perfectly, and do not anticipate any spike in errors by Inspections Officers. How optimistic. Another caller, perhaps recalling what was once a 6 to 9 week time frame for sharing of non-immigrants’ entry data with the Social Security Administration, asked how fast the CBP database would be updated with travelers electronic I-94 data. CBP claimed that the electronic records would be uploaded and available online “immediately.” Again, this seems optimistic.
CBP certainly realizes that this week just prior to April 1st is a time period when most US employers of foreign nationals – and most immigration lawyers – are too busy to participate in a Stakeholder Engagement call or to comment on an Interim Final Rule before it becomes final. Press releases and other public pronouncements have been made anticipating that all the H-1B visa numbers for the coming fiscal year will be exhausted in the first week of April, so anyone involved in the hiring or employment of foreign nationals under temporary visas is preoccupied with the H-1B cap right now. For those of you who have the time, please file comments now! The comment period ends on April 26, 2013.
The initiative to get rid of paper I-94s is intended to streamline and modernize the admission of all non-immigrants. Travelers will not complete the form on paper on the airplane or at the port of entry, and will not be provided with any paper entry document defining their nonimmigrant visa status and authorized period of stay. CBP is expanding the definition of an I-94 to include an electronic record, and expanding the contents of an entry stamp in the passport, but that entry stamp will not meet the requirements of USCIS, Social Security, state motor vehicle departments, and many other agencies which require a copy of an I-94 entry document bearing certain data and an identifying eleven-digit number, so all of those types of applications will require the traveler to go to a CBP website and print out a hard copy of the electronic I-94 record. So, there will still be paper, just not a piece of paper that has to be produced or retained by CBP.
CBP Inspections Officers will issue an annotated admission stamp in the passport, showing the date of entry, port of entry, class of admission, and expiration date of the authorized stay, and they will create an electronic I-94 record in the database containing the full data, which includes:
• Family Name
• First (given) Name
• Birth Date
• Country of Citizenship
• Passport Issuance Date
• Passport Expiration Date
• Passport Number
• Airline & Flight Number
• Country of Residence
• Country Where Boarded
• City Where Visa Was Issued
• Date Visa Was Issued
• Address While in US
• Telephone Number in US
• Email Address
After admission, but not while still in the secure Inspections area, travelers can go to the website, www.cbp.gov/I94, to view and print out a copy of their electronic I-94 record, which will still be needed to obtain a US Social Security Number, to show to an employer to begin or change authorized employment under a nonimmigrant work visa, to obtain or renew a driver’s license, or to apply to USCIS for any extension or change of status. When using the CBP website, travelers will have to enter some of the above data, including their Family Name, First Given Name, Passport Number, Date of Entry & Class of Admission to gain access to their I-94 records, so people with complex name issues or who were admitted in a category other than the one they thought they were entering in may have difficulty accessing the electronic record. Time will tell. Records of previous entries for up to two years prior to the most recent admission will be visible on the website.
CBP has already implemented this electronic-only process for the I-94W, the form used for admission of visitors eligible to come to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. They are basing their projections for success of a broader rollout on the successful implementation of electronic entry records for this narrow group of travelers, visitors who can only be admitted for a period of 90 days. The electronic record has not posed serious problems for that uniform class of entrants, all of whom are granted the same class of admission and are admitted to the United States for the same length of time.
My experience to date is that even when travelers are issued a paper I-94, they may not notice an error immediately, or an officer may take issue with the client’s knowledge and insist on admitting them for an incorrect length of time or in the wrong status. All travelers seeking admission in any nonimmigrant visa status will have to be extremely vigilant.