Electronic I-94's (e-i-94) are now registered in a data base when foreign travellers are admitted to the US as the traditional visa/I-94 process has been replaced with a totally electronic system. Unfortunately, the system has not worked as well as hoped and there are cases where no record exists of entry, which can complicate immigration processing later. For this reason, it can be helpful to request and obtain a stamp in the passport showing the date of entry, if the officers at the ports of entry will cooperate.
Records of entries can be accessed online without charge using the US Customs and Border Protection website.
The form I-94 used to be a white card issued by an immigration inspector of the Department of Homeland Security at the port of entry into the United States. It was proof of admission legally into the United States. The I-94 often is stapled into the foreign country's passport.
The form I-94W, which had been issued in connection with the Visa Waiver Program, was very similar to the I-94, except that it was printed on a green card stock rather than white.
The last issued form of I-94 was computer-generated (see picture).
The function of the I-94 is best understood in relation to the non-immigrant visa upon which it depends. A visa is most often initially issued by a U.S. consulate abroad, under the auspices of the Department of State. The non-immigrant visa confers no rights itself on the beneficiary to enter and remain physically inside of the United States. It does authorize the holder to present himself or herself at a land border or other port of entry prior to expiration for inspection by an immigration officer. The immigration officer, usually of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency within the Department of Homeland Security reviews the visa and other related documents and if they are in order, issues the I-94. The I-94, not the visa, controls the terms of the entry and constitutes legal authority to remain physically within the United States for a designated period of time.
This can be understood using the following examples. Assume a B-1/B2 non-immigrant visa for ten years authorizing multiple entries into the U.S. that was issued by a U.S. Consulate abroad. The visa by its terms will expire within ten days after the date that it is presented to a CBP inspector at the port of entry. The inspector should issue an I-94 valid for six months. The beneficiary of the non-immigrant visa/I-94 combination is entitled to remain for the entire six month period even though the non-immigrant visa expires long before that time. Upon leaving the United States, the beneficiary will need to obtain a new visa in order to re-enter the country as the old one expired during the previous stay.
Let us examine the reverse case. Assume the B1/B2 non-immigrant visa is exactly the same as in the previous example but it will not expire for another nine years from the date it is presented to the inspector, who again issues an I-94 for six months. Prior to the end of the six months, the beneficiary must obtain an extension of the I-94 status, change status, leave, or risk falling out of status. The fact that the non-immigrant visa is valid for another eight and one-half years is irrelevant. The visa does not allow the holder to remain past the expiration date of the I-94. Unlike the previous example, after leaving the United States, the visa holder can re-use the same visa for another entry into the United States, because the non-immigrant visa has not yet expired.
Thus, once in the United States, the I-94 determines the validity of the authorized stay, not the visa. Except in cases where the I-94 is marked valid for the "duration of status" or "ds", signifying a program to which it is connected, as in the case of an academic program, the I-94 is generally surrended upon leaving the United States.
For countries included in the visa waiver program, the electronic I-94 authorized stay is somewhat restricted when compared with the visa I-94, as a visa waiver stay cannot be extended or changed to another non-immigrant visa category from within the U.S., except that in certain circumstances where timely applied for, adjustment of status based upon marriage to a U.S. citizen may still be possible notwithstanding entry into the U.S. as a visa waiver visitor.
If you have questions, please contact Messing Law Offices (520) 512-5432 to arrange an initial consultation
An earlier form of I-94 which was issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and was stamped and filled in by hand appears in the picture.
The uppermost I-94 indicates in the upper-right hand portion that it corresponds to an L-1 visa, which is a non-immigrant visa category that is employment authorized, and that it issued on February 5, 2005 and will expire on September 17, 2007. It is therefore valid for the entire period between those two dates and indicates employment authorization with the U.S. employer that applied for the visa during that time period for the holder of the foreign passport to which it is attached. With other appropriate documents, it is valid for employment verification purposes.
The lowermost I-94 on the other hand is for a B-2 visitor non-immigrant visa that does not qualify the bearer for employment, and so it could not be accepted as authorizing employment during the period of authorized stay, which expired on May 20, 2003. If the holder remained in the United States after that date without further authorization, the period of overstay would be unlawful and could lead to the issuance and service of a Notice to Appear.
If you have questions about visas, I-94's, or falling out of status, please contact Messing Law Offices for a free brief telephonic evaluation or to arrange an initial consultation