Immigration Status and the Importance of the I-94
For our article this month, we discuss the I-94 because it is the most important document in determining immigration status of a foreign citizen who does not have a Green Card. We share below a client advisory prepared by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
When you enter the United States, you are inspected by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent. After approving your admission to the United States, the border inspector does two things:
1. Stamps your passport with an admission date, expiration date, and the class of admission (such as B-2 for tourist, WT for ESTA, or H-1B for H-1B worker).
2. Enters your admission record into CBP’s database.
Always check your passport to ensure you know when the period of admission ends (the expiration date of your status) before leaving the port of entry. The best time to catch and fix a mistake is at that moment.
Expiration dates are different for different visa categories, but there is one rule that governs all admissions: The government will never give you a period of admission beyond the expiration of your passport. If your passport will expire soon, make sure you pay attention to when your admission period expires, because it may be shorter than you expect.
How to Confirm the Date Your Status Expires
CBP used to staple a paper I-94 into a traveler’s passport. This no longer happens. Now, travelers can access their admission records online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov This will list your I-94 admission number, visa classification, and the date your status expires. You can also access your travel history on the CBP website.
Changing or Extending Your Status in the United States
People often can extend their stay in the United States or change the class of admission. This is done by USCIS. When USCIS extends a stay or changes a class of admission, USCIS issues a new I-94 that replaces the one issued by CBP. The new I-94 is usually a detachable portion in the lower right-hand side of the I-797A Approval Notice. The new I-94 now controls the period of admission.
USCIS will issue a new I-94 when approving a change of status or an extension of status. However, this information is not updated on CBP’s I-94 website. It is essential, therefore, that you keep a copy of any USCIS approval notice. Immigration attorneys and government agencies will need this information to help you.
What If There Is a Mistake in the Admission Record?
The sooner an error is found, the easier it is to fix. To fix a misstep, you must go to the right agency, prove why it was a mistake, and ask for the admission record to be corrected. This is not as clear-cut or as easy as it should be. If you have any fears or concerns about trying to correct a mistake, you should contact your immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can help fix a governmental oversight.
If the border inspector makes a mistake in your admission record, you will need to visit a local CBP Deferred Inspection Site to have the admission corrected. A list of Deferred Inspection Sites can be found on CBP’s website, https://www.cbp.gov, under the “Ports” link at the bottom of the page.
If USCIS makes a mistake in your admission record when extending or changing your status, you need to contact USCIS. This usually requires filing an application or petition with USCIS.
What to Do If the Mistake Is Discovered after the Admission Period Ends?
Fixing a mistake before the admission period ends is always best. Sometimes, the expiration date has already passed before the mistake is discovered. If you discover that the I-94 has already expired, do not panic.
Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org