According to U.S. Government Officials, the I-94 card as we know it will be changing and will eventually be discontinued. At the quarterly Intergovernmental Agency (IGA) outreach teleconference held on April 18, 2012, representatives from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and E-Verify discussed upcoming changes to the I-94 process.
First, some background about the I-94 process in use today. When a Foreign National (FN) enters the U.S. in a non-immigrant status (for example, L-1, H-1B, TN), they are issued a 2-part white I-94 card. Some exceptions to this rule are for Canadian citizens entering the U.S. as visitors and for individuals from Visa Waiver countries entering the U.S. as visitors. Canadian are not issued any I-94 documents. Visa Waiver FNs had been issued green I-94 cards in the past (called the I-94W); however, the process of automating I-94Ws began in 2010.
An FN entering the U.S. completes the 2-part I-94 card, providing personal information such as name, birth date, country of birth, address, etc. The lower portion is stamped with the entry date and the FN's admission status (L-1, H-1B, etc.) and expiration date are noted. The lower portion of the card is typically stapled into the FN's passport while the other portion is forwarded to the I-94 processing center in London, Kentucky, where contract personnel are responsible for entering the data provided on the I-94s. The database into which this information is entered is checked when a FN applies for a Social Security No. (SSNo.) and certain other benefits. Because it can take up to 5 days for the I-94 cards to reach the London, KY, processing center and additional time for the data entry to be completed, FNs are often advised not to apply for their SSNos. until 7-10 days after they arrive in the U.S. Waiting to apply for the SSNo. until the I-94 information can be verified typically results in an earlier assignment of a SSNo. When a FN later departs the U.S., the I-94 card is collected at the airport and forwarded to the processing center in London, KY, so that the FN's departure from the U.S. can be recorded.
The existing I-94 data entry process is costing the U.S. Government $12-15 million annually in data entry fees. And, this figure does not account for the additional storage costs incurred or for the separate costs incurred by airlines in purchasing the I-94 cards that they provide to their passengers. Further, when the I-94W was automated, passenger processing for each Visa Waiver FN was reduced by 20 seconds. While this may not sound like a lot, the resulting annual savings to the Government were approximately $19 million.
Federal Regulations mandate the issuance of I-94 cards to FN entrants, so in order for the I-94 to be fully automated and the paper I-94 card eliminated entirely, a change in the regulations must be implemented. This change is currently being drafted though there is no specific timeframe for its completion. In the meantime, Government funding for the I-94 data entry process will be eliminated shortly, so an interim process must be introduced for I-94s.
A system is being put in place that will automate the I-94 process through a web-based system that will be responsible for electronically issuing I-94 numbers and tracking departure information without the necessity for manual data entry. Once in place, FNs should not have to wait to apply for SSNos. as their I-94 information will be available for verification from the moment they enter the U.S.
But, until a regulation is issued that will eliminate paper I-94s, FNs will continue to receive an I-94 card. The number that is pre-printed on the card will not actually be the "real" I-94 number. The FNs electronic I-94 number would be obtained from the I-94 web site. USCIS/CBP representatives have indicated that the inspecting officers will be instructed to cross out the pre-printed I-94 number on the card and to write-in the electronically generated number in the interim in order to avoid confusion. However, if past experiences are an indication, I expect that we will see variations of this process at least in the beginning, and possibly data-entry errors. Even when the correct electronic I-94 number does not appear on the I-94 card, the FN or an employer representative should be able to access the I-94 system in order to determine the true I-94 number. An ink stamp placed in the FN's passport will indicate the FN's status and length of stay.
At this time, there is very little information available on the I-94 automation process or even the interim measures. The I-94 web site has not yet been released. Regulations are being drafted, but there is no timeline for implementation. However, there is a possibility that the interim I-94 process may be in place within the next few weeks or months. As the Government releases more information about this, I will keep you informed. Clearly, new I-94 procedures will have an impact on employment verification (I-9s), E-Verify, SSNo. and driver's license issuance, and electronic I-9 systems.
FNs already in the U.S. with I-94s will retain those I-94 cards and their numbers. So, there should be no change for FNs who are already in the U.S.