Incoming visitors will no longer need to fill out Form I-94
United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now moving forward with its plans to eliminate the Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record that has always been the hallmark of stateside immigration status. Given the central role of Form I-94 in documenting proper admission and maintenance of status, the impact of its elimination on the immigration process may be profound. Regrettably, there remain as many questions as answers about how CBP will administer the admissions process without Form I-94 and how other entities ranging from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to state motor vehicle bureaus will adopt benefit application procedures.
Reasons for Eliminating Form I-94
CBP cites two reasons for eliminating Form I-94. First, CBP already has access to the data gathered on Form I-94. Foreign nationals provide the information when submitting an application for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate. In addition, information is provided to CBP through the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). APIS is a web-based system used by commercial carriers and the private aviation community to electronically provide required information to CBP such as, notices of arrival and/or departure and traveler manifests (crew and passenger).
Secondly, CBP expects to save time and money through the elimination of Form I-94. CBP has calculated the cost and manpower required to print, store, distribute, gather, and enter data specified on the form. CBP reports that about 30 seconds of officer time per entry relates to the paper form, which results in annualized costs to CBP amounting to approximately $19 million for associated staffing resources. In addition, CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) pays to mail Forms I-94 collected by the airlines to a contractor that is paid $17 million per year to enter the departure data.
Given these operational and financial incentives, CBP is accelerating its plans to eliminate Form I-94. Originally, CBP planned to gradually roll out the elimination of the form starting in late summer 2012 with a pilot program at a few smaller airports. However, current plans call for imminent, system-wide elimination of the form.
Proposed Admission Procedures
CBP’s plans call for issuing an admission stamp in the passports of nonimmigrant aliens. The stamp will include a handwritten notation indicating the status and authorized period of stay, similar to procedures now utilized for travelers under the Visa Waiver Program. According to an August 2012 CBP Travel Update on I-94 Data Entry Notice, CBP will create an electronic record for arriving nonimmigrant aliens.
In the paperless nonimmigrant alien admission world, it is anticipated that state motor vehicle bureaus will utilize the alien’s passport number and the admission stamp to verify status.
The incidence of CBP database errors is expected to be reduced with the creation of an electronic nonimmigrant alien admissions process. The database will be automatically populated with data provided in the nonimmigrant visa application and in APIS. It appears, however, that nonimmigrant alien category and admission dates will still be made in a passport by hand. Errors are inevitable. The CBP Deferred Inspection procedure will remain the point of contact to correct admissions errors.