September 27, 2021

What is the Form I-94

Form I-94 is used to keep track of non-citizens coming into and leaving the United States. This form provides documentation that non-citizens entered the country and indicates when they are legally required to leave. This can be imperative information to have on record in the case prior travel is questioned during a later immigration case.

Starting in 2013, the US government transitioned form I-94 to an electronic record. Before this, visitors were provided paper documents carried while in the country and surrendered upon departure. Electronic records are much more efficient and prevent the potential for a lost record. 

Who Needs a Form I-94

Non-citizens entering the United States are typically issued a form I-94. There are a few exceptions for those participating in a visa waiver program, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR), and some temporary travelers moving between the US and Canada or the Caribbean. For example, a flight crew might qualify as exempt temporary travelers. But, aside from these very few exceptions, nearly all non-citizens entering the US will be issued a form I-94.

Related: What is Form N400

How to Get an I-94

The good news is that you don’t have to jump through many hoops to get an I-94. The form is automatically issued upon arrival in the US. Some visitors, especially those arriving by land, may receive a hard copy of their form I-94. More common travelers arriving by air will receive an electronic copy of the I-94. The only requirement is lawful entry into the country. When you provide your passport and visa to customs, your passport will be stamped and form I-94 issued.

How is the I-94 Used

Form I-94 has two essential purposes. First, it documents lawful entry into the country. Second, it identifies the required departure date. Individuals who remain in the country past the departure date are subject to immigration violations that may hurt their chances of staying in or returning to the US. 

Since the I-94 is a government record, it may also be utilized to obtain identification or driver’s licenses while in the US. If circumstances change after entering the US, individuals can obtain a green card and obtain a new I-94. 

identification in pocket

How Does the I-94 Differ from a Green Card?

US immigration can be confusing. It is not uncommon to get lost when talking about visas, I-94 forms, and green cards. So, what’s the difference? A visa is documentation of the purpose for travel to the US. It is a document that goes along with the passport and is presented to customs when entering the country. By comparison, an I-94 form is simply a documentation of the legal entry date and when the individual must leave. The I-94 is typically an electronic document. A green card is an immigration document that indicates that an individual is a lawful permanent resident. A green card holder is not required to have a form I-94 when entering or leaving the US. 

Related: What You Need to Know About a Request for Evidence (RFE)

What Happens if You Overstay The Date Indicated on Your I-94

One of the purposes of form I-94 is to indicate a required departure date so that non-immigrant visitors cannot remain in the US indefinitely. Failure to adhere to these dates can have consequences that individuals should be aware of. 

If you remain in the country for more than 180 days after your departure date, you may be subject to consequences. Late departures of more than 180 days past, but not more than one year, will be barred re-entry to the US for a minimum of three years. And individuals who remain in the US for more than one year past their departure date will be barred re-entry to the US for a minimum of ten years.

Related: A Beginners Guide to Form I-48

Problems that Might Occur with an I-94

Sometimes life throws you lemons, and when you are a non-immigrant traveler to the US, those lemons can look like problems with important travel documents like the form I-94. Here are a few things that can come up and how you should handle the situation.

Missing I-94 Form

The good news is that digitizing the I-94 for most travelers has significantly reduced the occurrence of lost forms. However, some travelers who arrive by land are still issued a paper form (or card). Ideally, you would keep close track of this card along with your passport. But if something should happen and the I-94 form becomes lost, here’s what to do.

This might be a big deal if you plan to apply for a green card after arriving in the US. In this case, you will need the I-94 to prove lawful entry into the country. The first step is to request a record of your form I-94 from Customs and Border Patrol. Next, you will submit a form I-102 to USCIS to replace your I-94. This form comes with a hefty $445 filing fee. However, you may also obtain the same information using a FOIA request which is a freedom of information act request. 

If CBP does not have a record of your lawful entry into the US, it is time to consult an immigration attorney for help with your next steps. In some cases, individuals have had success using a notarized explanation detailing individual circumstances that contributed to the lost document. And, in other cases, plane tickets or boarding passes from the original travel into the country can provide the necessary date information. 

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Improperly Admitted by CBP

On occasion, travelers arriving by land might be waived through by CBP without checking their passports and therefore not issuing the appropriate I-94 documentation. If this happens, the individual should visit their local CBP office deferred inspection site to correct the admission.

The Takeaway on Form I-94

Form I-94 is important to document legal entry and required departure dates. As far as immigration is concerned, it is an imperative record that may be referenced during later immigration proceedings if the traveler applies for a green card or wishes to amend their status in the country. The good news is that for most travelers, this documentation is electronic and automatically issued upon arrival processing.

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