Anyone who has been traveling a lot lately may have noticed that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) officers at ports of entry to the United States have not been stamping passports and have increasingly been relying on so-called I-94 records that are available online. While no notice of this can be found on the USCBP website, several articles have appeared online recently indicating that the USCBP has announced the elimination of issuing entry stamps in the passports of foreign nationals arriving in the U.S. Apparently the practice is being phased in.
Passport Stamps Now History
A passport entry stamp has been the primary way a foreign national’s admission to the U.S. was recorded in the past. The stamp contained the location of entry, the date, the class of entry such as in TN status or F-1 status for example, and the duration of the foreign national’s period of authorized stay. This same information that was contained in the passport entry stamp is now recorded in a foreign national’s official admission record, Form I-94. The Form I-94 is not issued to the foreign national upon entrance but is instead maintained and available online. It can be found online here.
I-94 Records Need To Be Checked Carefully On Entry
Evidently, USCBP is eliminating the passport entry stamp to streamline the entry process. So now, foreign nationals will only have access to the Form I-94 website as proof of their lawful immigration status. The accuracy of an entry record is therefore critical. For example, the Form I-94 entry can also be used by foreign nationals as evidence of work authorization to be given to employers to satisfy the legality of employment. The loss of the stamp in a passport is a significant shortcoming for immigrants seeking to show the legality of their presence in the United States. The elimination now means that foreign nationals can only inspect their Form I-94 immigration record for accuracy after entrance.
For this reason, foreign nationals should access and review their Form I-94 record as soon after entry as possible, while still in reach of USCBP officials, so that any needed corrections can still be made in a timely manner. This is critical because I-94 entries can be inaccurate and, more often than they should, need to be corrected as any U.S. immigration attorney with experience will confirm if asked about it.
Change to the ESTA Program And Travel By Land To The USA
USCBP has changed its policy regarding land crossings. All Visa Waiver Program travelers intending to enter the United States by land are now required to obtain an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to applying for admission at land border ports of entry. Canadians are exempt from this requirement. Foreigners who are from countries that are not part of the Visa Waiver Program are also not affected by this change since they must apply for visitor visas at U.S. consulates before coming to America.
By way of background, the Visa Waiver Program enables eligible nationals of 40 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. However, such travelers generally are not eligible to extend their stay or change their status after arriving in the United States. If they do remain longer they lose their eligibility under the Visa Waiver Program and may also be subject to additional penalties under U.S. immigration law.
Visa Waiver Program travelers traveling to the United States by land, sea, or air must now receive a travel authorization prior to applying for admission to the United States and pay an I-94 fee of $6 unless entering within the 90-day admission period.
To facilitate this process and help travelers to be certain there are no errors on I-94 records on entry, the USCBP has come out with a mobile app called CBP One that can be downloaded. Using the app travelers can apply for an I-94 record up to seven days prior to arrival, review their past travel history, check their I-94 expiration date and obtain proof of their electronic I-94 record of entry. The application can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store or Google Play.
Under the changed policy regarding land border crossings, USCBP encourages travelers to apply for travel authorization at least 72 hours in advance of their anticipated arrival at a U.S. land port of entry.