As foreign national employees come back from summer vacations and travel abroad, one of the most overlooked immigration documents and pitfalls is Form I-94. If Form I-94 is issued for a shorter validity period than the maximum allowed or previously approved in a visa category, the traveler will have to travel out of the country or file an extension of status by the date on the I-94. Either option may be a burden monetarily and logistically.
What is Form I-94?
Any person traveling into the U.S., other than a U.S. Citizen or a U.S. Permanent Resident, is issued an I-94 Form upon entry into the U.S. Air and sea travelers may obtain a copy of the I-94 issued to him or her by downloading it at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/. Those who travel by land through one of the border ports of entry are often still issued a paper form I-94.
Upon arrival, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer stamps the passport or travel document of each arriving non-immigrant traveler with the admission date, the class of admission, and the date that the traveler is admitted until, and issues Form I-94 with this information. Thus, Form I-94 will document and determine until what date someone is authorized to remain in the U.S., sometimes regardless of the validity of an underlying document.
Why check Form I-94?
The “Admit Until” date on Form I-94 indicates until when someone is legally authorized to remain in the U.S. If a person remains in the U.S. beyond that date, s/he would begin to accrue unlawful presence and/or be working unlawfully in the U.S.
Why would the expiration date on the I-94 be earlier than the one on the Approval Notice?
One common reason for this is that CBP officers limit the admission period to the expiration of the person’s passport.
For example, Great Co. has an employee named Jane Jetsetter who works for Great Co. in H-1B status. Jane Jetsetter’s H-1B was just extended and the approval notice has a validity date of May 27, 2016 to May 26, 2019. Jane Jetsetter went on vacation this summer to Europe and came back last week. When checking her I-94, Jane Jetsetter finds out that the I-94 indicates that she had been admitted in H-1B status until November 15, 2016 only, which is also the expiration date of her passport.
How can the validity period on Form I-94 be fixed?
CBP has been responding that there are only two options to get a longer admission date. The person may travel internationally again, and seek admission after travel abroad with the new passport with a validity period of at least 6 months beyond the validity period of the approval notice. In the alternative, an extension of status may be filed within the U.S. However, the latter maybe very costly. Unlike a situation in which the CBP officer enters an earlier date in error and a Foreign National may go back to the CBP Office at the airport to have it corrected, if the shortened admission period is due to a foreign national's passport, s/he must travel outside the U.S. or file an extension of stay.
For instance, in the Jane Jetsetter scenario, Great Co. had just paid attorney’s fees and filing fees to get Jane Jetsetter a three-year H-1B extension back in May. To file an extension, those fees would likely have to be paid again. Most employers would likely tell Jane Jetsetter that she has to travel internationally and is responsible for the expenses and to ensure she apply for a new passport and is admitted for the validity period of the already approved H-1B.
Could a foreign national simply travel to Canada or Mexico and come back?
Sure, as long as the person has a visa to enter these countries or is not required to have one because of his or her nationality. For instance, if Jane Jetsetter carries a passport from the United Kingdom, she would not need a visa to enter Canada. She may immediately travel there and come back to the U.S. However, if Jane Jetsetter was from India and carried a passport issued by India, Jane would need a visa stamp to travel to Canada. Therefore, if Jane did not plan these trips ahead of time, she may not have enough time to apply for a visa to go to Canada before the expiration of the I-94.
What should Foreign Nationals do as soon as they come back from travel abroad?
- Check Form I-94 and the “Admit Until” date.
- If there is an earlier date due to CBP error, go to CBP back at the airport to get it corrected.
- If the “Admit Until” date is earlier because of the passport expiration:
- Apply for a new passport
- Travel abroad by the “Admit Until” date
- Re-enter the U.S. with new passport, old passport if visa stamp is in it, and approval notice
- Check I-94 to make sure that it is now corrected
How should foreign nationals prepare for the next travel season?
Foreign nationals should ensure that their passports are valid for at least 6 months beyond the validity period of their approval notice or intended period of stay before returning to the U.S.
After returning to the United States, check Form I-94 again!