It's one of the most important documents you've never heard of, but the i94 form is actually one of the easiest to get your hands on and being aware of it is worth its weight in gold for those who are temporarily in the United States. It's also something you should frequently check on, and you should re-check absolutely every time you re-enter the USA.
What is the i94?
The Arrival and Departure Record is the I-94, in either paper or electronic format, issued by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer to foreign visitors entering the United States.
In both circumstances, an electronic I-94 or paper I-94, the visitor must exit the U.S. on or before that date stamped on the form or in the passport.
Why should I care?
The reason you should care is that second sentence above. This document is more important than your visa when it comes to how long you can stay in the U.S. Your visa is an entry document (meaning it allows you entry into the U.S.) but once you're in, it really doesn't mean much. The i-94, on the other hand, is the document that defines how long you can legally stay in the country.
The date that is attached to this document is the date you have to leave the country before.
Every time you enter the country, you will receive a new i94 with potentially a new date, so it's important to check each and every time you re-enter.
How do I check my i94 status?
It really is quite easy, with CBP making a really functional website for checking into your current status:
- Go to the i94 website
- Select “Get most recent i94”
- Read the popup, then push “Consent & Continue” (if you consent)
- Fill in your personal details, push “Next”
- On this page you will find:
- Admission (I-94) Record Number (an i94 form identifier)
- Most Recent Date of Entry (the date you arrived most recently)
- Class of Admission (what visa or status you entered under)
- Admit Until Date (the really important date)
- “Get this traveler's history” has some extra information about your recent exits and entries, too!
Check ALL of these, and make sure everything is correct.
What to do if your i94 has an error
My friends at the Lightman Law Firm LLC have written an article about the i94 and why it's important, too. Most importantly they've included an extra section on what to do if yours has an error, so be sure to head over to their site and find out.
Important note about leaving before the required date
Do not schedule a flight to leave a day before your “Admit Until Date”.
At worst, you should be leaving a week before this date, because things can always go wrong. If your flight is delayed and you stay beyond the date of your i-94, you're going to be in big strife, so be sure to prepare in advance!
Transcript from my chat with Immigration lawyer, Doug Lightman
Josh: I can check my current I-94 status online.
Josh: Hi, I'm America Josh and this is Learning with New friends.
When I arrive at the US border and I've got my visa and I'm ready to go and I arrive at the guy/woman at the desk and they stamp. I know that has a date on it and it has some details. Do you mind explaining what the date means? Sometimes I've heard that dates can go longer than visas.
Doug: Yeah they will place a small stamp in the passport showing that you entered. Usually, they'll handwrite the visa that you want.
Josh: So I’d say E-3 or something like that
Doug: Right. In terms of an expiration date they may or may not handwrite the expiration date.
Josh: I know I’ve had both. Sometimes it seems like part of it but sometimes I'm just scribbling.
Doug: Yeah. Sometimes they'll scribble something but that's not really what ultimately controls. It’s not really important. Whatever they're pressing down in your passport is not really what's important. What's important is the I-94. The I-94 is what the Customs and Border Patrol issues to individuals entering the United States and the I-94 captures the visa that the individual used to enter the United States, captures the date that you entered, and the period that you're allowed to remain within the United States.
Josh: I think we can put right here. There'll be a web address i94.cbp.dhs.gov, where people can find their own I-94.
Doug: That's something they should do after every entry for a couple of reasons.
- They should be aware of when they have to depart; and
- They want to make sure that a record exists.
Not often times but sometimes there can be errors when entering and some people are not entered into the system or they're entered into the system incorrectly. So, you get an E3 visa stamp, but for some reason, the officer admits you in the F1 visa status or they admit you for the wrong period of time.
Josh: So, it's good to be on top of it.
Doug: You want to be on top of that because if there is an error you want to get that corrected
Josh: So, they log onto the website that we're listing below here, they put in there. I think their passport, their date of birth and name and it will list your most recent arrivals and your most recent I-94.
If there's something wrong with that is that something they should call a lawyer about. Or is that something that goes straight to CBP?
Doug: No. They can go straight to CBP. Well first if they're unsure what's wrong or they think there's something wrong but they're not sure then maybe they should talk to a lawyer.
Probably best to talk to a lawyer before they start bringing up CBP