As of April 30, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) no longer issues the paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record to international visitors arriving in the U.S. by air or sea. CBP is still issuing the paper Form I-94 to international visitors who arrive at land border ports of entry.

Upon arrival in the U.S. by air or sea, CBP is substituting the paper Form I-94 with a passport stamp and an electronic record. The electronic record of admission can be accessed by a nonimmigrant alien at http://www.cbp.gov/I94. The CBP officer will stamp the travel document of each arriving non-immigrant traveler with an admission stamp that will show the date of admission, the class of admission and the date the traveler is admitted until.

Under this new rule, arriving refugees, asylees and parolees will continue to receive the paper Form I-94 from CBP at land, air and sea ports of entry. In addition, a nonimmigrant can request a paper Form I-94 from CBP at any port of entry. However, travelers should be aware that any paper Form I-94 must be issued through secondary inspection, which will likely result in delays when going through the admission process.

Questions and Answers About the New Paperless I-94 System

Some questions that have been raised as a result of the new paperless I-94 system include:

  1. Does the nonimmigrant have to print a paper copy of the Form I-94 to prove lawful admission and maintenance of status in the U.S.?

    Answer: No. There is no legal requirement that a nonimmigrant alien access and print out a record of admission found at http://www.cbp.gov/I94 in order to prove lawful admission and maintenance of status in the U.S. The electronic record of the passport stamp issued by CBP is sufficient to establish lawful status for nonimmigrant aliens and parolees.

  2. Why should I print out a copy of the Form I-94 from http://www.cbp.gov/I94?

    Answer: There are many reasons why it is prudent to print out a copy of the electronic Form I-94 from http://www.cbp.gov/I94: (1) printing a record of Form I-94 allows an individual to verify admission in the class and for the period of time indicated on the passport stamp; (2) having a paper printout may facilitate applications for ancillary benefits, such as a driver’s license or a social security number; (3) it is recommended that nonimmigrants and parolees carry a printout of the Form I-94 because the copy would function as a backup document in the event that CBP officers cannot access the electronic record of admission due to a system failure; (4) given persistent, widespread reports of CBP officers failing to understand or apply the automatic visa revalidation provisions, printing a copy of the electronic Form I-94 is recommended; and (5) finally, nonimmigrant aliens will need a paper copy of the Form I-94 to complete the Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form.

USCIS and CBP are trying to identify and address different issues as they arise regarding the new electronic Form I-9. We will continue to provide you with the latest developments regarding the paperless Form I-9 system.

Practical Tips for F-1 Students During “Cap-Gap” Extension Period

USCIS has reported that it has completed its random selection of H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2014. As previously reported, USCIS received 125,000 H-1B petitions for only 85,000 available visas. Cases were selected randomly. Receipt notices have now been issued for those cases which were chosen randomly by USCIS. If an employer has not received a receipt notice for an H-1B petition that was filed the first week of April 2013, USCIS is now preparing petitions to be returned to the employer, along with the visa filing fees.

F-1 students whose employers filed an H-1B petition that was accepted as part of the H-1B lottery process are now eligible for “cap-gap” extension coverage, so long as the petition was filed before the expiration date on the individual student’s Employment Authorization Document. The “cap-gap” provision automatically extends the nonimmigrant status and employment authorization for F-1 students with pending or approved H-1B petitions through September 30, 2013.

F-1 students covered by the cap gap provision should be careful about traveling outside the U.S. during the cap-gap period. F-1 students will lose cap-gap benefits if they travel internationally during the cap-gap period. This means that if an F-1 student travels outside the U.S. during the cap-gap extension period, he or she will not be able to return to the U.S. in valid F-1 status.

USCIS policy guidance explains that a student should not travel outside the U.S. during the cap-gap extension because USCIS considers a petition to change nonimmigrant status (such as a petition to change nonimmigrant status from F-1 to H-1B) to be abandoned if the beneficiary of the petition leaves the country while the change of status is pending. USCIS guidance does not, however, address whether travel is permitted during the cap-gap period if the H-1B is approved. While this question has not been addressed by USCIS, it is best for F-1 students to remain in the U.S. during the cap-gap period.