I have previously written that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is chomping at the bit to automate the I-94 process. Well, they’ve done it. A notice in the Federal Register last week announced an interim final rule (IFR), which will be effective April 26, 2013. The IFR, “Definition of Form I-94 to Include Electronic Format” is the first step in the automation process, with the end game being the elimination of the paper I-94 card foreign nationals receive when they seek admission to the United States.
Who does this IFR apply to and why should you care as an employer?
Putting aside foreign travellers coming to the United States to visit one of our great national parks, this will impact temporary foreign workers coming to the United States in H-1B, O-1, L-1, etc. status if they arrive by air or sea.
The I-94 card is used for a variety of purposes, including completing the Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9), applying for a driver’s license with DMV and other situations in which a foreign national is seeking a government benefit.
What will happen?
When a foreign traveler enters the United States they will no longer receive a paper I-94 card if entering by air or sea. Instead they will be directed to a website — www.cbp.gov/I94 — which is as of today’s date not yet operational. This website will be where they will be able to print out an electronic Form I-94.
The above referenced electronic Form I-94, according to the IFR, is the “functional equivalent” of the paper I-94 card.
As an employer what can you expect with I-94 automation?
For Form I-9 and employment purposes, the electronic Form I-94 would be used for purposes of completing List A of the Form I-9. Therefore, an H-1B worker would typically present a foreign passport and a small, white paper I-94 card. Due to automation, that same H-1B worker will no longer have a small white I-94 card affixed to their passport but will instead have a computer generated printout of their I-94 card. The printout, as I stated earlier and according to CPB, is the “functional equivalent” of the paper Form I-94 and can be used for purposes of the Form I-9 (see pages 18460 and 18461 of the IFR).
However, having said that, CBP isn’t completely doing away with the small, paper version of the I-94 card and so as an employer it is entirely possible that you will continue to see the small version of the I-94 card (for an example see page 60 of the M-274) as well as the computer generated printout version. Situations in which you would see the traditional paper I-94 card as shown in the current version of the M-274 would include for those entering by land, refugees, asylees, parolees and whenever else CBP feels like issuing a paper Form I-94 at a port of entry.
So…happy I-9 completions!