Reminder to Check I-94 Expiration Dates
Each year, foreign nationals should double-check important dates related to their immigration statuses. Many aspects of immigration law are tied to expiration dates, grace periods, filing deadlines, and other date-driven matters. It is vitally important to keep informed and on top of important calendar items and timelines specific to one’s immigration process. Many serious problems can be avoided by taking this simple step, combined with appropriate advance planning.
I-94 Expiration Dates for Nonimmigrants
Perhaps the most important date an individual in nonimmigrant status needs to bear in mind is the expiration date on the I-94. In most situations, the I-94 reflects how long a person is permitted to stay in the United States, provided that s/he complies with the terms of his/her status. Individuals typically need to plan to depart the United States before the I-94 expires, or else make a timely request to change or extend status.
The I-94 expiration date generally is set by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the U.S. port of entry (POE), or by an officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who has issued an I-94 card attached to the bottom of an I-797 approval notice after granting an extension or change of status from within the United States. For many years, an individual admitted at a POE would find a small, white card stapled to the inside of her/his passport upon entry to the United States. The process is now paperless. The CBP officer places an entry stamp inside the passport with a handwritten expiration date.
To obtain the actual CBP I-94 information, it is necessary to log into the Admission (I-94) Number Retrieval page on the CBP WebSite. Travelers are urged to review their CBP I-94 information shortly after arrival to verify their allowed period of stay and identify any errors. It is important to also keep in mind that the online CBP information only contains arrival and departure records, including details of the electronic I-94 issued at the time of entry. It does not necessarily reflect one’s current status.
Identify and Address I-94 Errors
Occasionally, the CBP or USCIS may make mistakes when issuing I-94s. An incorrect expiration date may be provided, or the wrong class of admission may be inputted. These errors need to be promptly identified and corrected. Even if it appears the government’s entry of an erroneous expiration date works in the favor of the foreign national, such an error should not be relied upon. Any expiration date that extends beyond the period the individual is legally eligible to remain in the U.S. should not be ignored. Rather, the foreign national needs either to have the I-94 corrected, or, at the very least, to obtain competent legal advice on how best to proceed.
Visas Are Travel Documents; I-94 Cards Reflect Status
It is important to remember that the expiration date on a person’s visa “foil” (commonly referred to as a stamp) and the expiration date of the I-94 are not necessarily the same. The visa is only an entry document. The period one is actually allowed to remain in the United States generally is indicated on the I-94. For example, a person might be issued a 10-year, multiple-entry visitor (B-2) visa by a U.S. consulate. However, in most situations, s/he is only granted entry for six months, as reflected by the expiration date on the I-94. Overstaying the date on the I-94 can have serious consequences.
Extension or Change of Status – Don’t Forget Derivative Family Members
In most situations, each nonimmigrant who enters the United States is issued an I-94. Accordingly, when a family enters the United States together (such as an H1B worker who is accompanied by her husband and child), each I-94 must be checked for accuracy, and the status of each individual must be maintained. Extending the status of the principal H1B worker does not automatically extend the status of the dependent family members.
Failure to do something as simple as verifying that each family member remains in valid status can sometimes have catastrophic results.
In short, foreign nationals should take just a few moments to review their I-94s and ensure that the information listed is correct. This quick and easy step can help in avoiding serious future problems.