How to Get I-94 Number Under Electronic Form I-94 Process

Form I-94 is the Arrival/Departure Record issued to foreign visitors when they enter the United States. Form I-94 used to be in paper format, stapled to a visitor’s passport by a Customs and Border Protection(CBP) officer. Since April of 2013, however, CBP has implemented the electronic I-94 process across the nation’s ports of entry. Most visitors entering the U.S. since the transition will no longer receive a paper I-94 card. Instead, they will only see a CBP entry stamp in their passport.

The CBP admission stamp is annotated with date of entry, class of admission and admitted until (expiration) date, but is missing the I-94 number. This has caused confusion among travelers who are not familiar with the new process. We have received at least a dozen inquiries asking where they can find their I-94 number, which is often required under various circumstances.

The way to retrieve an I-94 number electronically is through CBP’s website at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/recent-search. You will be asked to provide the following information:

  • Name as it appears on your passport or travel document
  • Date of Birth in Day/Month/Year format
  • Passport Number
  • Country of Issuance

The CBP website also has answers to many frequently asked questions. I’ll just add a couple points here:

When can I retrieve my I-94 number?

Your I-94 number will be available on the CBP website after you enter the United States and will remain available to you during your stay. You will no longer have access to the record after your departure from the U.S.

As soon as you have a chance, please retrieve your I-94 number and print a copy. You will definitely need the information if you later have to change status, extend your stay, or go through other immigration processes. Even if you don’t have an immediate need, it is important to keep a copy for your own record anyway.

Although your I-94 record remains available to you during your visit, CBP emphasized that “The availability of the record does not convey legal authority to remain in the United States outside of the terms and conditions of admission. All travelers must comply with the terms of the classification granted and admitted until date.”

What to do if I find an error on my electronic I-94 record?

If you find an error on your electronic or paper I-94, you should contact a local CBP Deferred Inspection Site to have the error corrected. You may also go to a Port of Entry (POE, usually an airport) if that is closer to you. CBP website has a list of Deferred Inspection Sites as a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

Travel Between U.S. and China for Senior Citizens

Over the past ten years, my parents have visited us six or seven times. Every time they fly between China and the U.S., however, my anxiety level would skyrocket for the duration of their entire trip. I keep telling myself they’ve done it so many times without a glitch, but mentally just can’t help it. I guess the fact that they are getting older, and less mobile, every time I see them is a good enough reason to be concerned. And on top of that their English skill (Ok, they don’t speak any) doesn’t help either.

I know I’m not the only one, though. In fact all my friends face more or less the same problems. So I’ve been thinking about posting some easy-to-follow travel guides on immigrationroad.com to hopefully make their cross-ocean journey less stressful. I already did the first one: A list of English/Chinese translations of frequently used terms around an airport, on board an airplane, and going through Customs inspections. If it turns out useful, I’ll add more content and maybe even have it translated into other languages as well.

Other than translations, I also did a few things that may have helped my parents previously. I’ll list some of them in case you haven’t thought about them:

  • Fill out a sample Form I-94 so that they can simply copy all the information while completing the real I-94 card during a flight;
  • Explain and translate all items on the Customs Declaration Form as well;
  • Have them carry a card with your phone numbers in case of emergency;
  • If they have medical conditions, have them carry a brief description (in English) with them at all times;
  • Book non-stop flights if at all possible. It is easy to imagine how struggling they will be to catch a connection flight at a foreign airport, not to mention a potential delay or cancellation. I know some of you live too far from a major airport, and direct flight isn’t an option; what I meant was that if you do have a choice, even if the ticket may cost a bit more or you have to drive farther to pick them up, a non-stop flight should really be on top of your priority list.
  • Send them a detailed airport map and instructions if they do have to deal with connection flights;
  • Have them bring a copy of the entire itinerary with them so that airport staff may be able to help without a translator;
  • Although most airlines flying to and from China will have Chinese-speaking attendants, it is not guaranteed. If this is important (they need special assistance, for example), then obviously China-based airlines would be better options. Air China and China Eastern sometimes have Chinese-speaking staff at the airport to help passengers going through Customs inspection, which is very important for first-time visitors.

If you have other tips or materials that you would like to share, please drop me a line.

Updated 4/1/2012: Added Airport Inspection Process in Simplified Chinese (and English)

Visa Pilot Program: Easier and Faster Visa Applications

Today the Department of State shared a plan to greatly speed up visitor visa processing, in response to a White House Executive Order calling for measures to boost U.S. tourism, economy and job creation.

With the establishment of a new Visa Pilot Program, the department plans to reduce the amount of visa interviews for certain foreign visitors, including people renewing their visas, and children or elderly first-time applicants. This will not only save foreign travellers a considerable amount of time and money, but also free up resources at Embassies and Consulates to focus on higher-risk cases. In the end, a much more streamlined visa application process for everyone.

This is, in my opinion, long overdue! Take my parents as an example, they are over 70 years old and have been to the U.S. six times in the past ten years. We have taken many out-of-state vacations together, as well as frequent weekend trips. Despite their contribution to the travel industry and their track record of never over-staying their B2 visas, they had to re-apply every couple of years. Even with automatic visa re-validation (they were eligible once or twice before), it was still a hassle. And they are even considered lucky because there is an U.S. embassy in the city they live in. Others may have to travel by train, stay at a hotel, and wait for several days just to get a B visa which they had before.

I’m glad the administration recognizes the unbelievable waste of resources on processing these low-risk applications, and are taking initiatives to improve it. The pilot program (details still to be released) is certainly a step in the right direction:

The pilot program will streamline visa processing for certain low-risk applicants, such as individuals renewing expired visas, or some categories of younger or older first-time applicants. We expect that this will benefit tens of thousands of applicants in Brazil and China; saving them time and money, and encouraging them to choose to visit the United States again. However, given that national security remains this Administration’s highest priority, individuals identified as higher-risk will remain subject to interviews – in addition to the full screening and review all visa applicants receive.

The department also provided some figures to demonstrate the economic impact of the new policy:

For example, this will make it much easier for many Chinese tourists to renew their visas – a group that spends more than $6,000 per person, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. Over the course of the year, this policy could open as many as 100,000 interview appointments for Chinese travelers applying for visas for the first time. That increase in tourism could support as many as 1,500 travel and tourism-related jobs.

Visit Alaska – Trip Planning

Alaska GlacierWe visited Alaska from July 16 to 24, 2011. Although we planned early, we couldn’t start making reservations until early May because of some uncertainties in my parents’ visa application, and that turned out to be a bit late for many things. If you are planning to visit Alaska this summer, I recommend that you start looking around as soon as possible. This way you will have more choices with regard to hotels, rental cars, etc. In addition, you will have better chances to score those “coupon-only” deals if you book early.

Alaska Coupon Books

Even if you are not a typical “coupon clipper,” don’t overlook the Alaska Coupon Books. They can easily save you hundreds of dollars. The one I bought is called Alaska TourSaver, priced at $99.95 on Amazon. Despite the high price, I’m glad I bought it since the first two coupons I used already recouped the book cost. If your plans include train tours, glacier cruises, flightseeing, river rafting…your savings could quickly add up with those buy-one-get-one coupons.

Some places, especially hotels, accept only a limited number of coupons per day. So again, book early if possible. The TourSaver’s website lists all the coupons in the book. You can find out beforehand if a particular activity offers a coupon, and whether there are validation or other limitations. Do not tear off the coupons just yet; many places require the entire book, with the coupon still attached, to honor the discount. Alaska Railroad, on the other hand, asked me to mail the coupons to them, which was interesting.

Other than the Tour Saver, another coupon book called Northern Lights is also quite popular. Although there are overlaps, the two books do offer different coupons. Another tip, if you’re planning a trip for later in the summer, you can probably grab a lightly used coupon book off eBay for half the price.

Best Time to Visit Alaska

Alaska is open to tourists all year round, but obviously the majority of people go during the summer. Alaska’s travel season is usually May 15 through September 15, peaking from mid-June to mid-August. Continue reading “Visit Alaska – Trip Planning”

Alaska Trip Report: Anchorage, Denali, Seward and Whittier

Alaska Glacier with Kayak

Last year we spent our summer vacation in Alaska. For a family that tends to choose nature over big cities, the trip was truly amazing and unforgettable. I always wanted to write something (sort of like a user review), or just post some photos, but never got to it until the other day when I talked about fee-free entrance days in the national parks.

I realized that if you are thinking about visiting Alaska in 2012, the time to start planning is about now. Alaska is a busy and expensive place to visit during peak travel seasons, so it pays off to get a head start. In the next few posts I’ll talk more about the trip, and along the way provide my personal reviews, a few tips and of course lots of pictures.

Our itinerary, although not perfect, worked out quite well for us. As a family of six (grandparents, two kids, wife and me), we felt that we experienced Alaska as much as we could, without feeling exhausted or rushed. We certainly missed some “adventurous” activities, but no regrets whatsoever.

  • Day 1: Fly to Alaska on JetBlue (non-stop Long Beach to Anchorage), check in with Homewood Suite
  • Day 2: Anchorage downtown, local fair, Anchorage Zoo
  • Day 3: Alaska Railroad 5-hr train tour to Seward, Major Marines 3-hr Wildlife Cruise, same train back to Anchorage
  • Day 4: Pick up rental car, drive to Whittier, take 6-hr glacier cruise by 26Glaciers, back to Anchorage
  • Day 5: Drive to Denali National Park, check in at Faith Hill Bed-and-Breakfast
  • Day 6: Take Denali’s 8-hr Tundra Wilderness Bus Tour
  • Day 7: Denali Wilderness Center, Sled Dog Show, Savage River
  • Day 8: Return to Anchorage
  • Day 9: ULU factory tour, local parks, evening flight back to Long Beach

Now off to trip planning.

Visit National Parks for Free in 2012

There are nearly 400 national parks in the United States. Many of them are not only spectacular, but also suitable for family vacations. In fact, visiting a national park has been our top choice for vacation trips ever since my kids were old enough to enjoy travelling. The National Park Service (NPS), in my opinion, has done a fine job maintaining the balance between tourism and preservation.

Some national parks don’t charge an entrance fee, but others do. However, every year those parks that usually charge a fee will be open for free on given days. For 2012, the fee-free days are listed below:

  • January 14-16 (Martin Luther King Jr. weekend)
  • April 21-29 (National Park Week)
  • June 9 (Get Outdoors Day)
  • September 29 (National Public Lands Day)
  • November 10-12 (Veterans Day weekend)

EAD/AP Combo Card Update: DOS Sent Formal Notification to Beijing

USCIS’ Beijing Office responded to our inquiry today with regard to the new EAD/AP combo card being rejected as valid travel document by Beijing Entry/Exit Inspection. The email explained that the United States Embassy has officially notified Chinese authorities of the validity of the new card. So hopefully the issue will be resolved soon and Chinese travelers will be allowed to use it to board their U.S.-bound flights.

Below is the USCIS email message:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the new I-766 Combo card. We have had recent reports the Beijing Entry/Exit bureau was not recognizing the validity of the new card. Please be advised that the United States Embassy provided a formal notification to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Public Security on December 20, 2011. We believe this will eliminate any confusion as to the validity of the new Advance Parole cards.

Please note that the card must either state: “Valid for Reentry to the U.S.”, or” Serves as I-512 Advance Parole”, to be a valid advance parole document and in order to allow travel to the United States.

Thanks,

Sincerely,

USCIS, Beijing China

Update 12/23/2011: Confirmed by Beijing Station of Exit and Entry Inspection that the combo EAD/AP card is now accepted as valid travel document.

Travel Alert: EAD/AP Combo Card Rejected at Beijing Airport

Recently we were alerted to some travelers’ experience at the Beijing International Airport: They were denied boarding on their way back to the U.S. because their EAD and AP combo cards were not yet officially recognized by the Beijing Station of Exit and Entry Inspection.

I called the Beijing station (8610-58105400) and a gentleman answering the phone confirmed such policy. He said they were instructed not to allow a traveler to board his/her flight if the sole proof of eligibility for entering the U.S. is the combo EAD/AP card. And in order for them to accept the combo card, the U.S. government must notify China, through official channels, to establish them as valid travel documents.

With the holiday season just around the corner, this is certainly shocking news. Many Chinese nationals may have plans to visit families in China with their EAD/AP card. Also because of recent visa bulletin movement, a large number of people just recently became eligible to file I-485 (along with EAD and AP), and were excited that they could finally visit China after a few years of visa retrogression. Although people could use non-immigrant visas to re-enter the U.S., advance parole (AP) is supposed to be a much easier and safer way for travel.

There is no indication when the Beijing Station will begin to accept EAD/AP combo cards, and there is no published information from either the Chinese or the U.S. government with regard to this issue.

If your trip to China is coming up, you may want to monitor the situation closely. If you’re already in China, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your area, or a USCIS local office if available, as soon as possible to seek assistance. Some reported on the internet that other cities in China, such as Shanghai, did accept the combo card. But this could change without notice.

I don’t think this particular issue will last long, but you never know. I’ll update this post as soon as I hear anything. In the mean time, good luck and travel safely.

Update 1 (12/20/2011): U.S. Embassy Sent Official Notification to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Public Security on December 20, 2011.

Don’t Leave a Child in Hot Car

With summer just around the corner, it is worth a post to remind everyone that leaving a child inside a hot car can be deadly. Last year at least 49 children died of heatstroke while trapped in a vehicle.

According to a recent article from AAA, on a 90-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can climb to 130 degrees within just a few minutes. Parking in the shade, tinted windows or leaving some windows cracked open doesn’t doesn’t help if the car is closed.

Many states, such as California, have enacted laws to prevent such tragedies. An adult driver will be held liable for leaving children unattended inside a motor vehicle, when there are conditions that could put the children’s safety at risk. Such conditions include hot weather, leaving the engine running or leaving keys in the ignition. If you see a child locked in a hot car, call 911 for emergency assistance.

What is so sad about these fatalities is that they are all preventable. A parent may decide to leave the kids inside a car while she uses the ATM machine, expecting to be back in a minute. Then the ATM isn’t working, and she has to go inside and get cash from a teller. Then the quick run turns into a long wait because a person in front of her has problems with his account …… so the best practice is, never leave a child unattended inside a car, not even for a minute.

Another common case is that the driver simply forgot the child in the back seat. I remember reading a story a few years ago about a father going to work, leaving a sleeping baby inside his car in the parking lot. AAA suggests that people should train themselves to always check the backseat before exiting their vehicle.

Many families are now planning for summer vacations or road trips. I just wanted to wish everyone a good time, and please stay safe.

What is “Class of Admission” on Form I-131

We have talked about Class of Admission on Form I-90, so in this post we’ll discuss Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Form I-131 can be used to apply for either a Reentry Permit or Advance Parole (AP), for which the “Class of Admission” requires different information.

If you are using I-131 to apply for a reentry permit, which means you already have a green card, Class of Admission is asking for the three-letter code representing your immigrant category under which you became a permanent resident. This is the same code as we discussed in the I-90 post mentioned above.

If you are using I-131 to apply for Advance Parole, which means you are not yet a permanent resident, Class of Admission is asking for your non-immigrant visa you last used to enter the U.S. This is usually, but not always, a two-letter code you get at the port of entry. For example, F1, B2, H1, TN, etc.

However, if you entered the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa but later changed your status to another non-immigrant category (F1 to H-1B, e.g.), this is where confusion arises. In this case, should you put your last or current status as your “Class of Admission”? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer, and USCIS hasn’t clarified the situation. I personally prefer using the last status, since that is what “admission” refers to. But I think it is Ok to put either one. I know some people have filled in both, such as “F1 then H-1B,” which seems to be acceptable too. If you have doubt, ask your attorney. But depending on whom you ask, you may get a different answer each time. The good news is, USCIS hasn’t made a big fuss about it, so it is probably no big deal to them whether you choose to use your last or current status.