How to Contact CBP for I-94 Issues

The I-94 automation process was implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in April, 2013. The new process replaced paper form I-94 with an electronic version: A foreign national entering the United States no long receives an I-94 card stapled to their passport; instead, they will see a passport stamp, and must now go to CBP’s website to retrieve their I-94 information.

Note: Asylees and refugees should have received a hand written or stamped I-94 upon entering the U.S. and will not be able to retrieve I-94 information online. – CBP

The transition has caused some confusion among visitors. One particular issue is when a foreign national went to the CBP website to retrieve his/her I-94, and the system returned “Not Found” as a response.

CBP Info Center explains “What to do if your I-94 is ‘Not Found’ online.” In a nutshell, you basically need to make sure the information you enter on the I-94 website matches exactly what your passport is showing. This is especially important if you have a first name and middle name, as one or the other, or both, may have been entered into the system. CBP also suggests that you “try entering either your most recent date of entry or your original date of entry into the U.S.” I don’t quite understand what scenarios the last suggestion covers, but I guess it is saying that if you’re not sure, try all the entry dates you can remember.

If you still cannot retrieve your I-94, it’s time to contact CBP directly. You will need to find a CBP Deferred Inspection Site that is close to you and give them a call. If a CBP officer can sort things out over the phone, perfect! If not, you may have to travel to their facility. Make sure to set up an appointment on the phone if they don’t accept walk-ins.

CBP provides an Excel spreadsheet listing all Deferred Inspection Sites in the U.S. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, try using Google Chrome browser to download and open it with Google Docs. We also published the list of Deferred Inspection Sites on a webpage here, but it is for reference only since we cannot keep up with CBP updates.

Other than I-94 Not Found issue, if you find error(s) on your I-94 you will most likely need to contact a Deferred Inspection Site or a CBP office at a port of entry (POE) to have it corrected.

Keep in mind that CBP is not the only agency that issues I-94, USCIS does too. If you change your status in the U.S., for example, USCIS will send you a new I-94 along with the approval notice. These types of I-94 forms will not be found in the CBP system. In addition, if there is incorrect information on USCIS-issued I-94, you will need to contact USCIS to correct them.

If you had a paper Form I-94 (issued by CBP or USCIS) but it has been lost, stolen, mutilated or destroyed, you will need to contact USCIS to replace it. You can download Form I-102 instructions to learn more.

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.

Time to Reach H-1B Cap: FY-2011 to FY-2014

Here is another way to look at how quickly the annual H-1B cap has been reached over the past four years. In 2010, the annual cap for FY-2011 was reached 302 days after the season started on April 1st. This year, it took all of 5 days to do the same.

FY_2010-2014_Cap-Reached

According to USCIS, approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions were filed this year. 85,000 of them won the lottery and if approved, their beneficiaries will be able to work in H-1B status starting October 1, 2013. For people who didn’t win, or missed the boat altogether, the earliest time they may begin working in H-1B is October 1, 2014, assuming they win the lottery next year. Not a good situation for foreign tech workers seeking better opportunities in the U.S.

H-1B Visa Cap for FY-2014 Reached in One Week

H-1B visa cap has been reached one week after the season opened. USCIS announced today (April 5, 2013) that it has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach both the regular H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption cap. As a result, USCIS will no longer accept H-1B petitions for the entire fiscal year 2014, which runs from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014.

For all valid petitions received between April 1 and 5, USCIS will use a random selection process (“lottery”) to pick the winners, starting with the advanced degree petitions (20,000 total). Those not selected will become part of the regular cap (65,000) selection process. Keep in mind that USCIS will continue to accept and process H-1B petitions not subject to the annual cap, such as current H1B workers changing jobs or beneficiaries who will work at institutions of higher education.

H-1B visa consumption has been accelerating over the past four years, as shown in the graph below. In 2010, it took almost 10 months to reach the FY-2011 cap. The following year it was 7 months. But in 2012, all H-1B visas were allocated in 2 months, and this year: 1 week!

h1b-cap-count-2010-2014

Update 4/8/2013: USCIS has completed the random selection process.

USCIS received approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 7, 2013, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process (commonly known as a “lottery”) to select a sufficient number of petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 for the general category and 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption limit. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless it is found to be a duplicate filing. – USCIS

FY 2013 H-1B Cap Count

USCIS began accepting new H-1B petitions on April 2, 2012. If approved, beneficiaries of these petitions may start working in H-1B status on or after October 1, 2012 – the first day of FY 2013 cap season. The following table includes every cap count released by USCIS. The table will be updated on a regular basis to show the pattern of this year’s H1B filing.

The first count, conducted on April 9, 2012 is about three times more than last year’s. If this turns out to be a trend, H-1B visas could be exhausted much faster than last year, during which the regular cap was reached on November 22, 2011.

On June 12, 2012 USCIS announced that they have received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the regular H-1B cap for FY 2013 as of June 11, 2012. In addition, USCIS received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions against the advanced degree cap on June 7, 2012. USCIS will reject petitions subject to the FY-2013 cap for H-1B specialty occupation workers that are received after June 11, 2012. USCIS will continue to accept petitions not subject to the annual cap.

FY 2012 H-1B Cap Count
Date of Last Count Regular Cap
(65,000)
Advanced Degree Exemption
(20,000)
4/9/2012 17,400 8,200
4/13/2012 20,600 9,700
4/20/2012 25,000 10,900
4/27/2012 29,200 12,300
5/4/2012 32,500 13,700
05/11/2012 36,700 14,800
05/18/2012 42,000 16,000
05/25/2012 48,400 17,500
06/01/2012 55,600 18,700
06/11/2012 65,000 20,000

 

The graph below will be updated regularly to show H-1B visa filings for FY-2013:

 

Below is last year’s H-1B cap count (FY 2012) for reference:

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.

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.

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.

Can B-1 or B-2 Visitors Enroll in School?

A common question from B1 or B2 visa holders is whether they are allowed to enroll in school. The short answer is no, not directly. If you wish to study in the U.S. while in B status, you must change it to F or M status first.

If you enroll in a full course of study while in B1, B2 or B1/B2 status, you will be considered out of status. This violation of visa terms will make you ineligible to extend your stay under B status, or later change your status to another non-immigrant class such as F or M.

If you want to go to school while in B status, the correct procedure should be:

  1. Contact the school you’re interested in and find out all eligibility requirements (test results, financial support, etc.);
  2. After being admitted to the school, work with the designated school official (DSO) to obtain proper documents for foreign students (I-20, for example), but do not enroll in any classes;
  3. Apply for Change of Status (Form I-539) with USCIS, to change your B visitor status to F or M student status. Whether to choose F1 or M1 depends on the type of school and program you intend to enroll in. Do this before your authorized stay under B status expires, which is specified on your I-94 card. If your B status is about to expire, you may apply for an extension of stay (Form I-539);
  4. Once you have received USCIS approval on your change of status request, you may begin enrolling in classes. You will also receive a new I-94 from USCIS indicating your student status and a new period of authorized stay;
  5. If for some reason you cannot change your status to F or M while in the U.S., you may still be eligible to apply for a student visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. In this case you will have to leave the country first, apply for a new F or M visa, and re-enter under the new F or M status.

The discussion above refers to a course of study, such as a formal program leading to an academic degree or vocational certification. If you are only interested in recreational classes or casual, short courses that generally do not require academic enrollment, you may take such classes without acquiring a student status first. Again, contact the school or class provider to find out whether the class you’re interested in is a course of study in nature. Below is an example of what’s permitted from the U.S. Embassy in Sweden:

If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study which is recreational (and not for credit towards a degree), and the course is less than 18 hours per week, this is permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa.

Important: All children in the U.S. have the right to public education, regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. So a school-aged child in B1 or B2 status is allowed to attend K-12 schools, as long as studying is incidental and was not the primary purpose when s/he applied for the B visa.