The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) uses the I-94 record to monitor the arrival and departure of foreign nationals traveling to the US. The form shows all arrival and departure records for the past five years, including the most recent entry. For the past few years this record has been available online, making it easy for travelers to monitor their own entry/departure records, and check for any discrepancies. If you hold an H1B visa (or other type of work visa) you may wonder if those records can also be accessed online via the CBP system. The simple answer is, not always.
The online system versus the paper system for I-94: May not always match
Naturally, one might think that the I-94 record would also monitor visa status, changes and extensions, including H1B non-immigrant work visas. While the I-94 does record the type of entry visa used and period of validity, it will not reflect any changes or extensions made while in the US. The problem is that the CBP database is not interfaced with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) records of updated visa status. Therefore, if you check the online I-94 database you will not see your updated immigration status, even if your original visa was legally changed or expired.
So what does this mean for H1B visa holders that may be entering or exiting the US? Essentially, the only real evidence of lawful visa status is in the documentation provided by USCIS. This will typically take the form of a current visa in one’s passport and other supporting documentation. When one receives a visa extension or change, a paper I-94 is issued, but this will not be recorded in the online system. Once a visa holder crosses a US border, the updated I-94 information will be entered into the online database.
Should you correct any online I-94 discrepancies?
Some H1B visa holders may be concerned that they should somehow correct any dated visa status information in the online system, but this is not necessary (or even possible). Visa status is tracked and managed by USCIS, not CBP, so there is no danger of being viewed as out of status simply by information contained in the online database.
For example, if a foreign worker is in the US on an H1B visa and receives an extension after the initial three-year period, they will have paper documentation from the USCIS to prove they are in legal status. If they choose to exit the US for any reason, they can show their updated paper form at the border and the details of their new visa extension will be recorded.
Always have your current visa and any new paper I-94 when entering or exiting the US
This underscores the fact that the I-94 online system is simply a tool of convenience for travelers, and does not affect one’s legal status or ability to enter the US. There are plans to eventually integrate the CBP and USCIS databases so that current visa status can be viewed alongside entry and exit records. For now, H1B visa holders crossing a US border should have all paper documentation in their possession, since the CBP will be viewing the same dated information from the electronic I-94.
The H1B visa program is available to foreign workers in specialty occupations who have secured a position with a US company/sponsor. If you have questions about locating potential sponsors, H1B visa rules and the chances of successfully obtaining an H1B visa please contact us at any time.
- May 17th, 2017