What is the I-94 form and why is it so important?

When you enter the U.S., you will be inspected by an immigration officer and admitted in a nonimmigrant classification (e.g., H-1B, L-1). Your evidence of admission is the small I-94 form that is stapled in your passport. The officer will stamp the form with the admission date and then hand write the nonimmigrant classification and the expiration date of your stay on the form. It is a two-part form. Customs and Border Protection keeps the “Arrival” portion, and the “Departure” portion is stapled in your passport. The departure portion is collected by the airline when you depart the U.S. and you are issued a new I-94 form each time you enter the U.S. The only exceptions are that when you travel to and from Canada and Mexico for less than 30 days, you keep your I-94 and present it upon returning to the U.S.

Very important: it is the expiration date on your I-94 form, not the expiration date on your visa, that determines how long you are permitted to remain in the United States. You must have a valid I-94 form at all times while you are in the U.S. There are severe consequences if your status expires. If your status has been expired for six months, in most cases you will be barred from returning to the U.S. for three years. If your status has been expired for a year, in most cases you will be barred from reentry for ten years.

What if my I-94 form is due to expire soon?

Your Human Resources/Immigration Department and your lawyer will track expiration dates as much as possible. Generally you will be contacted four to six months prior to the expiration of your current nonimmigrant status to begin the extension process. However, sometimes immigration officers make mistakes on the I-94 form so you must pay attention to the expiration date written on your I-94 form and the I-94 forms of your family members. You must be in valid nonimmigrant status to extend your stay.

If your I-94 form expires there could be severe consequences. Persons who fall out of status – either by overstaying their authorized period of stay or by otherwise being present in the U.S. without authorization – between six months and one year are generally barred from returning to the U.S. for three years. Persons who fall out of status for one year or more are generally barred from reentry for ten years. If your I-94 is due to expire within four months and you have not yet been contacted about extending your stay, contact your Human Resources/Immigration Department or your lawyer immediately.

A replacement I-94 can be obtained by filing an application with USCIS.

Related

How do I extend my H-1B status?
How do I extend my L-1 status?
How long can I stay in the U.S. in H-1B status?
TN (Professional) Visa
J (Exchange Visitor) Visa

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