When nonimmigrant work visa holders and their dependents enter the United States, they are provided with a record of lawful admission, commonly referred to as an I-94 card. Although the card is now issued electronically by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when traveling by air, this card provides travelers with the end date of their lawful stay. Once in the United States, it is common for work visa holders to extend their lawful stay when their employer files a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When USCIS approves the extension of stay, a new I-94 card is provided to the worker and his or her dependents. This card is a paper card attached to the bottom of the I-797 approval notice. When the worker travels outside the United States, upon return, he or she will then present an unexpired visa stamp (in most cases) and the I-797 approval notice from USCIS with the I-94 attached. CBP will admit the traveler back into the U.S. and provide a new I-94 number that is accessed electronically. In some situations, this new I-94 may provide a different end date than what is listed on the I-94 attached to the I-797 approval notice.
The most common reason for a difference in I-94 end dates is an expiring passport. When the worker’s passport is expiring prior to the I-797 end date, CBP will cut short the I-94 end date and only grant entry until the date the passport is expiring. This can also happen to dependent family members traveling. Because the I-94 issued by CBP is electronic, travelers may not realize the different end date until the next time they log onto the CBP website to obtain their I-94. If the end date on the CBP-issued I-94 has already passed, the traveler is technically considered to be out of status and unlawfully present as they have overstayed the end date provided on the most recent I-94.
For this reason, it is incredibly important to always log on to the CBP website immediately after returning to the United States and print the new I-94 and verify the end date given. When a shortened I-94 is caught before its expiration, it is much easier to fix. There are generally 4 ways to “correct” a shortened I-94 before it expires after the passport has been renewed:
- Travel again if your visa stamp remains unexpired. When you return, you will present your renewed passport, visa stamp, and the same I-797 approval notice. This time, CBP should electronically issue another I-94 with the end date matching your I-797 approval notice. Be sure to log on to the CBP website immediately after returning, print the new I-94, and verify the end date.
- If your visa stamp has expired, utilize automatic revalidation to travel to Canada or Mexico and return within 30 days. If traveling by air, CBP should electronically issue another I-94 with the end date matching your I-797 approval notice. Be sure to log on to the CBP website immediately after returning, print the new I-94, and verify the end date.
- File an extension with USCIS prior to the end date of the shortened I-94.
- Request correction from a CBP Deferred Inspection Site.
If the end date of the shortened I-94 has already passed, consult with a qualified immigration attorney as soon as possible to determine the best strategy for regaining status. Options will vary depending on how much time has passed since the I-94 has expired.
By: Emily Neumann, Managing Partner
Emily Neumann practices immigration law at Reddy & Neumann, P.C., Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused solely on U.S. employment-based immigration. Since 2005, she has partnered with HR professionals to help their businesses secure work authorization for their valued foreign national employees, including F-1 students. She has been named a “Top 10 Immigration Law Attorney” and received a “10 Best” Award for Client Satisfaction. Emily has been quoted in Bloomberg Law, U.S. News & World Report, Inside Higher Ed, and The Times of India on various hot topics in immigration. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Society for Human Resource Management.