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Understanding the Form I-94

Many people have the desire to travel to the United States, whether for academic, leisure, work, or other reasons. However, they may not know that in addition to the passport and visa, it is also necessary to fill out the Form I-94.

The I-94 is proof of the registration of entry and exit for all individuals who enter and leave the United States with a valid passport and a valid and current visa, regardless of the purpose of their trip. It is generally issued online, but it is also possible to obtain a physical format when entering the country by land. The issuance of this form is the responsibility of the Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations.

Travelers who have obtained the form electronically have a stamp printed directly on their passport, while those who have obtained the physical form usually have it attached along with the departure date by the CBP officer. The form is a small white card when issued physically or a stamp in the passport when done electronically. Both versions indicate how long the foreigner is allowed to stay in the United States and serve as legal proof that entry into the country was done legally.

In theory, any non-immigrant foreigner entering the US by land receives the physical Form I-94 to fill out. For non-immigrant foreigners entering the country by air and/or water, their passports are stamped with the I-94 seal.

There are cases where foreigners do not need to fill out the form or receive the I-94 stamp, such as:

  • Foreigners entering the country under the Visa Waiver Program (but they must obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ESTA).

  • Foreigners entering the country under the Free Trade Agreement.

  • Foreigners entering accompanied by Border Crossing Cards (BBC).

  • And foreigners entering temporarily as crew members with the I-95 form.

If a traveler wishes to extend their stay in the US or change their immigrant status while in the country, they must register with the USCIS in two ways: first, through Form I-129, which is a petition for non-immigrant work, or through Form I-539, which is a request to extend non-immigrant status. Similarly, a student who is in a F visa and intends to extend their stay in the US must update their SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record and obtain a new I-20.

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