International travelers have long relied on receiving passport stamps when entering a country to document their entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is seeking to streamline its entry process and do away with old-fashioned passport entry stamps. Although the CBP’s move to digitization may seem efficient, it could make things more difficult for some foreign nationals.
In August 2022, CBP began a pilot program as part of its Simplified Arrival Program to eliminate ink stamps in passports as a means to verify the entry of foreign nationals. The ultimate goal is to streamline and digitize the entry process for travelers at all international airports across the United States. Technology is a good thing, but the elimination of passport stamps does raise some challenges and concerns for foreign nationals, in particular those seeking entry on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas.
As of October 2022, this no-stamp-on-entry program has been in effect at the following airports: Atlanta, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York/Newark, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington Dulles, and Dublin, Ireland. The program has also been in effect at the following land points of entry: Buffalo, Detroit, El Paso, Laredo, San Diego, Seattle, and Tucson.
The joy of ink and paper
Although the I-94 entry document is the primary entry and governing document for a nonimmigrant, a passport stamp also has been a longstanding means of documenting that a valid entry was made. Both of these documents contained the location of entry, the date of entry, the classification in which the individual was admitted (such as H-1B, F-1 student, or business or tourist visitor), and the end date of the authorized period of entry.
Proof of being lawfully admitted to the United States is essential for all foreign nationals. This is especially true for those entering on nonimmigrant (temporary) visas for employment, educational, or other purposes, such as a visit for business or pleasure. These foreign nationals, in immigration filings, or when requested by CBP or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, must be able to prove that they are maintaining their status as authorized on admission.
In addition to the phasing out of passport entry stamps, CBP several years ago eliminated paper I-94 forms and substituted online forms. With the electronic form, the foreign national must remember – post entry – to obtain an online copy of the I-94 and to verify its accuracy. This is in contrast to a passport entry stamp, which can be reviewed when in the presence of the CBP officer.
Another concern is that errors are not unusual with the electronic I-94. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the electronic I-94 sometimes has the wrong nonimmigrant classification, which can have serious consequences for the foreign national. For example, if a person with a work visa is misclassified as a tourist, the person cannot be employed until the error is corrected. After leaving the point of entry, these I-94 errors can be corrected, but doing so is more difficult when there is no passport stamp to use as a reference.
The elimination of passport stamps also affects lawful permanent residents. Although they do not have I-94s, there may be circumstances in which lawful permanent residents need to prove their presence in the United States. For example, when filing an N-400 Application for Naturalization, the lawful permanent resident must prove that he or she was physically in the United States for at least 50 percent of the applicable three-year or five-year eligibility period. Without an I-94 or passport stamp, N-400 applicants will need to keep other records proving their entry and continuing presence in the United States.
It should be no surprise that the AILA says the evolution to all-digital entry “is here to stay.” Therefore, employers should assist and encourage nonimmigrant workers to do the following at the affected points of entry:
- Ask the CBP officer to stamp their passports upon entry. The AILA advises that “CBP also indicated that officers can continue to stamp passports upon request, although anecdotally, some ports are not complying with these requests.”
- Promptly after entry, obtain an electronic I-94 from the CBP website, review it for accuracy, and address any errors with the help of their employers or attorneys.
Lawful permanent residents should do the following:
- Ask the CBP officer to stamp their passports upon entry.
- Obtain and keep other records proving their entry into, and continuous presence in, the United States.
For a printer-friendly copy, click here.