Importance of Form I-94 Arrival/Departure record

In this post, we explained exactly which documents determine a J-1 participant’s legal status. We concluded Form I-94 is an important document that evidences someone’s legal status.

So what exactly is Form I-94 and why is it important?

Also called the “Arrival-Departure Record”, Form I-94 is a document used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to track foreign citizens’ arrival into the U.S. and their departure from the U.S.. Non-U.S. citizens complete a Form I-94 before they arrive in the U.S.. The form requires that they complete (among other things) name, country of citizenship, passport number and address while in the U.S..  Once completed, the foreign citizen presents the Form I-94 to a CBP officer who stamps the form and indicates the appropriate visa category.  The top portion of the Form (Arrival Record) is retained by the CBP officer; the bottom portion (Departure Record) is returned to the foreign citizen.

I strongly recommend that J-1 visa participants staple the Form I-94 to their passport (most CBP offers will actually do this for them). Over the years, I have seen numerous J-1 visa participants lose their I-94. While there is a process to obtain a replacement I-94 (filing an I-102), the procedure tends to be lengthy. Form I-94 is a vital document for J-1 visa participants for the following reasons:

  1. The form proves their legal status in the U.S.
  2. Without a Form I-94, a J-1 cannot apply for a Social Security Number. And of course, no SSN means no pay. Compensation is crucial for many J-1s, especially during those first weeks upon arrival.
  3. Form I-94 must be surrendered when the J-1 leaves the U.S.. CBP uses the I-94 to track arrival and departure; if the Departure Record portion is not surrendered, it may cause difficulties trying to re-enter the U.S.


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