USCIS Updates: Modern Times

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are (slowly) modernizing to make the immigration process more user-friendly.  Two recent developments will hopefully reduce costs, both financial and procedural, and improve functionality.  First, CPB has begun to automate the I-94 issuance process.  Second, the USCIS has announced plans to move all immigrant fees, which are paid by green card applicants currently living abroad, to its Electronic Immigration System (ELIS).

I-94 Automation

On April 30, 2013, CPB began a nationwide implementation project for electronic, automated    I-94 issuance for airports and seaports (land border-crossings are not included) that is expected to be complete at the end of May 2013.  Implementation began with major airport hubs at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, Orlando International Airport in Florida, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Miami International Airport, and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Once completed, foreign travelers entering (or reentering) the U.S. will be processed electronically, and will later have the opportunity to access their I-94 online, much like an electronic plane boarding pass.  The travelers will also be able to print physical copies of their   I-94 at home for their records or for submission to the USCIS and other government entities.  However, the physical copies will no longer be necessary upon exiting the U.S.  Additionally, the USCIS has announced it will begin accepting copies of passport, visa, and entry-stamp information in lieu of copies of the physical I-94 card as proof of lawful entry.

What remains to be seen is the role human error can or will play in the new electronic entry system.  One pervasive issue with I-94 issuance in the past has been the listing of incorrect expiration dates or entry status, which requires the I-94 cardholder to expend both time and money to remedy on an expedited basis, sometimes even requiring them to return to the airport or port of entry to request a new I-94 card in person.  A CPB officer will still be responsible for writing in the date of expiration below the entry stamp in the traveler’s physical passport, so it is important to remain vigilant and always double-check the officer’s notation on the entry stamp.

Electronic Payment of Immigrant Fees

The ELIS, which was first implemented to support the automated processing of certain nonimmigrant visitor visas, such as B-1 and B-2 visas, is being expanded to host fee payment software for Immigrant Fees, currently set at $165, which are required when the Department of State processes green card applications at its consulates and embassies for applicants living abroad.  The fee is meant to cover the USCIS’ costs for staff time to handle, file and maintain the immigrant visa package, and for producing and delivering the permanent resident card to the alien upon arrival to the U.S.  This expansion of the ELIS is a sign of further streamlining of the “outside-to-inside” U.S. immigration process, and enhanced cooperation between the USCIS and Department of State.