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If you have lawfully entered the United States as a nonimmigrant, you should have received an I-94 form (more recently, CBP provides access to these records electronically rather than issue an actual card). Form I-94 is a document that often comes up when talking about immigration, but not everyone knows exactly what it is.

In short, form I-94 is a document that keeps a record of where and when you entered the US, in what status, and how long you’re permitted to stay here. It’s separate from your visa entirely, but just like your visa, it’s an important document to keep track of.

From immigration lawyers Pelton + Balducci, here’s everything you need to know about form I-94.

What is Form I-94?

The I-94 Arrival/Departure Record is a document confirming that you have been lawfully admitted into the United States as a visitor or other nonimmigrant.

This can include nonimmigrant status such as the fiancé of a U.S. citizen on a K-1 visa, a vocational program student on an M-1 visa, or a tourist on a B-2 visa.

Your I-94 form documents your arrival date, and, on most visa types, the date by which you must depart. It can be issued in two ways:

  • Electronic forms are used in most cases nowadays, and are automatically issued at airports and seaports. You can access this electronic form by entering your passport data at the CBP’s I-94 website.
  • Paper forms are still issued at land border crossings. Asylum seekers, refugees, and other cases that the CBP deems appropriate can also receive paper forms.

If you are applying for adjustment of status, your I-94 is a crucial piece of evidence to demonstrate your lawful entry and your status. The burden is on the applicant to establish a lawful entry or an alternative basis for adjustment of status eligibility.

What happens if you overstay your I-94?

Your period of authorized stay is the amount of time you are allowed to stay in the country. Your I-94 will list the date at which your period of authorized stay ends.

It’s not uncommon for your visa to expire before the period of authorized stay on your I-94 does. If this happens, you are completely within your rights to remain in the US until your period of authorized stay expires.

If you overstay your period of authorized stay, the US immigration system imposes certain consequences:

  • If you overstay your I-94 at all, your visa will automatically be cancelled and you will trigger a “consular shopping bar.” This means you must return to your home country in order to apply for a new visa through the US consulate. You will also likely be barred from applying for an adjustment of status, unless you are an “immediate relative” of a US citizen – or qualify for another exception to the lawful presence requirement. You are also subject to removal (i.e., deportation).
  • If you overstay for more than 180 days, you may trigger the “unlawful presence” bar to reentry, if you leave the United States. You remain vulnerable to deportation. Leaving the country after overstaying your I-94 more than 180 days but less than one year means that you are barred from returning to the US for 3 years.
  • If you overstay your I-94 for a year or more, you will be barred from returning for 10 years, if you leave the United States. You remain vulnerable to deportation.

If you have overstayed your visa and are worried about your chances of applying for permanent residence, or you are facing deportation, don’t hesitate to contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible. It’s especially important to seek advice if you are approaching 180 days, since the consequences for such overstays can be severe.

Contact a Louisiana immigration attorney

At Pelton + Balducci, we’re committed to making sure you understand every step of the immigration process. We will do everything we can to make sure you are able to achieve the life in the US that you are working towards. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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