Mark A Ivener, A Law Corporation

CBP Responds to I-94 Web Portal and ESTA Questions

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) held a teleconference with Suzanne Shepherd, Director of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on August 6, 2014, on issues with the I-94 Web portal and travel history information.  Topics included incomplete or inaccurate data on the portal, redress for falsely recorded departures, and automated I-94 corrections.

According to AILA’s teleconference minutes, Ms. Shepherd said that the information on the I-94 website is taken from the I-94 database, not from any other databases related to a traveler’s admissions/departures.  CBP has plans to create a crossing history for U.S. lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens.  Ms. Shepherd said this will be a difficult task, however.  CBP will need to determine how to query and retrieve data, and resolve privacy issues.  CBP does not have a launch date or a set plan yet. 

Ms. Shepherd noted that CBP has reached out to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding USCIS denials based only on I-94 database information.  She said USCIS is training its service center adjudicators not to use I-94 database information alone to make any decisions.  Ms. Shepherd asked that examples of USCIS issuing decisions based on I-94 database information alone be sent to CBP through the AILA liaison.

In response to questions about inaccuracies in the system, Ms. Shepherd noted that data entry error can result in a no-match.  Matching algorithms should alleviate this problem, she said.  For example, if a traveler’s name is spelled wrong on one or more occasions, a different travel history may be created under the alternate spelling.  She said that if this happens, the ESTA office or a Deferred Inspection office can correct this by combining the two data sets. 

Regarding those whose travel histories are unavailable or unlisted in the online system, Ms. Shepherd noted that the online records include only instances in which an actual I-94, whether paper or electronic, was issued. Therefore, Canadians entering at a land border will not have a crossing history, nor will anyone not issued an I-94 before the electronic I-94 system was implemented.

Ms. Shepherd said that if someone needs a complete travel history, including data that is not reported online, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is still the way to request a complete report.

In response to a question about whether non-controlled admissions records for Canadians are available in the online system, Ms. Shepherd noted that if a traveler is issued or has surrendered an I-94, the information will be available.  If not, it will not be available.  She pointed out that this may result in oddities in records.  For example, at the land border, if a traveler surrendered an old I-94 at the time of admission rather than upon the previous departure, and was issued a new I-94 on same day, the I-94 website will show the departure and arrival on same day.

Several AILA members have reported instances in which people who had purchased plane tickets to depart the United States but then never used the ticket to depart nevertheless were recorded as having departed.  In one of those cases, the person went to Deferred Inspection office, and the officer there, upon viewing the unused plane ticket that corresponded with the incorrectly recorded departure date, was able to correct the I-94 record to delete the erroneous departure.

In the event of a discrepancy between the information in the entry-exit database and either a paper I-94 or an admission stamp (e.g., they show different expiration dates), Ms. Shepherd said that most of the time this will be due to CBP officer error and that Deferred Inspection is an appropriate way to attempt to resolve such an inconsistency.

Ms. Shepherd asked AILA to provide specific examples of any difficulties with correcting erroneous information or with Deferred Inspection.

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Mark A. Ivener, A Law Corporation, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.