CBP app digitizes process for foreign travelers

As the federal government prepares to reopen land borders for nonessential travel, Customs and Border Protection officers will be implementing changes affecting travelers who use I-94 forms.

The Form I-94 is the record of arrival and departure issued for people entering the United States. These are used mainly by foreign visitors, not U.S. citizens, and include returning non-citizen residents, noncitizens with immigrant visas and most visiting Canadian citizens.

Instead of physically filing in the paper form in person as the traveler arrives at the ports of entry, there’s a new option that allows them to file it through a cellphone app, CBP One.

“It streamlines the process for people,” Aaron Bowker, the director of communications and public affairs liaison for the Office of Field Operations, said. “They can do things through the CBP One app that allows them to submit a lot of this information in advance, so that when they do arrive to us, it’s a lot faster process for them.”

Through the app, people can “apply for an I-94 up to seven days prior to arrival, review their past travel history, check their I-94 expiration date and obtain proof of their electronic I-94 from their mobile device,” a CBP news release explained.

The paperless process existed at airports for years, Bowker said, but those arriving at land ports needed to go through secondary processing to request the same form. The digitized process is now an option for them.

“You can go on to the CBP One app. Everything is housed there,” Bowker said. “You can apply for the I-94, you can pay for it in advance. So now you don’t have to do the cash exchange or the credit card at the land border.”

When the form is issued back to the traveler, it will be available within the app.

“So if you ever need it down the road — let’s say you’re somebody who works in the United States and you need to prove it, or you’re applying for some kind of benefit — it’s all there within the app. It can also be printed from the website,” Bowker explained.

The purpose for the digital form is to streamline the process that normally takes longer during secondary inspections.

It could lead to shorter wait times and a more economical use of staffing.

“If you don’t need as many people because the process is streamlined in a secondary environment, those people are free to do other things, which means open lanes, which means enforcement activity,” Bowker said. “We can never take our focus away from our primary mission which is that border security mission.”

Paper forms will still be available for those who prefer to use them.