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What If I Can't Prove How I Entered U.S.

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What if I cannot find my I-94?

Hi, I'm Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States at our offices in St. Louis, Missouri and San Diego, California. When someone is inside the United States and they want to be able to demonstrate to the federal government that they were properly inspected, the form that you usually use to make that proof is an I-94. It's a document or it's an electronic document that demonstrates that the person whose name is on the I-94 was properly inspected. It will state when they were admitted into the United States, it'll state when they're supposed to leave the United States, it'll state where they were admitted. And this I-94 is a very important and very valuable document. Sometimes people will come into my office and they will have their old I-94. In the old days, it was actually on a physical card. Now it's usually electronic and it's not actually affixed or attached to your passport.

But people will come into my office and they'll have an I-94 from 1994, 1995, whenever a long time ago. And I will immediately ask them if it's okay, if I can scan that in and make them a color copy and a copy for us, because that is in reality, the most valuable thing that they own. These are people who probably over stayed a visa, but if they were inspected, we've had plenty of videos and plenty of discussions about what constitutes a proper inspection for purposes of immigration purposes. Purposes of immigration purposes, how'd you like that? For the purposes of immigration. And so when you enter the United States, you should interact with a Customs and Border Patrol official. And in the old days, they would give you that physical card and now it's electronic. As you go through the system, it records who you are, but if you're trying to apply for adjustment of status or if you are trying to apply for an extension of status, you're going to need your I-94.

And there is something that you can Google called the I-94 lookup, which does help you find the I-94 for about 80% of the cases. The problem is that the names of a lot of immigrants have lots of different letters and if you don't get the name correctly into the system, you're not going to be able to pull up your I-94. This can be a real problem, because don't forget whenever you're applying for adjustment or an extension of status, it's your burden to demonstrate that you were properly inspected. That's sort of a threshold issue. If you can't prove that you were properly inspected, then they are going to assume that you were uninspected, unless there are details about your entry that are consistent with inspection. It's much, much easier to win a case for adjustment or win a case for an extension, if you can prove that you were properly inspected.

And so when someone comes to us and they say, "I can't find my I-94," the first thing we do is we had just attack that I-94 lookup system and we hit them with every combination of the names. We rearrange first and last names, we put it in a space, we take out a space. There's a little code at the bottom of their passport or their visa and it'll have the exact spelling of their name, the way that the US government is receiving it. We'll put the name in that way, too. If you can't do all that stuff, then we might have to do a Customs and Border Patrol, Freedom of Information Act request. We have been able to come up with some I-94s that way. And then finally, we might need to prove that the person was inspected by secondary evidence. Show where they entered, show their plane tickets, those kinds of things, we might need to get testimony from them or from other people, but the further you get away from the actual I-94, the harder it is to approve a proper inspection.

Those are your options. If it's missing, you can try to keep looking it up. You can try to get it from Customs and Border Patrol, that takes a long time so you want to make sure that you locate and identify your I-94 before you file. You don't want to have to scramble after an interview or in response to a request for evidence for that I-94. This is something that's important and that you should do early. If you have questions about this, give us a call at (314) 961-8200. You can email us at [email protected]. Be sure to join us in our Facebook group, which is called Immigrant Home. We'd love to see you in there. We also have our YouTube channel that you should subscribe to. And finally, every Tuesday and Thursday, usually around noon central time, you'll find me in our Facebook group and on our YouTube page answering as many of your immigration law related questions as possible in 60 minutes. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

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