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Diplomacy in Action

Know Before You Go: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automates Form I-94 for International Travelers

John Wagner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations
Washington, DC
May 3, 2013




1:30 P.M. EDT

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MODERATOR: Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center, and welcome to our colleagues in New York. Today, we are going to have a briefing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the field operations, John Wagner. He is going to talk about Know Before You Go, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, how they’re automating the I-94 form for international travelers.

Commissioner.

MR. WAGNER: Thank you, and good afternoon. And thanks for having me back again at the Press Center. Very happy to come talk about our latest and greatest piece of innovation, the automation of the Form I-94. This is a continuation of efforts – we’ve been taking a real hard look at how we do things. We like to say we’re being relentlessly self-critical in how we’re analyzing our operations and really trying to find the best, most efficient, and most secure way to conduct business and process travelers arriving from international locations. So, programs like Global Entry, programs like our automated passport control kiosks that we’re launching next week, automating paper forms like the I-94 – which we’re going to talk about today – and processes like that, really just to give a better traveler experience, give a more efficient process overall, help CBP point our resources in the right areas, and really make the overall process a lot more secure for everyone.

So, talking about the I-94 form, it’s a – brought one here today. It’s a white card that travelers who have a visa fill this out on the airplane. We looked at how this form was process and what we did with and what the costs were involved and the time it takes to actually fill this out and then for us to process it, and we saw there’s some great efficiencies to gain by automating a lot of this data collection. So we worked with a lot of our partner agencies – Citizenship Immigration Services, Social Security Administration, and some other agencies, too, that rely on the information collected here, to figure out a process that makes it easier for the arriving traveler and easier for us as the government agency as well.

So when the traveler fills out all of this information, CBP already has this information, because we get the airline manifests in advance of arrival, and we also get the Department of State visa application. So all that data is already collected on here. So for us to collect it again, we really didn’t have a need for it at that point. But what travelers did need was the admission number that’s the unique serial number on the form. And there’s one in your packets, if you see it. That number is critical to engaging with other agencies once you’re in the United States. So if you go to Citizenship and Immigration Services to apply for benefits, if you go to the Department of Motor Vehicle to apply for a driver’s license, if your employer is filling out the I-9 form and they ask for admission number, that’s the number they’re asking for. So we looked for a way where we could create this number electronically, and then we were trying to figure out a way to get it back to the traveler.

So what we ended up coming up with was developing a website where travelers, once they’re processed into the United States, they can go to the website and, if they need this number, they can retrieve it by typing in their passport information at the website and they can retrieve that admission number and print it out.

Now, you only need that if you’re going to engage with one of these other agencies. If you’re just coming here on vacation and leaving, or just coming here to work for a short period of time because of meetings, and you don’t need to apply for benefits or do anything, you really don’t even need it. But only if you are going to be asked for your admission number at some point, you can go to the website and just easily retrieve that number.

So when we talk about the savings, it was costing CBP about $15- to $17 million a year to have a data contractor type the form into a database, and it was about 20-to-25 seconds of processing time at the port of entry. So not only does the traveler now not have to fill it out on the plane, but the processing times will improve. It takes about a three-minute process to process – to inspect a traveler who has one of these. So this will take about 20-to-25 seconds off of that time. So you can imagine the efficiency savings when about 25 percent of all arriving air passengers still utilize this form. So we look at, just by automating this, it should lead to about 6 to 7 – 6 or 7 percent efficiency gain right across the board just by not handling this paper form any longer.

So that what we will do to advise travelers as they come into the U.S., rather than them presenting the form and us stamping it and giving them part of it back, we’ll give them a tear-sheet, which should also be in your press kit as well, which has the instructions for the website, and it’s www.cbp.gov/I-94, and some instructions of where to go and how to retrieve that information. And it’s in multiple languages, so travelers are able to take this so they can put this in their passport. And then if they need that admission number, they can be reminded of what the website is to go to. And I think we have a sample up on the screen there to show you just what the page looks like, to retrieve it.

So again, it’s a pretty simple fix, should make processing more efficient, easier for travelers. It will definitely save Customs and Border Protection a lot of resources. It will make us a lot more efficient. And we will continue to look at different ways to make the arrivals process smoother and easier for people. And we’ll be looking at the other paper forms involved in the process, like the customs declaration and other forms that travelers still use, and look for ways to automate them as well. But our goal at some point is to go completely paperless.

So with that, I’ll open it up for any questions or comments.

MODERATOR: Do we have any questions for today? Please, right here. Just wait for the microphone. It’s coming to you. Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Betty Lin of the World Journal. When does this start? And also, could you talk about how does this affect the exit program that you have at – as a pilot at two airports?

MR. WAGNER: So it started this week, and we started it at a handful of airports. And what we will do is we’ll test it out at a handful of these airports as we’re doing right now. We’ll make sure the systems are functioning the way we built them to and make sure the data collection is accurate. And then every week we’ll add more ports of entry, and over the course of four weeks – so within 30 days – so by the end of May, we’ll be across the country in all the airports, we’ll have done away with it. Now, we’ll still use it in certain circumstances. So, refugees or asylees or certain travelers that may not have a passport, we can still issue them the paper I-94. So we’ll still have the supply on hand if we still need them in certain limited circumstances.

And on the exit piece, what we’ll use is the manifest we receive from the airline. Right now we get the manifests in advance, the passenger list of who’s on board, on arrival and on departure. So what we’ll do, this is similar to how we did the I-94W, which was the green version of this form that visa waiver travelers used. We’ll use the arrival and departure manifest from the airline to be the – serve as the entry and exit record, and be able to match those up to close them out.

QUESTION: Yeah, some people got into trouble because the airline forgot to get their I-94 back. So when they visit again, well, they were considered not leaving, so could you address this issue?

MR. WAGNER: Right. So if they forgot to hand it in or the airline forgot to take it or forgot to give it to us, which was the departure piece, the bottom piece, we would not have recorded the arrival. Now we’ll be using the electronic transmission from the manifest that the airline builds from the check-in data when the person checks in for the flight. They have to provide that information to us electronically and to TSA for the secure flight checks. So we’ll be using that manifest as the basis of the departure record. So it should be a lot more accurate.

Also on the inbound, rather than a person handwriting in the information and then us having somebody actually keystroke it into the database where there’s multiple opportunities to have some incorrect data input, we’ll be using the information that we get at that primary inspection points. When the officer reads the passport, they’re actually confirming the manifest data that the airline transmitted, and we’re making sure it’s 100 percent accurate, and that’s what will go into our record as the arrival record. So it should also help cut down on any types of data discrepancies as well because it will be automated and based on verified information.

QUESTION: So did you say this is just a test first, and when do you think it will be implemented?

MR. WAGNER: It will be implemented within 30 days. We’re testing it out at just a handful of --

QUESTION: Nationwide or at all airports?

MR. WAGNER: Right. We’re just testing it out this week at a handful of ports of entry, and it will incrementally add over the next four weeks so we can capture everyone. But we’re just doing it to see the impact on the systems and to make sure the data is being captured accurately, and then we’ll fix it as we go until we get it into everyone.

QUESTION: So next four weeks will be both air and sea entries?

MR. WAGNER: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MODERATOR: We’re going to take a question now from our – the journalists at the Foreign Press Center in New York. And I’m sorry for not saying this sooner: If you’re going to ask a question, please say your name and your media affiliation.

New York, if you could go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Tomasz Deptula. I’m from Newsweek Polska daily in Poland. You already answered one of my questions about visa departure form. I got another question: What about customs form, which is the second form we – the foreigner has to file before entering the United States?

MR. WAGNER: The customs declaration form, the – call it the 6059-B form, we’re looking at ways to automate that as well. That form does serve some different purposes for us as far as compliance checks and some work we do with other agencies as well, and it also serves as a facilitative document at times to help get a declaration out of people if there might be a language barrier. But we are looking at ways to automate that as well. Our Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program does not use the paper form. You do the declaration on the touch screen on the kiosk. We are launching some kiosks next week up in Vancouver airport, where we have a pre-clearance operation that will also have the declaration done on a touch screen. And we’ll be expanding that to additional airports over the course of this year, but we’re looking for ways, really, to phase that out as well, too.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’re going to go back to Washington. This gentleman in the blue shirt had a question.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. My name is Chris Wenicke, working for Sueddeutsche Zeitung from Germany. I probably filled out this I-94, like, 50 times in my life. I appreciate this reform, and I was always asking myself, why does it take so long?

But two minor questions. First of all, regarding this admission number, I ask, and do I understand it correctly that now every time I come back to the U.S. I get a new admission number? Or do I have an admission number that stays with my data?

And secondly, if we – typical European question about data protection – what do I do if I – let’s assume I lose my passport, including the visa. The person who finds or stole my passport, with this would have access also to these data and would kind of like being more easily capable of applying for a Social Security number and all this kind of data theft. I’m sure you considered all these aspects.

MR. WAGNER: Absolutely. On the first issue, you get a new admission number each time you come in, because we electronically create it, and it’s available immediately. As soon as we process and inspect the person and admit them into the U.S., the system generates that number, and it should be immediately available. So again, that also helps with the timeliness of us mailing the forms to someone to type in, and then the – it might take days or weeks for that admission number to show up.

On the data privacy piece, the data is stored within a government database. It’s within CBP. It’s information we already collect and we already have. There’s no additional data being collected here. There’s no new data being collected. Really, if – what we do with the departure form is we tear the bottom off and we staple it into the passport. And it’s really the same information as on the passport itself. So if you lost your passport, chances are this form was stapled right into it and they had it anyway. The only thing the website prints out is exactly what’s on this form today, so there’s no new or different information being collected on that.

And again, the information on your biographical page on your airport – on your passport is where your name and date of birth numbers are. This would have your admission number, but the only thing they can really retrieve from the website is what would be on this form, which is what’s going to be in your passport anyway. So --

MODERATOR: We’re going to take one more question from Washington before we go back to New York. I think you had a question – in the blue jacket. Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, you have been talking about the benefits created by this new process. Also, I’m wondering what are the risks or problems or your concerns could be created by this new process?

MR. WAGNER: The concerns were really just making sure the other agencies that rely on this information, and the travelers that rely on that admission number, have the right information and know about the website and know about how to go retrieve their information. Talking with the other agencies, they index their files by that admission number. That’s why it’s so critical for them to have. So we wanted to make sure we built a process that didn’t impact their very important work that they needed to do as well, while also satisfying our needs for efficiency and security as well. So, just really making sure that we – while we fixed what CBP needed, we didn’t do any harm to the other agencies or to the traveler either.

MODERATOR: We’re going to go out to New York. New York, if you could go ahead and ask your question, please.

QUESTION: Yes. Today, the airline is responsible for electronic travel records, but if I will come – me or other traveler by car, by sea, by train, by cruise ship, who will be responsible for creation of electronic travel record?

MR. WAGNER: Right. There’s no change to the land border arrivals process. We’ll still continue to have the same process in place. We will give you the paper copy of the departure form of the I-94, so there’s no change to the impact on that. And then when you leave the U.S., you would hand that form in, same as is done today.

MODERATOR: New York, we can’t hear you.

QUESTION: Sea – if I will cross the border by seaport on the cruise ship or other ship?

MR. WAGNER: Be a mixture of processes. We’ll still use the paper form in some situations where we don’t have some automated processing available. But places where we do have that available, we will be going with the paperless route, so it’ll be a mixture of the two.

MODERATOR: If there are any additional questions? In the front, here in the lavender in the very front row, one more question? Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, could you elaborate on the refugees and who else will still be needing this I-94?

MR. WAGNER: So refugees or asylees, people that may not have a passport when they arrive, will – what we would do currently is we give them the departure form with the stamp. We’ll continue to do that. So we’ll have a supply of the forms at the port of entry. We’ll create the admission number electronically, handwrite that onto the form for them, and stamp it. So they’ll still have the documentation.

MODERATOR: One – we have a question from this lady in the navy sweater there.

QUESTION: Hi, ITAR-TASS, Russian News Agency, (inaudible). Don’t you think that – you have already probably answered to the question, but don’t you think that you will make the process more easy for you but more difficult for tourists? Because for Russian tourists, it’s quite difficult to get into your country with all valid documentations and valid visa. Thank you.

MR. WAGNER: We anticipate actually making it easier because it’s one less form you have to fill out that you have to fill out on the plane and look for a pen and then fill it out, and it’ll shorten your inspection time at the port of entry because the officer isn’t handling and processing the form. So it will speed up the inspections process and it should help us address some of the wait times issue. So our intention really is this is one way we’ll make it easier for anyone that has a visa that comes to the U.S.

MODERATOR: One more question from someone over here.

QUESTION: Thank you again. Chris Wernicke, Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Just one clarification: Reading your fact sheet, there’s a passage about – on page 1 about how does a traveler re-validate a visa. Does this in any way mean even that I – taking my own case, I have a five-year-long media visa – that I don’t need to apply for a new visa after five years? Or to what extent does this new process of digesting the data also affect the process how I apply for a visa?

MR. WAGNER: Right. It should not impact any of that information. This is really just moving from having the white departure coupon stapled in your passport to having an electronic record where you can retrieve that number at any time if you need it. But it really doesn’t impact any other types of the process or benefits.

QUESTION: So after five years, I have to go for a new --

MR. WAGNER: Yes.

MODERATOR: Are there any additional questions? No? Well, thank you all for coming. If you file your stories, if you could please send us a copy so that we can share that information. Thank you very much.