As most of you know, you would get a shorter I-94 ( arrival departure record) duration at US Port of Entry than the approval notice listed end date, if your passport is expiring soon. As it is mandatory to have valid I-94 all the time in US, you need to apply for I-94 Extension within USA after getting new passport. Many users had normal experiences, but recently, one of our users (anonymous for privacy) faced an extreme situation as they ended up in argument with CBP Officer. Thanks to the user for taking time to share with community, we really appreciate it ! Below is the user experience as a word of caution for anyone trying to go to CBP offices.
I would like to share my recent experience to get my wife’s I-94 updated at CBP Otay Mesa. It is was a nightmare which thankfully ended well and would like others to take a serious note of this.
Background for I-94 Extension
I am an Indian Australian with E3 visa and I-94 till Oct 2021. My wife with Indian passport had a reduced I-94 due to her passport expiry in June 2021. She recently got her new passport and wanted the extra 4 months added to her I-94. That was the purpose of the visit.
Travel to Otay Mesa CBP office
We drove from Bay Area with our 4 year old (US born) after reading mostly positive info at CBP Otay Mesa as there were at least 5 or more successful I-94 Extensions Experiences by Users
Crossing the Border at CBP Otay Mesa
Reached at 7 pm on 10/21 (not the best time to visit Otay Mesa), parked car at Plaza and followed the detailed instructions to reach Sentri office and went past it. We asked an officer who was on his way in to CBP building about updating I-94 and he asked us to cross the border and do it, which we thought was a standard response.
So we walked over the bridge, past the 2 turnstiles into Mexico, told them we didn’t want to get in the country and were going to turn back. No money asked, but had to fill out immigration info, stamped passport and returned immigration copy saying “Here’s a little souvenir” – very kind gentleman, except he coughed on us without the mask in place!
Anyways, no traffic at around 7.20 pm, went directly to entry gate at US side, a couple of guards checked passports, asked us the purpose and let us in.
CBP Officers – Juniors, Mid Level, Seniors – My Guess ?
From what I could gather, there are 3 types of CBP officers (Guessing, and to explain better)-
- Ones at gate (Juniors)
- Ones supervising, usually a couple behind cash counter, talking on wireless comms, who Juniors reach out to (Mid-level)
- Ones in the Permit Room with biometric and other equipment(Seniors)
Bad Experience after entering US at CBP Otay Mesa
The Junior officer was very welcoming, scanned mine and my kids passport and immediately understood my wife’s case. Asked if she had any other document, which I assumed he wanted to verify her identity and gave her EAD card and California ID. Also asked if she worked, and she said yes. He asked me and kid to pass through and wife to go over to cashier window and pay $6. This is where things started going downhill.
A Mid-level officer was handed the passport and she started processing when another big Male Mid-level Officer jumped in and started checking the docs. He walked up to my wife and this is what he said, (highlights, actual conversation took 45 minutes)
- You have I-94 stamp till June 2021, we cannot update it 8 months before. You have to come a week before it expires.
- ME: Explained that she got a new passport and her Original I-94 was shorted, and we simply want it updated.
- Land and Sea/Air systems are different, and we cannot do it over here. They can, but we cannot. Sorry.
- ME: I have read that it does happen here and that is why we drove all the way from Bay Area.
- Why do you want to update it only for 4 months? Why don’t you apply for a new visa instead, or EAD card?
- ME: (Started to think he doesn’t really know the process) USCIS is backed up really bad and we cannot afford to update it there, EAD will not make it on time.
- We cannot help you if USCIS is backed up. This is something we don’t do. You need to come a day before or on the day your I-94 expires.
- My wife caught that he had shifted from 1 week before to a day before and asked for clarification. At this point, I knew this guy as bullsh*ting us and wasn’t going to do it.
- ME: This is what our lawyer told us to do (Introduced as genuine a lawyer as his reasons were!)
- They don’t know anything, they just Google things and ask people like you to do it, and are completely unaware of ground reality. We don’t do it here.
- ME: I will need to talk to my lawyer and tell them this feedback. There are other people who have done it and I know it.
- Last week 3 guys from a big company, Google came here for the same thing and we told them NO.
- ME (started to become impatient): We came here for this, is this something you will be able to help us with or not?
Now, he started giving excuses like he has been asked no to do this, told us that it is even illegal (which my wife shot back with a befitting reply).
He took it personally, but wasn’t actually handing us back the documents. Which made me think he was playing us. After 10 minutes, my wife panicked and pleaded him for help.
Then he took it inside the Permit Room and came out with a Female Mid-level officer, who basically told us some of the same excuses and BS with addition of:
- You are essential worker and that is why we even let you in from Mexico side.
- We don’t have any facilities for you. After asking her to help, again she took docs to Permit Room, where I am guessing somebody Senior said no. She continued:
- You are taking shortcuts, we don’t allow shortcuts.
- This is not considered “meaningful departure” and her definition of it was – You should be in your home country for 3-4 weeks. Then you’ll get new I-94.
Then, after the 3rd time she mentioned “shortcut” word, I lost it, asked her to show me where all this info existed and give me the reason for not updating in writing, so that I can take it up with my “lawyer”.
At this point she actually panicked and hastily said “You have 30 seconds more, after that you’ll have to leave”. I took my documents and went after the 1.5 hour ordeal.
Till this point, I thought the CBP officers were behaving like themselves, some are good, some are not, and we simply didn’t have luck on our side that day.
My I-94 Shortened by 4 months
Fortunately, we were staying overnight and decided to go the next morning again.
The real shocker came when I looked up my I-94 after reaching Hotel, which had been shortened from Oct 2021 to May 2021!!!
There was no biometric, no document check, no informing me, but change done. Not sure if this is something legal and if it is not, I would love to sue this guy.
Trying to get I-94 Extension Next Day
It was outrageous but we had the perfect excuse to visit again.
My wife and I discussed the various options we had:
- Go when different Seniors are in charge
- Go to same officers in evening and ask why mine was updated without my knowledge.
- Go to San Ysidro and try from there.
We went to Sentri next morning around 11, where we were told to go to I-94 cashier and pay directly. The guy there directed us to go do Permit Room, which was empty on our arrival (lunch time). At 11.30 an officer came by, who was extremely nice and understood exactly what we wanted.
He said “I can only update your I-94 till your visa ends” to which I replied “We want nothing more”. 5 mins, biometrics, pic done. Didn’t even see my LCA, just asked where I worked and BOOM – we finally had our I-94s updated to Oct 2021.
Tips from our experience
- Always go to Permit Room first and state your case and see what they say. If they are unwilling, walk away and come back again at a different time!
- Don’t get dis-heartened if someone refuses. Ask questions from all angles to check what reason they are denying it for.
- Account for things like this. Keep a time buffer for more than 1 attempt.