Border crossing cards remain valid indefinitely

by Daniel Joyce

We saw and heard about much confusion and inconsistency at border crossings in the past month or two concerning the validity of border crossing cards (BCCs) after the end of the U.S. government fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The confusion seems to revolve around the use of the term ‘BCC’ for three different types of documents, only two of which are invalid after Sept. 30, 2002.

The Canadian BCC, a photo ID card of indefinite duration, continues to be valid as a waiver document.

The issue about BCC validity has to do with Congress’ mandate to create immigration entry documents that are more counterfeit proof and resistant to fraud.

New technology allows the INS to incorporate biometric features, such as a fingerprint or other unique physical characteristic, into the card to verify that the person using it is the same person to whom it was issued.

It can also store and provide other biographical information and be used in conjunction with INS entry and exit equipment to create a record of border crossings, duration of stay and other relevant information.

Canadians are exempt from the normal passport and visa requirements for visits to the U.S. Mexicans are not visa exempt, and the Mexican BCC was created to handle the tremendous number of visitor entries by Mexicans into the US.

The need for Mexicans to replace their old BCCs with new biometric cards has been well publicized, and was not really a problem in September.

Not so well publicized, but also requiring replacement, is any BCC issued by a US Consulate that served as a long-term visitor visa for Canadian landed immigrants who are not visa exempt.

These BCCs are not encountered frequently.

The most common BCC seen at the northern border is the type given at one time to Canadian waiver applicants.

Most BCCs were issued during a period from the early 1990s to 1997, when the law changed and the program was discontinued.

Since those BCCs have no expiration date, they have served as permanent waivers, averting the need to apply for annual renewals. Eligible persons filed a separate application in conjunction with the normal waiver application.

All waiver approvals are made on a letter-size document with INS designation form I-194 (not to be confused with the generic entry document form I-94). BCC applicants also received a durable photo ID card (Form I-185).

These BCCs are quite valuable because the INS will not replace them if lost or destroyed.

They do not contain biometric identifiers and their continued validity has been in question over the past year as the INS has developed enhanced BCCs and other durable entry documents that contain biometric identification features.

One person was asked to produce the underlying I-194 document, and the inspecting officer wrote “Canceled – apply for new waiver” on it.

These incidents happened at several different border points and were indicative of a general misunderstanding of the BCC rules. Finally, only a week before the Oct. 1 deadline, INS headquarters in Washington issued a memorandum to all offices that confirmed the continued validity of the Canadian BCC as a waiver document.

The memo makes it clear that the BCCs continue to be an acceptable form of entry documentation. The INS views them as waiver cards, not visas.

They are not visas because the Canadian citizen or landed immigrant possessing them is visa exempt.

The Canadian BCC was never intended to operate as a visa.

Also, the original underlying I-194 document is also valid as a waiver document. Individuals who have lost their BCCs may still use the I-194 approval notice for entry.

Despite the good news about BCCs, the immigration landscape is changing.

Border security has been enhanced, and there are new rules for nationals (by citizenship or birth) of certain “countries of concern.”

We will follow up on that topic in a future article. We will also comment on New York’s latest round of tax amnesty that is applicable to Canadian truckers doing business in New York. Stay tuned.

– Daniel Joyce can be reached at Hirsch and Joyce, Attorneys at Law, at 716-564-2727.

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