My "friend" (B2 Multiple-Entry Tourist Visa holder) recently entered from Mexico to the USA twice, about 10 days apart.

The first entry was via the CrossBorder Express (CBX), over from an inbound flight at TIJ.

The second entry was via the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, personal vehicle lanes.

I was with my friend during the 2nd entry. My friend was asked "Where are you going to stay?" and answered "San Diego." Then the officer asked, "Are you going to stay in San Diego during the entire duration of your trip?" to which my friend answered "No, I also want to visit Los Angeles."

The officer then advised that my friend should go into the building next to the vehicle lanes and pay $6 to get an I-94 "Permit" and get an entry stamp on the passport. It was at this point my friend realized the passport was missing an entry stamp from the arrival via CBX. The officer explained that someone who intends to stay only in San Diego ("up to Del Mar" in his words) would not need to do this and that the same rule applies at CBX, so it would be normal for my friend to be missing both the I-94 and the entry stamp.

The I-94 was issued, passport stamped, and my friend entered the US without problems.

However, I am posting this question because in my nearly 30 years experience as a "user" of the U.S. Immigration System, I have never heard of this rule. A Google Search for "I-94 land border" yields tons of postings about a different rule - the one that says you can enter via land border on an expired visa using a valid I-94. Not applicable here.

As a side note, all the Otay Mesa border staff we interacted with refer to the I-94 as a "Permit" or "Permiso", even though I believe this is not technically the correct term. Very confusing.


What exactly is the rule that says a tourist visa holder entering via land border and staying near the port of entry does not need an I-94 and passport entry stamp? What is the exact distance the person is allowed to travel from the Port Of Entry? What is the legal status of someone who's entered with no stamp and no I-94 under such rules?

  • Is your friend a Mexican citizen? Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 23:13
  • No, this is a third-country citizen.
    – Alex R
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 23:13
  • 1
    @ZachLipton your understanding is correct. The border crossing card is only available to Mexican citizens who reside in Mexico (22 CFR 41.32(a)(1)(i)). If they're staying in the designated border zone, they're not only exempt from the I-94 but also exempt from the requirement to present a passport at the border.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 3:11
  • 2
    I suspect that the officers were just confused because they get few people who aren't either US, Mexican, or Canadian citizens at that port of entry.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 3:18
  • 1
    Did your friend fly into the US before traveling to Mexico the first time? They may have had a valid electronic I-94 permit already
    – Midavalo
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 3:28

1 Answer 1


As far as I'm aware there is no rule that allows non-Mexico citizens from entering the border zone without an I-94 permit.

Mexico citizens can cross into the border zone with just a Border Crossing Card (BCC) with no passport and no I-94, as long as they are to remain in the border zone and then crossing back into Mexico. The border zone is approx 25 miles, however some crossings allow further (for eg 55 miles into New Mexico and 75 miles into Arizona). Source

Non-Mexico citizens* with a B1/B2 visa must hold or obtain a valid I-94 permit when entering the United States from Mexico, even if only entering the border zone. Source: I am a non-citizen Mexico resident and B1/B2 Visa holder that crosses at Otay Mesa and San Ysidro into San Diego regularly (several times a month).

* Excluding US and Canada Citizens - US Citizens obviously don't need any of the above to enter the US, and Canada Citizens don't require a Visa or an I-94 permit to enter.

  • 1
    I believe Canadians entering by land normally don't get an I-94 regardless of where they're going. But a Canadian wouldn't normally have a B visa, and going outside any zone wouldn't trigger a need for an I-94.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 4:20
  • 1
    I doubt it's necessary to discuss them explicitly, but we certainly can rule it out since US citizens cannot have US visas.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 4:37
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    It should also be noted that CBP agents are human and make mistakes all the time. The onus is on the traveler to ensure that they receive a proper I-94.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 16:01
  • @JonathanReez indeed. My wife has two active I-94s, the more recent of which is for an expired passport. The previous one is associated with her new passport in the database, but the actual stamp was placed in her old passport. The problem with the fact that "the onus is on the traveler to ensure that they receive a proper I-94" (which I do not dispute) is that probably 99.99% of travelers, if not more, have no idea how to determine whether they have a proper I-94.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 16:26
  • @phoog agreed. I wish CBP put up signs explaining how it works instead of the signs about Zika or marriage fraud that they currently have at border crossings...
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 17:00

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