When submitting any sort of immigration application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there is the potential that you will receive a Request for Evidence (RFE). If you receive an RFE, you will need to supply USCIS with additional information so that they can process your application.
It is essential to handle an RFE correctly and in a timely manner. Failure to do so will result in unnecessary processing delays and could even lead to the denial of your application.
What Is a Request for Evidence (RFE)?
A Request for Evidence is a notification from USCIS that more information is needed for them to process your application. You will receive one of these notices if the supporting documents you submitted, along with your application, were not sufficient for proving that you meet all the eligibility requirements for your requested immigration status.
The official notice you will receive in the mail will be Form I-797E: Request for Evidence. An RFE will begin by quoting the section of immigration law for which you must prove your eligibility. After that, it will list the evidence you submitted and the evidence you must still provide. Finally, it will state a deadline for how long you have to respond.
Your RFE will be sent to the address you provided on your application unless you have since updated your address with USCIS. This is one of the many reasons why it is critical that you keep your address up to date. If you don’t receive your RFE because you failed to update your address, your application could be denied.
Types of RFE Responses
If you receive a Request for Evidence, you have three options of how to respond to USCIS. You can either submit a full response, a partial response, or no response.
If possible, it is always best to respond in full to an RFE. You will want to include all the evidence requested by USCIS to give your application the best chance of approval. In fact, if there is additional evidence you can provide that you feel might be useful in proving your case, doing so will decrease the likelihood of further problems that could cause additional delays.
Unfortunately, for one reason or another, it may not be possible to submit all the evidence requested in a USCIS Request for Evidence. In this situation, you will want to present as much evidence as you can, along with an explanation of why you are unable to provide them with all the evidence they have requested.
If possible, submit evidence along with your explanation that proves that the requested evidence is unavailable. If you submit a partial response, USCIS will proceed to process your application with the evidence they have available. You may choose to withdraw your application without a penalty if you fear that the missing evidence will result in a denial of your application.
Of course, you can also choose not to respond to an RFE. However, doing so will likely result in a denial of your application. If you fail to respond to a Request for Evidence, either out of choice or because you never received the notice, USCIS will either assume you have abandoned your case or proceed to process it without the requested evidence.
If they assume that you have abandoned your application, they will issue a denial, which will likely be the same outcome if they continue to process your application.
What Does an RFE Look Like?
Request for Evidence notices is built from a template that a USCIS officer can customize for each RFE they send out. All RFEs will follow this basic outline:
- The law
- Submitted evidence
- Required evidence
An RFE will generally start with an introductory paragraph or two about the application, including the type of application submitted, the date it was received, and the office that is processing the application.
After the introduction, an RFE will likely quote from various sources, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Code of Federal Regulations, and any other relevant laws. These quotes will be used to highlight the evidence that USCIS requires, which was missing from your initial application.
Next, the RFE will list all the supporting documents you have submitted with your application. It is critical that you read this section carefully to ensure that there aren’t any documents that you submitted which aren’t listed.
The next section in the RFE will list the supporting documents that USCIS still needs to make a decision regarding your application. There are likely to be alternative options listed for some documents if the requested item is not available. This section will likely state exactly which eligibility requirement(s) have not been proven with the provided evidence.
The final section of the RFE will state the deadline by which the applicant must submit the missing evidence to USCIS. This section will also inform the applicant of the consequences of failing to submit the required documents on time.
How to Respond to a Request for Evidence
After you receive a Request for Evidence, you should first make a copy of it for your records, as you will need to submit the original RFE notice, along with your response. Next, you should begin to gather all the requested evidence. This can be a lengthy process, so it is best to get started as soon as possible.
Providing all the requested documents is the minimum of what you should do to put your application in a good position. If you can, include additional evidence beyond what is requested to further strengthen your case. USCIS won’t return any documents you submit in your RFE response, so you should only send copies unless USCIS specifically requests the originals.
When putting together your response, the original RFE should be in front, followed by a cover letter listing the evidence you have provided. After that, you should include all the evidence in the order it was requested on your RFE. Once everything has been organized and sealed in an envelope, you are ready to ship it to the USCIS address listed on the RFE notice.
How to Avoid an RFE
The best way to avoid receiving an RFE is by carefully reading the request for initial evidence in the application instructions. While these instructions can be complicated, they do provide all the information you need to ensure that you provide all the necessary documents in your initial application.
You need to be aware that if the documents you submit are not in English, you will have to get a certified English translation. These documents must be officially translated, and it is best if this is done by a legal office that offers translations so that they retain their legal meaning.
As long as you submit all the required documents the first time, you should not receive an RFE. However, if there is any additional information you can provide in your application that helps prove your eligibility beyond what is requested, it never hurts to add it. The more evidence that USCIS has in support of your application, the better.
How Many Times Can I Respond to a USCIS RFE?
You will only be able to respond to your Request for Evidence one time. Because of this, it is critical that you gather all the requested information before sending in your response. After USCIS receives your RFE response, they will proceed to process your application with the evidence you have provided.
What Evidence to Send to USCIS With Your RFE
The evidence you need to send in response to a Request for Evidence will depend on what USCIS is asking you to provide in the RFE. Whatever is requested, it never hurts to provide additional information that supports your application. Some RFEs are very straightforward and simply list the documents that are missing from your application that you need to submit.
However, in other cases, an RFE may state that a document you provided from your home country is not adequate, based on the understanding by the U.S. government of the documents your home country produces. In this situation, you should visit the State Department web page entitled, “U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country.”
Here you will be able to find the appropriate documentation needed for your situation. If you have any questions about what evidence you are being asked to provide, it is essential that you consult with an immigration services company or an immigration lawyer who can help you identify what documents are being requested.
Prepare and Submit Your RFE Response
It is always best to prepare and submit your RFE response as soon as possible. Gathering all the required documents will often take longer than you think. Additionally, since the RFE must be received by USCIS by the deadline listed on the RFE notice, you will want to make sure it is in the mail well before that date.
You will also want to ensure that your RFE is neat and orderly, with everything easy to find for the USCIS officer processing your application. Assembling your response with the RFE notice you received on top, followed by a cover letter outlining the documents you have included, and finally, the documents themselves, will go a long way towards avoiding any additional delays.
Make sure to submit it to the correct USCIS office listed on the RFE. It is also best if you ship your response using a trackable shipping method, so you have proof of the delivery. This can be essential if your response is misplaced by a USCIS officer after arrival.
How an RFE Differs From a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)
While a Request for Evidence is not a sign that your case is in any serious danger of being denied, a Notice of Intent to Deny is. Rather than stating that USCIS has not received enough information to make a decision on your case, receiving a NOID means they have received enough initial evidence, but that evidence was not compelling enough to prove your eligibility.
A NOID is not an official denial of your application. However, unless you take immediate action after receiving this notice, you will soon receive a Notice of Action denying your case.
It is still possible to get your application approved after receiving a NOID. However, to do so, you will need to provide USCIS with additional evidence that further supports your case as soon as possible. An immigration attorney can help you identify what information you should provide to put yourself in the best position for approval after receiving a NOID.
USCIS Extends Deadline Flexibility for RFEs
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has been more flexible with the deadlines for responding to RFEs, allowing for an extension of the Request for Evidence deadlines. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have been allowing an extra 60 calendar days for responses to RFE beyond the deadline date listed on the notice.
On several occasions, they have expanded the time frame during which this USCIS RFE flexibility takes place beginning with RFEs dated March 1, 2020, and later.
Premium Processing to Expedite USCIS RFE Response Review Time
Premium processing can help expedite the RFE response time of USCIS. Premium processing is available for certain work-based applications. Premium processing is requested at the time of your initial application. If using premium processing, you will receive a decision on your application within 15 days of submission.
As with standard processing, if more information is required for a decision to be made you will receive an RFE. When you respond to the RFE with the requested evidence, the clock will reset, and USCIS will reach its decision within 15 days of receiving your RFE response.
What if You Don’t Respond to the RFE?
If you don’t respond to a Request for Evidence, one of two things will happen. USCIS will either deny your application outright or process it with the evidence they already have.
However, this second scenario is almost assuredly going to end up the same way as the first, since the reason they requested additional evidence in the first place was that they did not have enough to approve your application.
Even if you can’t access all the evidence that USCIS is requesting, submitting the evidence you have, along with a reasonable explanation for why you are unable to provide any missing documents, will put you in a far better position to get your application approved upon further review.
How Long Is the USCIS RFE Response Review Time?
After receiving your response to a Request for Evidence, USCIS will have to review the additional documents you provided before they can make a decision about your application. If your application was submitted with premium processing, USCIS should finish its review within 15 calendar days.
However, if your application was submitted with standard processing, you could have to wait up to 60 days for a response from USCIS. If after 60 days, you have not received an update on the status of your application, you can contact the National Customer Service Center and file a Service Request for an update.
Even if you did not originally purchase premium processing, you can still pay to upgrade after receiving your RFE to expedite the process.
Difference Between Request for Evidence and Request for Additional Evidence
A standard Request for Evidence concerns information that is required as part of the application process, whereas, when additional evidence is requested, the items needed are not listed on the original application guidelines.
In a standard RFE, you are being asked to submit documents because your initial application was incomplete. This could be because you forgot to include a document or because you did not enclose the correct document.
When additional evidence is being requested, it means that USCIS received all the documents you were supposed to furnish them with, but that they still need more proof to sort out any issues of eligibility that may be unclear. Both requests should be responded to in the same manner, by supplying USCIS with the evidence requested.
How to Handle an OPT Request for Evidence (RFE)
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program provides foreign students in the United States on an F-1 visa with the opportunity to obtain the right to work within a field directly related to their major or the degree they have received. The available work time under this program is up to 12 months.
Since students applying for the OPT program often can’t afford delays on their application due to the availability of positions and their temporary status in the country, it is essential that you submit your application with all required documents the first time to avoid delays caused by a Request for Evidence.
However, mistakes are sometimes made, or the government asks for additional evidence beyond what is listed on the application guidelines. In this case, you may want to consider speaking with an immigration attorney or going to an immigration services company to get help submitting your RFE response as quickly as possible to minimize delays.
What’s Next After Submitting an RFE Response
After you submit your Request for Evidence response, all that is left is to wait. You should receive notice that USCIS has received your response shortly after you send it in. However, for your own peace of mind, it can be beneficial to send your response through a trackable shipping method so that you know when it arrives at the USCIS facility.
You can also continue to follow the processing of your application on the USCIS website with the reference number you received when you first got notice of the receipt of your application. Once USCIS has processed your RFE response and continued with the processing of the rest of your application, they will notify you about their decision based on the evidence provided.
If you have not received a response from USCIS within 60 days, you can contact the National Customer Service Center and file a Service Request to receive an update about your case. While RFEs are generally processed within 60 days, a backlog at the USCIS office where you filed your application could lead to a delay in the review of the additional evidence you provided.
Get Help With Your RFE Response Today
When preparing your response to a Request for Evidence, it is critical that you act fast. You have a limited time to submit your RFE response. Failure to meet the deadline will mean that USCIS will either deny your application outright or process it with the evidence they have available, which will likely also result in the rejection of your application.
An immigration services company like ImmigrationDirect can provide you with the resources you need to ensure that your response is filed on time and that you have included all the necessary evidence for USCIS to move forward with your application and likely approve it. We can answer your questions and help you organize your RFE response in an easily accessible manner.
Using an immigration services company when you prepare your original application can help you avoid an RFE altogether. A reputable company should be able to help you identify all the documents that are needed along with your application and make sure you have versions of these documents that will be sufficient for USCIS to make a decision on your case.