Applying for a visa or permanent resident card (a.k.a. a green card) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) inevitably requires you to submit a great number of documents. This may include marriage records, birth records, foreign documents, photocopies of other visas and more.
If USCIS finds the information you sent with your application is insufficient, it’ll likely send you a request for evidence (RFE). The RFE gives you an opportunity to provide the information that USCIS feels is lacking. It includes several parts that help simplify the process of responding. It’s also something to take seriously. Failure to respond to an RFE often results in the denial of your application.
In this article, we discuss what an RFE from USCIS is and how to respond to one properly. We also touch on your window of time for responding to an RFE and the potential role of an immigration attorney.
What is an RFE?
An RFE is a communication from USCIS. It’s not a denial. Instead, it signals the need for more information before USCIS can make a decision regarding your application. It’s essential to respond with all requested documents in a timely manner.
What does an RFE from USCIS look like?
No one RFE is exactly like another. They vary according to your underlying visa or green card application. That means an RFE for an H-1B visa applicant may look much different than an RFE for an EB-series applicant.
Nonetheless, there are some similarities among RFEs. All USCIS officials use basic RFE templates, meaning RFEs follow the same formatting.
1. Introduction and law
An RFE begins with a brief introduction regarding your application. This introduction often includes information about your sponsor and the laws that apply to your case, such as federal immigration regulations or sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
2. Your options
Then the RFE states that your application is missing key documents and provides several possible response options. These options may include:
- Submitting all of the requested items
- Providing some of the requested documents
- Giving an explanation or alternative evidence
- Explaining how the existing documentation satisfies legal requirements
- Requesting a decision based on the existing evidence and documentation
Keep in mind, the underlying legal standard for visa requirements is a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, your application has to have enough information to prove that you’re more likely to meet all the applicable visa requirements.
3. Evidence submitted
Next the RFE cites the information you included with your application. Read this closely to be sure USCIS didn’t overlook something you submitted.
4. Evidence lacking
If the information you provided doesn’t fulfill the relevant requirements, the RFE explains why the evidence is insufficient. It also suggests documentation that can remedy this failure.
As an example, say your application requires you to demonstrate a qualifying family relationship with another visa holder. The proof of this requirement could be a birth certificate, marriage license or driver’s license. But you accidentally forgot to attach your birth certificate when you submitted your application. Therefore, USCIS would note that you didn’t submit evidence to meet the legal requirement and ask you to submit a birth certificate or similar license.
The last part of the RFE informs you of your deadline to respond and the consequences of not responding, including denial of your underlying application.
How long do I have to respond to an RFE?
Per the USCIS policy manual, the maximum possible RFE response time is 84 days. However, the standard response time for RFEs relating to Applications to Change/Extend Immigration Status (Form I-539s) and Applications for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver (Form I-601As) is only 30 days. Whatever the deadline, the RFE will clearly state when your response is due.
Keep two things in mind about RFE deadlines:
- The mailbox rule doesn’t apply. The mailbox rule states that a response is timely if it receives a postmark by the deadline. However, because USCIS doesn’t follow this rule, you must ensure that USCIS receives your response by the applicable deadline.
- Holidays and weekends. USCIS follows the federal government’s definition of “day” when it assesses the timeliness of a response. That means any deadline that falls on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday extends to the next business day.
To avoid potential timeliness issues, consider submitting your response through USCIS’s online system rather than by mail. With this system, USCIS considers your response as “received” when you upload it.
How do I respond to an RFE?
Responding to an RFE isn’t difficult if you break the process down and keep a few things in mind.
1. Be proactive
Open the RFE as soon as you receive it. Make a copy as well, because you have to submit the original RFE with your response.
2. Read the RFE carefully
Discover what went wrong with the original application and what specific documents the USCIS needs. Perhaps you forgot to include a document with your application. Or maybe you included a photocopy rather than submitting an original. It’s also possible USCIS overlooked a document you sent in.
In addition, mark the response deadline on your calendar and prepare accordingly.
3. Gather all necessary documents
Once you understand what the RFE seeks, gather all the required documents. If you’re unsure how to obtain documents, contact USCIS or seek assistance from an immigration attorney.
4. Check reciprocity requirements
Some applicants may receive an RFE notifying them that the information they provided is insufficient due to differences between their home country and the U.S. If you receive this kind of notice, consult the U.S. government’s visa reciprocity and civil documents to learn what documents in your home country are equivalent to the respective U.S. document.
5. Be thorough
It’s often better to provide too much information than to neglect key information and accidentally prevent an appropriate response. If you can’t provide some of the missing documents, explain why you can’t provide them. Testamentary evidence may sometimes take the place of documentary evidence.
6. Organize your response
Provide your documents in the same order that USCIS requested so the agency may quickly assess whether the documents you provide fulfill the lacking areas of your application. Some people include a cover letter because it makes things easier for the reviewing official to evaluate your response. However, you don’t have to include one.
7. Submit your RFE response package
If submitting your RFE reply by mail, mail it as soon as it’s ready and purchase shipping tracking for peace of mind. Alternatively, submit your response on the USCIS portal online.
How an attorney may help
Receiving an RFE may prompt some anxiety, but try not to worry too much. The RFE isn’t a denial. Rather, it’s an opportunity to give yourself a better chance of successfully receiving your visa or green card.
Some people find it reassuring to have an immigration attorney assist them with their response for a few reasons. First, having an extra set of eyes review your response may reduce the chance of errors. Second, an immigration attorney may apply their legal training to evaluate whether anything is amiss with the RFE. Third, an attorney may assist you with explaining a unique or complicated situation to USCIS.