All About USCIS Requests for Evidence (RFEs): What They Are, How to Avoid Them, and What to Do if You Receive One

November 12, 2020
All About USCIS Requests for Evidence (RFEs): What They Are, How to Avoid Them, and What to Do if You Receive One

Summary

When the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) determines that it needs extra information to make a decision on your immigration case, it will send you a Request for Evidence. This is popularly called an “RFE”, and USCIS will send it to the mailing address you listed on your application. In this article, we will explain what a USCIS Request for Evidence (RFE) is, how to avoid RFEs, and how to respond to a USCIS RFE if you receive one.


The best way to avoid RFEs is to do a great job on your paperwork before you file. ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare your immigration application for free with our easy-to-use online tool. Click the "Get Started" button above or read on to learn more.


This article is not legal advice. We do not intend for it to replace the expertise of an immigration attorney. Its goal is to help you learn more about the USCIS Request for Evidence (RFE) and how to respond if you receive one.


Overview

This article will answer these questions:

What is an RFE?

USCIS will send you an RFE on your application if it determines that it needs more information to finish processing your application. For example, if you are applying for a Green Card, you must provide enough evidence to prove that you are eligible. If you don't provide enough evidence to prove that you are eligible, USCIS will probably send you an RFE. 


Form I-797E is the official notice that USCIS sends you when they issue an RFE. You will receive Form I-797E at the mailing address that you provided on your application. If your mailing address has changed since you submitted your application, you must update USCIS of any address changes so that you do not miss any critical updates.


There are four major parts of an RFE; 1) the law, 2) a list of the evidence you submitted, 3) a list of the evidence you are missing, and 4) a response deadline. Read on to learn more about each of these parts of a USCIS Request for Evidence:


The Law

The RFE usually begins by quoting some aspects of U.S. immigration law. This quotation will refer to a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that has to do with the requirements for the type of immigration application you submitted. Generally speaking, the quoted law won’t matter to you unless you plan to challenge the RFE with a lawyer. What is important is that you supply any requested evidence ASAP. 


Evidence Submitted

This part follows the legal reference and outlines the evidence you have already submitted in support of your application. It is a good idea to double-check the list of evidence USCIS has received from you to confirm that they have included everything you sent with your original application. If USCIS did not include something you submitted on this list, you should  resubmit it with your response to the RFE


Evidence Lacking

After USCIS lists what they've already received from you, they will list the missing evidence that they still need. This evidence is preventing them from making a decision on your case according to the requirements of whatever part of immigration law they cited earlier in the notice. 


This section of the RFE is often quite long because USCIS will usually include information like eligibility requirements that have not been satisfied and alternate documents that you can submit if you don't have the requested originals. You should review this section very closely and take note of all the information you will need to include in your RFE response to support your case.


Response Deadline

Finally, at the end of the RFE, USCIS will provide you with a deadline for submitting your RFE response. The response deadline will let you know how much time you have to put your RFE response together and mail it into USCIS. USCIS will also provide the mailing address where you will need to submit your response. 


In the deadline section, USCIS will tell you the consequences of not submitting your RFE response by the deadline. The most common consequence is that USCIS will review your application without the missing information they requested. If this happens, USCIS will usually deny your application.


Does an RFE mean rejection?

No. Receiving an RFE does not mean that USCIS has rejected your application, nor does it necessarily mean that they will reject your application. It just means that USCIS needs more information from you to make a decision on your application. 


When you receive an RFE, you need to submit your response by the time noted on the RFE notice. If you don't, USCIS will either conclude that you have abandoned your application and send you a denial or go ahead and decide your case without the additional information requested. For this reason, it is imperative to make sure USCIS has your updated address if you move so that you can receive the notice and submit your response in the specified time frame. 


Is a NOID an RFE?

You can think of a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) as a more severe form of an RFE. USCIS will send you a NOID and not an RFE when they find that you are not eligible for the immigrant visa you applied for. The NOID lists all the reasons why USCIS plans to deny your application and gives you a chance to defend your application against denial. 


You generally have a shorter time to submit a NOID response than you have for an RFE response. Receiving a NOID does not mean that USCIS has denied your application - just that they plan to unless you can convince them not to. A NOID often means that your case is complicated, so it is best not to handle one alone. If you receive a NOID, it would be a good idea to find a skilled Immigration lawyer to help you with your response. You can find free or low-cost immigration lawyers by using the USA.gov legal aid tool.  


Curious whether you are eligible for the immigrant benefit that you are applying for? Click the button below to complete our eligibility screener. If you are eligible, we can help you prepare and file your immigration paperwork for free.

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How can I avoid an RFE?


An RFE is a “request for evidence,” and so naturally, the most common reason you might receive an RFE is that you didn't provide the evidence that USCIS needed with your initial application. RFEs can take a lot of time and energy to respond to, and they will usually delay your application. It’s best to avoid them altogether by submitting an organized and complete application the first time around. If you follow USCIS’s application instructions to the letter and include all the requested documents, you should be able to avoid an RFE. Here are a few tips to help you avoid receiving an RFE:


Provide all required initial evidence


For every immigration form that you file with USCIS, there are form instructions available that tell you exactly how to prepare the forms. These instructions also list the required evidence that you must include with your application when you submit it to USCIS. If you don’t include all of the required documents, you will probably receive an RFE. There are a number of evidence documents USCIS asks for. For example, if you're applying for a Marriage Green Card and you don’t include proof that you are married, you will almost certainly get an RFE from USCIS. you may receive an RFE. You may also receive an RFE if the documents you included are difficult to read.


Inclde document translations

If the documents you submit as evidence are in a language other than English and you don't provide a professional English translation, you may receive an RFE from USCIS. Every document you submit to USCIS must be translated into English by someone other than you or your sponsor. so that the reviewing officer can process your application. Your foreign language documents must be translated officially, preferably by a legal office that does translations so that the documents do not lose any legal meaning. There are many excellent translation services available online. Just search for “translate immigration documents.”


Show a complete picture of your visa sponsor’s income


This RFE trigger usually happens with family-based immigrant visas that have a petitioner sponsoring on behalf of the applicant (beneficiary). For this type of application, USCIS requires you to prove that your sponsor has a household income of at least 125% of the Federal Poverty Level. If your sponsor’s income is not high enough, or if you don't provide enough information to show that they earn enough, USCIS may send you an RFE asking you to make a stronger case about your sponsor's financial standing. In some cases, they may even require you to find an additional sponsor. 


Provide proof of legal entry


If you apply for adjustment of status, i.e., if you're submitting your immigration application from inside the U.S., you must submit proof that you entered the United States legally. You can usually show this with a page from your passport with the Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) stamp, or with your Form I-94 record. If you don't provide sufficient evidence of legal entry, you could receive an RFE asking you to clarify the details of your arrival in the US.


The best way to avoid an RFE is to submit a complete application the first time. Check out our complete filing guides for step-by-step guidance in completing your application to ensure you are not missing anything or leaving any evidence out.


ImmigrationHelp.org gives you the tools you need to prepare and file your application like a pro so you can avoid an RFE. Click the button below to get started for free

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How do I respond to a USCIS RFE? A step-by-step guide.


If you receive an RFE from USCIS, it will have a response deadline listed on it. Your RFE response needs to arrive at USCIS on or before this date This means that you will need to plan ahead and act quickly - It almost always takes longer to get the required evidence than you would think!. The rest of this section explains best practices for replying to an RFE.


Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, USCIS currently allows 60 extra calendar days beyond the date specified on your RFE notice to submit your response if the date on your RFE is between March 1, 2020, and January 2021. USCIS will not make a decision on your case within this 60 day grace period. 


Responding to an RFE - step-by-step

Step 1 - Make a copy of the RFE notice

When you get an RFE, the first thing you should do is make a copy of it for your records. You will need to submit the original RFE notice (the blue paper you received from USCIS) with your response in order for USCIS to correctly process the RFE with your case. 


Step 2 - Gather the requested evidence

The most important step in your RFE response is gathering the requested evidence. An RFE will usually tell you exactly what evidence you need to supply. This could be anything from missing passport pages, an incomplete bank statement to a birth certificate that is not in English. In such a case, you should include complete versions of the missing documents. 


In some RFEs, USCIS may state that some of the documents you provided from your home country as evidence are not sufficient. USCIS may say this based on their understanding of the kinds of documents your home country produces for things such as marriage. If you receive such an RFE, you should visit the State Department's U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country web page. There, you will find a list of documents from your home country, and what documents they are equivalent to in the U.S. You can find out which documents to provide from your home country depending on what USCIS requests on the RFE.


In other RFEs, USCIS will question your eligibility for the immigration benefit you are applying for, based on some aspect of U.S. immigration law. In this case, you will have to prove in your RFE response that you are eligible for the application you are submitting. If you receive this type of RFE, It is a good idea to review it and talk this over with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you determine how to reply which documents to submit as evidence. Check out the USA.gov website for immigration lawyers offering their services at low or no cost.


Regardless of what USCIS asks for, you should consider an RFE your time to shine! An RFE is an opportunity to review your original application and provide any additional evidence that might strengthen your case, even beyond what the RFE is asking for. Think about any potential weakness in your case, and provide evidence to address those weaknesses. This may sometimes mean that you provide evidence that the RFE isn’t asking for.


A general rule of thumb for USCIS evidence is the more evidence you provide, the better. Unless a relevant piece of evidence hurts your case (like a bank statement showing that you had no money four years ago), it will probably help you to send it to USCIS. 


At a minimum, though, you should give USCIS what they are asking for on the RFE. If you can't tell exactly what USCIS needs, take a look at the filing instructions for the immigration form that you filed on USCIS’ website for more guidance. 


USCIS will not send the documents you provided in your RFE response back to you. Because of this, you should include copies instead of the original documents unless USCIS specifically tells you otherwise.

Step 4 - Prepare your RFE response packet

Assemble your response to the RFE in the same order that USCIS listed the evidence they needed. The original copy of the RFE should be the first page of your response. Next, it is a good idea to include a cover letter that lists all the information that the USCIS officer reviewing your response will find in your RFE response packet. You should list the enclosed evidence in the order in which you include it so that it is easy for the USCIS reviewing officer to locate the documents when handling your case.


Step 5 - Mail your RFE response to USCIS

The final step is to mail the RFE response packet to the mailing address listed on the RFE notice. You must send your response to this address and not to any other USCIS address you may have previously mailed documents to. It’s a good idea to mail your RFE response packet as early as possible so that it does not arrive at the USCIS after the RFE deadline. If your RFE response arrives later than its due date, USCIS will not consider it when reviewing your application. This may cause them to deny your application.


It is also a good idea to choose a shipping service with tracking for the same reason. If there is any question about whether you submitted the requested evidence on time, you want to be able to have proof. Without proof that you complied with the deadline, USCIS may deny your application.

Types of RFE responses

There are three different RFE response types - a full response, a partial response, or no response.

Full Response

In a full response, you include all of the evidence USCIS requested of you (or more if you think that evidence would be useful for USCIS) before the due date. You should make it your goal to go above and beyond the evidence USCIS requests so that you don't risk any further problems with your application.


Partial Response

If it is not possible to get all of the evidence you need, you should submit a partial response to USCIS. In a partial response, you will include as much of the evidence that USCIS requested as possible. You will then need to explain to USCIS why it is not possible for you to get the missing evidence. If possible, you should Include evidence that proves the requested evidence is unavailable with your explanation.


A partial response indicates to USCIS that you would like them to make a decision on your case with the evidence that is available to them at the time. If you are worried that the missing evidence will cause USCIS to deny your application, you can withdraw your application without a penalty. 

No Response

You may choose not to respond to an RFE from USCIS. If you choose not to respond, or if you are unable to before the due date, USCIS will do one of two things: 


  1. Determine that you have abandoned your case and issue a denial, or
  2. Process your case without the requested evidence. often leading to a denial. 


Neither is an ideal option, so, if you don’t plan to respond to an RFE, it is often better to just withdraw your application by contacting USCIS. 


How many times can I respond to a USCIS RFE?

You only have one chance to respond to your USCIS RFE, so make sure that you include all the evidence you want USCIS to consider when you submit your RFE response. You cannot reply to the RFE by sending evidence to USCIS in different mailings — you must submit all of your evidence in one packet.

RFEs can be tricky. If you have any questions while replying to one, it would be a good idea to speak with an experienced immigration lawyer. You can find one, often at low or no cost, by using the USA.gov legal aid tool.


The best way to avoid an RFE is to submit a great application. We can help you prepare your immigration application for free with our web app. Click the button below to begin.

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Conclusion

We hope that you found our guide to USCIS RFEs useful. If you have any questions about what RFEs are, how to avoid them, and how to respond if you get one, or want to share your experience, we'd love to hear from you. Drop a comment below, and we will reply ASAP!

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