How to Handle a Request for Evidence (RFE) From USCIS

RFEs can cause anxiety and worry for immigration applicants. Learn how to act swiftly in responding to an RFE.

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When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) needs more information in order to proceed any further on your application, it will issue you a Request for Evidence (RFE) on blue paper. You will need to respond to the RFE within the timeframe indicated (usually 30 to 60 days, but never longer than 12 weeks) so that the immigration official adjudicating your case will have enough evidence to make a favorable decision. In this article, you will find guidance about how to assemble a convincing RFE response for USCIS.

An RFE Does Not Necessarily Mean You Will Be Denied

If you receive an RFE, don’t panic! It does not mean that the denial of your application is inevitable – only that USCIS needs more information from you in order to make a decision. Keep in mind that USCIS has the power to deny immigration applications without first issuing RFEs, so you should be thankful for the opportunity to correct information, provide more documentation, and convince immigration officials to approve your case.

Just make sure that you return your RFE before the deadline given by USCIS. If you fail to respond, USCIS will either determine that you abandoned your application and issue a denial, or it will make an ultimate decision on your case without the information that it requested (which most likely will result in a denial as well). This is why it is important that you change your address with USCIS if you move or make arrangements for your mail to be forwarded to you if you travel extensively – if USCIS sends you a RFE, you don’t want to miss it.

You Only Get One Chance to Respond to an RFE

You have only three options when you respond to an RFE in the time allocated by USCIS:

  1. You can submit all of the requested evidence at the same time.
  2. You can “partially respond” by providing some of the evidence that was requested, which will alert USCIS that you would like a decision to be made based on the information it has at that time.
  3. You can withdraw your application.

USCIS regulations require that you submit all the requested materials at the same time, so do not send evidence to USCIS in separate mailings. If you send back the RFE and later remember that you failed to include other documents – even if you send these documents prior to the deadline – USCIS will likely not consider this evidence when deciding your case.

However, you should “partially respond” if you are unable to locate certain documents and the deadline for your reply is looming. For example, some employment-based visas require a showing of an immigrant’s educational and professional qualifications. USCIS may issue an RFE asking for a number of documents that may not be available, and it is better to submit some evidence than none at all.

What Evidence You Should Return With Your RFE

Some RFEs will simply tell you which document that USCIS is missing. For example, it might ask you to provide a copy of the pages of your passport or your spouse’s birth certificate. Even if an RFE seems relatively straightforward, you should take this opportunity to review your application materials and supporting documents to see whether there is anything else you can send to USCIS to bolster your case. Consider this to be a chance to address any weaknesses in your application by sending along evidence that could be weighed in an immigration officer’s “second review” of your case.

In other instances, an RFE might cite complex provisions of U.S. immigration law and ask you to provide information to prove that you are eligible for an immigration benefit. It is essential that you understand exactly what you are being asked to prove before responding to a RFE. If you are unsure which types of evidence you should submit to USCIS, consult an immigration attorney who can help you review the RFE and assemble the necessary documentation.

How to Assemble Your RFE Response

Make a duplicate copy of the RFE notice and save it for your records, because the original blue RFE should be the first page of your response packet. USCIS will scan this sheet and forward it for further processing, so if you do not include it (or if it is not on top), you can expect further delays.

Next, you should write a cover letter that outlines the contents of your submission. The cover letter should be organized very similarly to the RFE, so that you can show the USCIS officer handling your case that you provided all of the requested information. Make copies all of the information that you send and save it for your records. It's best to send the RFE response via priority mail with delivery confirmation so that you have proof that you complied with the deadline.

How an RFE Differs From a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

USCIS might issue you a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) rather than an RFE. This is a more negative determination that will require your immediate action and, in most cases, the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney who can evaluate (and attempt to salvage) your case.

If you receive a NOID, it means that a USCIS officer reviewed your application package and found that you provided enough initial evidence, but determined that you are nevertheless ineligible for the immigration benefit for which you have applied. While a NOID is not an official denial, you will eventually receive a Notice of Action denying your application if you do not respond with convincing evidence to show that you should be approved. You should treat this as a more urgent RFE.

What Will Happen to Your Application Next

When USCIS issues a RFE, all processing on your case will stop. Once USCIS receives your RFE response, it will resume case processing, and you can generally expect further action on your application within 60 days, but it may take longer. For more on what to do about the wait, see "I sent in documents after USCIS sent me RFE, but since gotten no approval -- now what?"

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