When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) needs more information in order to proceed any further on your application, it can issue you a Request for Evidence (RFE). You will need to respond to the RFE within the timeframe indicated (usually 30 to 90 days) so that the immigration official adjudicating your case will have enough evidence to make a favorable decision.
This could be a make-or-break situation. If you don't offer up what USCIS wants, your case could be denied. Here, you will find guidance about how to assemble a convincing RFE response for USCIS.
If you receive an RFE, don't panic. It does not mean that the denial of your application is inevitable; only that USCIS needs or wants more information from you in order to make a decision.
In a way, you should be glad you didn't receive an outright denial, as USCIS certainly has the power to issue. An RFE gives you an opportunity to correct information, provide more documentation, and convince immigration officials to approve your case.
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 to 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 have only three options when you respond to an RFE in the time allocated by USCIS:
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 might issue an RFE asking for a number of documents that are not available, and it is better to submit some evidence than none at all.
If documents are not available, you should explain that you made an effort to locate them and why they are unobtainable. For example, certain agencies do not keep records longer than a certain time period and a letter from that agency explaining its policy might prove adequate to address concerns raised in the RFE.
Some RFEs will simply tell you which documents USCIS is missing. For example, the RFE might ask you to provide a copy of the pages of your passport or your spouse's birth certificate. If you sent only the first page of a bank statement, it might ask you for the remaining pages.
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.
Another possibility is that the RFE states that a document you provided, such as a marriage certificate from your home country, is not adequate. It would make this judgment based on the U.S. government's understanding of what documents your country actually produces. If this shows up on your RFE, go to the State Department's web page called U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country. Look up the accepted documents from your country. If the document you provided doesn't meet the description there, you'll need to find one that does. If it does match what you've got, print out the relevant web page and highlight the descriptive information, and write a cover letter explaining that your document meets the criteria.
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. If 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.
Make a copy of the RFE notice and save it for your records, because the original 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 list the enclosed documents in the order you are including them, preferably in bullet points, so that you can show the USCIS officer handling your case that you provided all of the requested information.
Make copies of all the information that you send and save it for your records.
The RFE will contain the address to which your response should be mailed. Be sure that you mail your response to that address and not any other address to which you might have sent documents before. 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.
NOTE: In light of the coronavirus epidemic, USCIS states that if you receive an RFE dated between March 1 and September 30, 2021, you have an extra 60 calendar days after the response date set forth in the RFE in which to comply. USCIS will not make a decision on your case during those extra 60 days.
USCIS might issue 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.
When USCIS issues a RFE, all processing on the case will stop. Once USCIS receives your RFE response, it will resume case processing, and you can probably expect further action on your application in a minimum of 60 days, though it could take longer.
For more on what to do about the wait, see USCIS Sent RFE, I Sent in Documents, But Still No Approval: Now What?