If you thought you were done with the marriage green card application, receiving a Request for Evidence (or “RFE”) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can be frustrating and even scary. But don’t panic!
What is an RFE?
An RFE, as the name suggests, is simply a request for more documentation. It means that the USCIS officer reviewing your application needs more information before he or she can make a decision. An RFE does not mean that your application is going to be denied or even that it is more likely to be denied than if you hadn’t gotten the RFE.
Think of an RFE as a second chance to review your application and ensure that you have provided the most compelling evidence that your marriage is real, and that you or your spouse are eligible for a marriage-based green card.
It is very important that you respond to the Request for Evidence and provide as much of the requested evidence as possible by the deadline indicated on the notice. If your RFE requests more than one document, you have to send everything together in one response packet. If you don’t meet the deadline, USCIS will make a decision based on the information and documents it already has, and that often means your application will be denied.
The best way to handle a USCIS Request for Evidence is to avoid getting one in the first place. Even though an RFE does not necessarily mean that your application will be denied, it will always result in additional delays. In most (but not all) cases, RFEs can be avoided with a thoroughly prepared application.
In general, RFEs are sent any time the USCIS officer reviewing your application needs more information—but there are a few specific reasons that are especially common:
1. Missing Initial Evidence
If you failed to provide any documents, forms, or other evidence necessary to prove that you’re eligible for a marriage-based green card, you will likely get an RFE. And that’s a good thing—certainly preferable over USCIS outright denying an application that was missing required initial evidence.
2. The Sponsoring Spouse Lacks Sufficient Income
When applying for a marriage-based green card, the U.S. citizen or green card holder has to demonstrate enough financial resources to support the family in the United States (typically by earning at least 125% of the federal poverty line). Failing to provide enough documentation to prove sufficient income is a common reason for RFEs.
If the sponsoring spouse doesn’t earn enough, he or she can find a co-sponsor—often a family member—who agrees to support the couple in the United States. You can see our handy guide to find out if you meet the financial support requirements.
3. Missing Proof of Legal Entry
If the spouse seeking a green card is already within the United States, you must prove that he or she entered the United States legally.
For most people, this means providing a copy of your stamped passport and/or a copy of your I-94 travel history, the form that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses to track arrivals and departures.
If you arrived in the United States by plane or boat before April 2013, you got a paper I-94. You also still get a paper I-94 if you if you enter the United States by land from Canada or Mexico.
If you arrived by plane or boat after April 2013, however, your information was entered into a database and you didn’t get a physical slip of paper. In that case, getting a copy of your I-94 online is relatively easy.
If you lost your original I-94 and your records aren’t available on the CBP website, you can file Form I-102 to request a replacement I-94.
4. Missing Document Translations
If any of your documents are in a language other than English, you must provide a translation made by someone other than you or your spouse. These translations have to be certified, which just means that the translator must certify in writing that he or she has translated the document accurately. The certification should include the translator’s name, address, and signature, as well as the date the translation was completed.
5. Unusual Cases
If there are any unusual aspects of your case, provide additional explanations or evidence to pre-empt questions from USCIS. For example, if you previously applied for a green card for someone else (an ex-spouse), but ended up withdrawing your green card application, you should include a written explanation of that situation.
USCIS officers have clear guidance on how to review an application for a green card and other immigration applications. The USCIS Policy Manual, in addition to outlining general eligibility requirements, has charts and checklists that officers can use while reviewing applications. These guidance materials define the situations where issuing an RFE is appropriate.
You should know that an RFE generally isn’t written from scratch. There are RFE templates that give USCIS officers a starting point — then they can customize these templates to request more information and documents for individual applications.
Here are the key parts of an RFE…
The Facts: Typically, an RFE will have an introductory paragraph (or two) about the original application. The introduction will state the type of application, the date that USCIS received it, and which office is currently processing it.
The introduction will usually also state that USCIS does not have enough evidence to make a decision on the application, and that more evidence is needed.
The Law: Typically, an RFE will quote sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Code of Federal Regulations, and any other law that is relevant to your application. For example, this part will often get into the details of eligibility requirements.
Evidence submitted: This section will typically list all the documents that you have already submitted in support of your application. You should read this section carefully to see if anything you did submit already has not been listed (and therefore, possibly not reviewed). You should also make a note of anything missing from the list that might be helpful to the officer in making a decision on your application, so that you can submit these items as part of your response to the RFE.
Evidence lacking: This section will typically list all the additional documents that USCIS needs to make a decision on your application. In this section, USCIS may also state which eligibility requirement has not been met by the documents already submitted. It’s common for this section of an RFE to be lengthy, and to provide alternate options for some of the documentation that’s being requested. For example, an RFE requiring the submission of a birth certificate will also usually state that if a birth certificate is not available, school records and “affidavits of birth” may be submitted instead.
Deadline: This section typically appears at the end of an RFE, and informs the applicant how long he or she has to gather the missing evidence and submit it to USCIS. This section will also inform the applicant about the consequences of not responding to the RFE on time — basically, that a decision will be made based only on documents that were previously submitted (and that could mean a denial).
The first step in responding to an RFE is to read the entire RFE carefully. Check out this guide to understanding each part of the RFE. You will typically only get an RFE once, which means you have this one chance to respond to any and all remaining questions that USCIS has about your application.
Next, you should review your original application package. USCIS officers are human, and sometimes they request information that you have already provided. If this is the case, you can photocopy the relevant documents from your original application package to include in your RFE response.
Then you’ll need to prepare your response package, including the following items:
- Your original RFE notice (NOT a photocopy) should be the first page of the response package.
- You only get one response to an RFE, so if there are several documents requested you need to send them all, together, in one package.
- If there are documents you’ve photocopied from your original application, you should note that they came from that original application.
- Provide any necessary explanations. For example, if your birth certificate is bilingual (and one of the languages is English), but you are asked to submit a translation, you can point out that the birth certificate is already in English.
If there is any document requested in the RFE that you can’t provide, you should explain why you don’t have access to it, and provide alternative evidence if possible. For example, you or your spouse might have trouble getting a copy of your birth certificate because a fire or other disaster destroyed the records. In that case, you should include a letter from the records office that would normally have your birth certificate explaining why that record is not available. You should also include a sworn statement (formally known as an “affidavit”) from a family member confirming the date and place of your or your spouse’s birth
Lastly, returning the documents by the USCIS-imposed deadline is extremely important, as is good recordkeeping.
- The response deadline will be stated either as a date or as a number of days. If it’s stated as a number of days, you should start counting from the date that appears on the first page of the RFE (the date that the RFE was issued). The deadline is not calculated from the day you receive the RFE!
- USCIS does not follow the mailbox rule — in other words, the date you popped your response in the mailbox doesn’t matter. You must make sure that USCIS receives your response by the deadline stated in the RFE!
- You should photocopy your entire RFE response package, including the original RFE notice. When you mail it back to USCIS, make sure you have a way to track the package and confirm that it was delivered, and keep this proof of delivery with your photocopied RFE package.
Remember: A Request For Evidence is one more opportunity to make the case that you qualify for a marriage-based green card. If you’ve received an RFE, take enough time to prepare a thorough response and round up all of the requested documents.