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Understanding a Request for Evidence (RFE)

How to handle this common obstacle in the green card process

Nobody looks forward to getting a Request for Evidence (RFE) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). RFEs are sort of the boogeyman of the visa world — they come without warning and usually give the recipient an unpleasant feeling in the pit of their stomach.

Technically speaking, an RFE is a written request for more information and documentation that USCIS mails out if they believe that they don’t yet have enough evidence to approve or deny a given application.

In this article, we’ll break down a typical RFE and explain each part. Hopefully, you’ll never see an RFE, but by the end of this guide, you’ll know what to do!

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RFE Meaning

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).

Stay calm but don’t procrastinate

Now you know what’s in an RFE. What next?

We’ve prepared a detailed Request For Evidence guide for you, but for now, here are the main pointers on how to respond:

  • You should provide every single extra document listed in the RFE.
  • If that’s not possible, you should give clear explanations for any missing documents. Ignoring documents mentioned in the RFE and hoping that the officer will not notice is not a viable strategy.
  • 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!

Overall, while RFEs can be scary, they are also your last best chance to provide the evidence that USCIS needs to (hopefully) approve your application. Think of RFEs as your one shot, one opportunity…

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