Law Office of Asel Mukambetova

What is a Request for Evidence (RFE)? Complete Guide

What is a Request for Evidence (RFE) Complete Guide

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Last updated: April 1, 2024.

By Asel Mukambetova, Esq. · Columbia Law School · Licensed immigration attorney

A Request For Evidence, referred to simply as an “RFE,” is a written request to provide missing or additional information or documentation to USCIS.

If you receive an RFE, it simply means: 

  • That you failed to provide the required documents when you filed your application, or
  • That USCIS needs more evidence before deciding your case. 

Receiving an RFE is not a reason to panic, and it does not mean your application has been denied. 

What is a Request For Evidence (RFE)?

Issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a Request For Evidence (RFE) is simply a letter advising you of the need to provide additional information or evidence before your pending immigration form, application, or petition can be decided. 

Receiving an RFE can be viewed as a good sign. 

For example, U.S. immigration law allows USCIS to deny your application without issuing an RFE. 

USCIS will immediately deny your application if you are not eligible for the benefit you are applying for. 

USCIS has the authority to deny your application simply because you failed to provide all the required documents. 

Therefore, the fact that you received an RFE means that you are eligible for the immigration benefit you applied for, but your documentation lacks something (usually minor), and USCIS simply needs to verify some aspect of your application before it can be approved. 

Once an RFE is requested, USCIS stops processing your application until you reply or the deadline to reply passes.

What is in an RFE Letter and Why Did I Receive It?

An RFE letter can be confusing and unclear.

It is usually full of legal words and quotes certain immigration law provisions.

However, take your time reading the RFE letter and ask questions if you do not understand. 

Make sure you understand the following:

  • What is wrong with your application?
  • Why is USCIS asking for more information?
  • How do you comply with USCIS’s request? and
  • How much time do you have to comply?

Remember, you only have one chance to respond to an RFE letter. 

Failure to respond or failure to submit the requested information or documentation may cause your application to be denied

All RFEs contain the same basic information:

USCIS Scanning Code

On top of the letter, you’ll find a scanning code. 

This code is used by USCIS to track your RFE letter and file. 

USCIS will also scan the letter when you return the requested RFE documents, so USCIS requires that you include your RFE letter with the documents you submit.

Information About Your Application

Usually, the first paragraph or two outlines your application, the form you submitted, the individuals involved, and the requested benefit. 

Use this information to verify that USCIS is considering the proper benefit or form.

Immigration Law Provisions

In most cases, your RFE will outline U.S. immigration law as it pertains to your application and the documents being requested. 

Understanding the law, especially immigration law, can be hard. 

If you have any questions, you should probably invest time in researching your legal issue or contact an immigration attorney.

Evidence You Submitted

Your RFE will probably list the documents you originally submitted with your application. 

You should review this section carefully to determine if you submitted a document that USCIS has overlooked. 

Review this section to see if you need to submit more documents that might support the application under consideration.

Evidence Requested

The RFE will then list the documents that USCIS is requesting. 

This letter may contain a reason why these documents are required. 

And it may explain where you can obtain the requested documents. 

It may also tell you what documents to submit if the requested documents cannot be obtained or are unavailable. 

Filing Deadline and Where to Mail RFE

Your RFE will always give you a date that you must reply by. 

This deadline is usually 90 days.

You must comply with this deadline, or USCIS will consider your application as withdrawn or consider your application on the evidence you already submitted. 

If this evidence is lacking (as explained in your RFE), your application will be denied

Your RFE letter will also provide a reply address where you should mail your reply to RFE you received.

If I’ve Received an RFE Letter, What Should I Do?

If you receive an RFE letter, the very first thing you should do is: Do not panic.

Remember, since USCIS is authorized to deny your application without even issuing an RFE letter, the fact you received a letter is helpful and positive. 

USCIS is giving you an opportunity to fix a deficiency in your application. 

Three Ways to Respond

You have three ways to respond to an RFE letter:

1. You Can Comply with the RFE Letter

When you comply with your RFE, submit all the documents requested in a single envelope. 

Don’t forget to include a copy of the original RFE letter you received. 

You should also write a cover letter, explaining the documents you submitted.

This gives USCIS all the information needed to reach a favorable decision.

2. You Can Partially Respond

To partially respond means:

  • You submit some of the documents requested but not others, or 
  • You submit a different document than what was requested. 

This can be problematic because USCIS will not have all the documents required to rule in your favor. 

SelfLawyer suggests you partially respond only if you cannot obtain the requested documents.

If this is the case, including the following in your USCIS cover letter:

  • State that the documents requested are unattainable;
  • Tell USCIS what you did to try to obtain the unattainable documents;
  • Ask USCIS for additional time to obtain the requested documents (if applicable); and
  • Tell USCIS what documents you submitted in place of the unattainable documents and why.

If you submit documents other than those specifically requested in the RFE, the reviewing officer has the discretion to consider them, but is not required to.

USCIS will view a partial response as a request to consider your application on the evidence presented. 

3. You Can Refuse to Respond

Refusing to respond means you failed to reply to your RFE and USCIS might deny your application.

Steps to Take if You Choose to Reply

If you choose to reply or partially reply, do the following:

  • Make a copy of the RFE letter for your records.
  • Read your RFE letter carefully and make sure you understand:
    • What is wrong with your application?
    • Why is USCIS asking for more information?
    • How do you comply with USCIS’s request? and
    • How much time do you have to comply?
  • Begin gathering the required documents immediately. (Don’t wait until your deadline is close.) Make sure all your documents are in English or translated into English.
  • Once you have all the documents requested, write a cover letter telling USCIS of the following:
    • Your understanding as to why you received an RFE letter;
    • Your understanding of the documents requested;
    • What documents you have been able to obtain;
    • Why you could not obtain all the required documents if any are missing and what, if any, documents you are sending in their place and why.
  • Make a copy of your cover letter and all documents for your records;
  • In one (and only one) envelope, place the contents in this order:
    • The USCIS RFE letter should be on top;
    • Your cover letter should be next; 
    • All the documents you are submitting to USCIS should follow. 
  • Address the envelope to the USCIS address provided in your RFE letter.
  • If you have an online USCIS account linked to your application, you can file the response to RFE online.

What Happens After I Respond to an RFE Letter?

Once USCIS issues an RFE letter, the processing of your application stops.

When USCIS receives your response or the deadline date in your letter passes, USCIS will continue processing your application. 

Can I Receive More than One RFE Letter?

While U.S. immigration policy recommends issuing only one RFE letter, in some instances, two or even three letters have been issued for one application. 

These cases are the exception, however.

What Happens If I Don’t Answer an RFE Letter?

If you simply do not respond to an RFE letter, USCIS will consider this a request to withdraw your application. 

Your application will be denied for one of three reasons:

  • Deny the application as abandoned;
  • Deny the application based on the evidence in the record; or
  • Deny the application for both reasons.

How Long Will USCIS Take to Process My RFE?

There is no set time for USCIS to complete the processing of your application and answer you. 

USCIS is reluctant to provide a firm timeline in these circumstances. 

The reason for this is clear. 

For example, USCIS can more easily review an RFE letter that simply needs a copy of a passport page than an RFE letter that needs many documents to prove a bona fide family relationship. 

Like all USCIS forms, applications, and petitions, many factors influence the processing time. 

These may include the following:

  • Current immigration policies for deciding on certain types of applications before others;
  • Whether you submitted all required documents with your original application; or 
  • Whether a denial is being reviewed by a USCIS supervisor if your application is being denied.

In general, however, you should expect to receive a final decision within 60 days. 

You can track the status of your application through the Case Status Tracking Tool on the USCIS website. 

USCIS online case status will show if USCIS has received your RFE.

If you have not received a final decision within 90 days after answering your RFE letter, you might want to contact the USCIS Contact Center online or call 1-800-375-5273.

RFE Cover Letter Template

You can find an RFE cover letter template below. 

Keep in mind, however, that no two cover letters will be the same. 

Each letter will have its own list of documents requested and provided. 

But basically, your cover letter should look something like this (enter your personal data):

Emilio Ramirez [your full legal name]

5874 Charlotte Street [your mailing address]

Auburn, New Jersey 08085

April 3, 2020 [date your letter]

USCIS [here, list the USCIS office that sent you an RFE notice]

530 Fellowship Rd [USCIS will provide the address where you should mail your response to RFE, include that address here]

Mt Laurel Township, NJ 08054


Case Type: I-485 (Adjustment of Status) [list your application type here]


Re: Request For Evidence (RFE) for Birth Certificate

Applicant: Emilio Ramirez [Applicant’s name]

Receipt Number: WAC1990854856 [Receipt number can be found in USCIS RFE notice]

To Whom It May Concern:

In response to your Request for Evidence, please be advised that the requested birth certificate is not available. These records were not kept in Málaga, Spain, on the date of my birth. However, for USCIS’ review, I have submitted the following documents which establish my birth, as well as corresponding parentage:

1. USCIS Request for Evidence letter
2. Copy of I-485 Receipt Notice
3. Photocopy of “Non-Availability of Birth Certificate” from the governing municipal locality
4. Affidavits of birth from parents

5. Hospital birth records naming child and parents

6. Additional medical records naming child and parents

7. School records naming child and parents

8. Census records naming child and parents 

9. Church records in the form of a certificate under the seal of the church where baptism, dedication, presentation, or comparable rite occurred within two months after birth, showing the date and place of child’s birth, date of religious ceremony, and the names of child’s parents

I am submitting the oldest available documentation that establishes I was born on February 23, 1949, and Registration of Birth was not mandatory in Málaga province Spain, for people born before January 1, 1954. [Here, provide explanation if evidence is unavailable and what steps have you taken to obtain it]

Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the address above should any questions arise.


Respectfully submitted, [Sign your letter]

How to Avoid Receiving an RFE in the First Place?

There are several reasons USCIS might issue an RFE letter.

According to USCIS, a few of the more common reasons include:

  • Failing to file all required documents with your application;
  • Failure to provide persuasive evidence with your application;
  • Failure to adequately address a legal issue about the benefit you are applying for;
  • Insufficient income shown on Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support);
  • Failure to include up-to-date taxes with Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support);
  • Failure to show sufficient income when sponsoring a spouse on Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative);
  • Failure to provide Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) as proof of legal entry;
  • Failure to translate non-English documents into English; and
  • Other failures too numerous to detail.