You think your immigration case is going great, until you open the mail and get a Request for Evidence. It is printed on bright yellow or blue paper and it reads like someone ripped out a page of the Federal Regulations. One thing is clear: you only have 87 days to answer . . .
You must act fast.
The RFE will tell you when it needs to be answered, but it never gives you more than 87 days (twelve weeks). There are no extensions, so do whatever it takes to return an answer on time: hire the best immigration lawyer you can, use Express Mail, visit your national consulate, or drive far to pick up records. You will lose your case if you don't answer a request for evidence.
First, call an immigration lawyer.
When Immigration sends an RFE, they might just be missing a certain document (remember, hiring an immigration lawyer before you send an application helps reduce the chance of RFEs). But sometimes, Immigration sends an RFE because they are suspicious, unconvinced, or uncertain about your case. If this is the case, you will want a lawyer to help you gather evidence, improve your strategy, and write a legal brief to help your application.
Example: Mr. Arabia was married in a rural part of Africa and wants a visa for his son. Because of missing marriage paperwork, USCIS sent an RFE. Mr. Arabia hired Attorney Jamie Gorton. Together, we gathered evidence to replace the missing marriage paperwork, and launched a new strategy. Attorney Jamie Gorton prepared a legal brief which explained that Mr. Arabia's application should be approved no matter the paperwork, because Mr. Arabia could get a visa for his son even if he wasn't married to his son's mother. Result: Mr. Arabia's application was approved after the RFE response, even though he never turned in the requested document.
Second, know your evidence.
Immigration will probably ask for specific documents. Unfortunately, these requests are phrased in terms of the Code of Federal Regulations, which few people outside Immigration understand. Don't worry: the best immigration attorneys can decipher the RFE and immediately begin to size up your case.
Sometimes, Immigration is asking for something that doesn't exist: it was lost, destroyed, or it never was. Here, Immigration might accept "secondary evidence." Proving a case with "secondary evidence" is much harder, and you should have an expert immigration attorney help you. Don't be afraid to ask, "Can you tell me what kinds of secondary evidence Immigration will accept in this case?" when you meet with a lawyer.
Third, look on the bright side!
Sometimes a client will show me an RFE that simply cannot be won. This is almost always a person who did not have a lawyer and thought they could do everything themselves . . . so they filed the wrong applicaion, or did steps out of order.
But an RFE can have a bright side. In the hands of the best immigration lawyers, an RFE is a chance to polish and improve an application. A good RFE response is the difference between a case that makes Immigration suspicious to a case Immigration can't wait to approve.
Always have a lawyer for an I-485 Request for Evidence or an I-130 "in proceedings" RFE.
Remember that a denied I-485 application can lead to deportation. You should always have an experienced immigration lawyer answer an I-485 Request.
Also, if your spouse is in removal proceedings and you apply for an I-130, you have a higher burden of proof and should have an attorney assist you.