How to answer a request for Initial/Further Evidence from USCIS
When you file an application with the Citizenship and Immigration Services, you may receive a request for more evidence. It is very important to respond on time and to address all of their concerns, so that you may receive the benefit you are applying for.
First things first -breathe! ....then read their letter!Although you don't necessarily need an attorney to help you with an immigration application, I recommend you use one. Immigration Law is in the top 3 most complex areas of law in the United States. More than filling out forms, attorneys specialized in Immigration know how the answers can trigger grounds of inadmissibility and removal. Plus, with immigration sometimes you have only one chance to present your case. There are some assertions made in the immigration forms that hard or even impossible to overcome. So, with so much at stake, it is important to prepare and present your case right from the beginning.
Even when you did it right to start with, you may receive a request for more evidence. It can be a simple thing, but many people get nervous and panic. They forget to read the whole letter. So, my first advice is: take a deep breath, and after you calmed down, read the whole letter.
Immigration usually acknowledges the information they received from you initially, and then tell you what they want. They give you examples of the documents they are looking for as evidence you qualify for the benefit you applied for.
The answer can be as simple as sending them what they asked for. You may even find out you forgot to send something initially, and that's why they are asking for it. So follow the directions in their letter. Do not forget to put the letter they sent you above all of the documents you are sending them as a response. Make a copy of the whole packet for your records. And mail it with tracking. Immigration receives thousands of mail every day, so things can and get lost, unfortunately. If you have your proof the package was delivered, then you are justified to request they give you more time to re-send the response, or to request a reconsideration of their denial for lack of response. Believe me, it has happened!
What if you already sent everything you had? ...or you don't have what they are asking for?This is where it can get even more complicated. Many times, immigration will request more evidence, even though you already sent everything you have. You may even think what you sent should have been enough... But they decide it, so you must answer their request.
Take this as chance to really argue your case. This may be your only chance. Review what you already sent before, explain how that proves your case and explain why you do not have any of the other evidence they are requesting.
You may really need the help of an experienced attorney who specializes in Immigration Law.
There is no cookie-cutter in the immigration world. Every case, just as every person, is singular; and relationships are different. An attorney who knows how USCIS works, has experience and knowledge of the law can make or break your case.
Sometimes, when evidence is not available, you can use affidavits to cover a point. For example, you may have to explain why you don't have any joint bills with your spouse... I had a client who was in his 4th marriage, had been living at that home for 20 years. He did not think he would have to show his marriage was legitimate, so he did not worry about adding her name to any bills. Plus, everything had been set up years ago and there was no point in changing it. The home was paid in full, so there was no mortgage. He purchased the home decades before they even met, so he did not want to put her name on the title of his home. She did not have a social security number, and was not employed, so she didn't have a way to show she was living there. But they had letters, and some invitations friends sent to them. So we had to be creative. We prepared an affidavit from the husband explaining how it was impossible to add her name to any bill without her having a social security number, and how the property was acquired prior to the marriage, so that's why she was not in the title. He had the nickname he had for her tattooed on his arm, so he told the story behind the tattoo. We took a picture of his tattoo and sent it with the affidavit. We also had letters from plenty of people who knew them as a couple, including his grown children... All of these things together, were enough to convince the immigration official that he was in a committed relationship to the applicant. The officer probably figured it is less painful to take someone's name out of your joint account, than to get rid of a tattoo!
Now, if you decide to contact an attorney to help you respond to an RIE or an RFE: get organized. Make sure you don't wait until the last minute, as the attorney may charge you a premium to expedite the work. Make sure you bring the letter and a copy of the application you sent in to start the process. And bring all evidence you have, let the lawyer decide if something is not relevant. Think of people who have personal knowledge of the things you need to prove, call them to ask if they are ok with your attorney contacting them. Follow your attorney's instructions. They are there to help you!