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How to handle an OPT Request For Evidence (RFE)

Some people who apply for employment authorization documents after receiving an OPT recommendation may receive requests for evidence. If you receive an OPT RFE, you need to understand how to handle it correctly.

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Many international students study in the U.S. at approved universities, colleges, seminaries, or conservatories with F-1 visas. These visas allow international students to further their studies and pursue degrees through degree programs. While the visas are not employment visas, F-1 visa holders may be eligible to receive training that relates to their careers by participating in optional practical training or OPT. Some people who apply for employment authorization documents after receiving an OPT recommendation and an endorsement on their Form I-20s may receive requests for evidence. If you receive an OPT RFE, you need to understand how to handle it correctly.

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Understanding OPT

The OPT program allows eligible F-1 visa holders to work in OPT employment for up to 12 months. OPT employment must involve work that is directly related to your major in college or the degree that you have received, depending on whether you are applying for pre-completion or post-completion OPT.

Pre-completion OPT cannot begin until after you have completed one year of full-time studies in your degree program. You can apply for it up to 90 days before the end of your first academic year.

Post-completion OPT allows F-1 students to receive training in their degree fields for up to 12 months after they graduate. However, the total amount of pre- and post-completion OPT is limited to 12 months. This means that if you work in any pre-completion OPT employment, it will be subtracted from the time that you have left for post-completion OPT. You can apply for post-completion OPT from 90 days before you receive your degree until 60 days after you graduate.

After you have found an OPT employer, you will need to meet with the designated school official at your university or college and ask for him or her to recommend you for OPT. The DSO will confirm that your F-1 status is valid and that the proposed employment relates to your degree. He or she will then enter the recommendation into your SEVIS record, and you will have to submit a Form I-765 to apply for your employment authorization documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. You will also have to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee of $410 by cashier's check, money order, or personal check that is made payable to the Department of Homeland Security. You will not be allowed to begin working until you receive your EAD and your notice of approval.

STEM OPT extension

If you graduated with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, you may be eligible for the STEM OPT extension. This is an extension of your post-completion OPT of up to 24 months. To qualify for the STEM OPT extension, your STEM degree must appear on the designated STEM degree list from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The employer must participate in E-verify. You will then need to work with your prospective STEM OPT employer to complete the Form I-983, which is meant to show how the proposed OPT employment directly relates to your STEM degree. If you are approved, you will be able to work through the STEM OPT extension for 24 additional months beyond your regular OPT allotment.

What is a request for evidence?

Some F-1 visa holders who have submitted I-765 employment authorization applications to the USCIS for OPT receive requests for evidence. A request for evidence is a letter from the USCIS asking for additional information so that your application can be adjudicated. If you receive a request for evidence, you need to review it carefully. An RFE means that something in your application is lacking. The RFE will include a deadline for your response and information about what the USCIS needs. When an RFE is issued, your application will be suspended until you respond and the RFE is handled.

Does an RFE mean that your OPT employment authorization application will be denied?

Receiving an RFE does not necessarily mean that your OPT application will be denied. It means that the USCIS requires additional evidence or proof from you to adjudicate your application. The USCIS can deny applications without issuing requests for evidence or notices of intent to deny. The fact that you received an RFE means that you will have the opportunity to fix any errors and offer additional documentation to support why your application should be approved.

You need to pay close attention to the deadline for your response. The deadline should be listed in bold somewhere at the top of the letter. If you do not respond on time, the USCIS will likely decide to deny your application based on its belief that you abandoned it or because it must make a decision without the information that it asked for. If you move, make certain to update your address with the USCIS. If you frequently travel, have your mail forwarded to you so that you do not miss an RFE that the USCIS might send to you.

Common reasons for receiving an OPT RFE

The USCIS might issue an RFE for many different reasons. However, there are a few common reasons why an RFE might be issued. When you complete your Form I-765, make certain to check it carefully to avoid making mistakes and to ensure that you have included all of the types of supplemental documentation that you might need. We will briefly address some of the most common reasons why an OPT RFE might be issued below.

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1. RFE because your photo doesn't meet the specifications

F-1 students are required to submit several documents when they submit their Forms I-765 to the USCIS, including two passport-style photographs. If you submit photos that do not meet the U.S. requirements for passport photos, you will likely receive an RFE for new photos. In the U.S., passport photos must be in color and clearly show your face. They must also have been taken within the past six months.

The background of the photograph must be plain white. If you wear glasses, you must remove them for the picture. The photographs must have a high resolution, and they must be 2 inches by 2 inches. Your head must be positioned correctly in the photograph, and the picture cannot be blurry or smudged. You must have a neutral facial expression or use a natural smile while fully facing the camera in your photos. If you receive an RFE for photos, you should have passport photos professionally taken to make certain that your pictures meet the requirements.

2. RFE to ensure that you attended classes during curricular practical training

If your degree program contained a curricular practical training requirement as part of its normal curriculum, the USCIS might want to investigate whether you continued to attend your classes and were enrolled in school while you were working through the CPT program. For this type of RFE, you might be asked to submit evidence that you attended your classes, paid your tuition, and completed your classes. Some examples of the types of documents that you might submit are your attendance records, transcripts, your student ID, and receipts from paying your tuition.

3. RFE for missing Form I-20

When you apply for your employment authorization document, one of the documents that you are required to submit is your endorsed Form I-20. Your DSO should endorse your Form I-20 when he or she enters the OPT recommendation into the SEVIS system. If you did not include this document, you will receive an RFE.

4. RFE for proof of financial loss after expediting OPT

The USCIS allows people to request expedited processing under very limited circumstances. There are only four categories under which expedited OPT might be available, including severe financial loss, humanitarian reasons, clear USCIS error, or a compelling U.S. government interest. For purposes of OPT, most requests for expedited processing fall under the severe financial loss category. However, the USCIS explicitly states that needing employment authorization is not enough by itself to constitute a severe financial loss. An RFE is frequently sent when people request expedited processing for OPT employment authorization applications based on claims of severe financial loss. If you receive an RFE for proof of financial loss, you will need to submit documentary evidence demonstrating your losses. These can include bills, bank statements, and others.

5. Request for evidence that your employment relates to your major

OPT employment must be directly related to your major area of study or your degree if you have graduated. An RFE might be sent if the USCIS needs additional proof that your prospective employment directly relates to your major or degree. You might need to work with your prospective employer to get proof that your job is related to your degree such as the training plan, a job description of the duties that you will perform, and other similar documents.

6. Request for evidence that you have completed your courses

You will need to submit proof that you have attended and completed your courses. If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, the USCIS will want proof that you have completed a full academic year of full-time studies. If you are applying for post-completion OPT, the USCIS will want to see proof that you have completed your degree. You will likely receive an RFE if you have not submitted transcripts or a copy of your degree.

7. Request for evidence that you have continued working in your OPT employment

If you are applying for the STEM OPT extension, you might be sent an RFE for proof that you have continued working in your OPT employment. For this type of request, you should collect pay stubs and ask your employer to write a letter confirming your employment and the hours that you have worked.

8. Request for evidence of accrued unemployment

F-1 students who are approved for post-completion OPT are only allowed to accrue a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. Students who are approved for the STEM OPT extension may only have a total of 150 days of unemployment, including days that they were unemployed during post-completion OPT. If you have had periods of unemployment during post-completion OPT and have submitted an application for the STEM OPT extension, you may receive a request for evidence of the total days that you were unemployed versus employed. You might work with your current and former employers to document the periods when you were working to show that you have not exceeded the maximum amount.

9. Request for evidence for an unsigned check

If you forgot to sign your check, cashier's check, or money order for the payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee, you will receive an RFE. You can prevent making simple mistakes like this by thoroughly checking over your application and supplementary materials before you submit them.

10. Request for evidence because the e-Verify numbers do not match

If the e-Verify number of your prospective employer that you listed in your application does not match the number in the government's records, you will receive an RFE. You can avoid this problem by making certain to enter your prospective employer's e-Verify number correctly on your application.

What happens if you don't respond to an OPT RFE?

Most F-1 students are scared when they receive RFEs. However, if you receive an RFE, you must respond. If you ignore the RFE, it will not go away. The USCIS will then make its decision based on the information that they already have. Since the RFE indicates that your application is not complete, your OPT employment authorization application will likely be denied if you fail to respond.

Tips for handling an OPT RFE

If you receive an RFE, you will have three options for addressing it within the time specified by the USCIS. You can gather and submit all of the evidence that has been requested at the same time. Alternatively, you can submit a portion, but not all, of the requested evidence. This will tell the USCIS that you want it to adjudicate your application based on the information that it has. Finally, your third option is to withdraw your application.

Under federal regulations, the USCIS requires you to submit all of the evidence that it requests at the same time. This means that you should gather all of the evidence that you need to submit to the USCIS and mail it in a single mailing. If you mail some evidence and then subsequently mail some additional evidence, the USCIS will be unlikely to consider the subsequently mailed evidence when it adjudicates your application.

If you cannot locate some documents with the deadline approaching, you should go ahead and partially respond to the RFE by sending what you have. You should submit some of the requested evidence than to fail to send anything.

How do you know what evidence you should submit with the RFE?

In some cases, an RFE will explicitly state which documents are missing. For example, if you failed to include a copy of your I-94 or your passport, you might receive an RFE that lists these documents. Even if you believe that the RFE is manageable, you should go ahead and take the time to review your application and the supporting documents that you previously submitted to determine whether you should add anything else to improve your chances of approval.

RFEs in other cases may cite complex immigration laws and ask you to provide proof of your eligibility based on those laws. If you do not understand what you are being asked to submit or prove, you should talk to an immigration attorney for help with reviewing the RFE and gathering the evidence to bolster your application.

Your RFE response

You are required to submit the original request for evidence as the first page of your response. You should make a photocopy of the notice and keep it for your records. When the USCIS receives your response, it will scan and forward the sheet for additional processing. If you fail to include it or don't place it on top, there will be more delays.

Following the original RFE, you will need to include a cover letter in which you list the contents of the evidence that you are submitting. You should organize your cover letter in the same way that the RFE is organized so that the USCIS official will be able to see that you have included all of the requested evidence.

After you have gathered everything and placed the documents in the correct order, you will need to prepare your package for mailing. You can find the address for mailing your response in the RFE. Make sure to mail your response packet to that address instead of addresses that you might have used previously. It is a good idea to mail your response with delivery confirmation so that you can prove that you adhered to the deadline.

Request for evidence vs. a Notice of intent to deny

A silver lining of getting a request for evidence instead of a notice of intent to deny is that an RFE is not nearly as negative as a NOID. A NOID is a negative determination that tells you that your application will likely be denied. If you receive a NOID, you should immediately contact an immigration attorney for help with trying to salvage your application.

A NOID means that while you sent enough evidence, the USCIS official who reviewed your application determined that you are not eligible. While it is not a denial, it means that you will likely receive an official denial if you fail to respond with clear and convincing evidence that the USCIS should approve your application.

What happens when an RFE is issued?

When an RFE is issued by the USCIS, the processing of your case will be suspended. Once the deadline for your response arrives, the processing will resume. You might then expect to hear about the decision on your application in about 60 days, but the processing can take longer. If you are ultimately denied and have applied for post-completion OPT, you will need to leave the U.S. or enroll in a school to pursue a program leading to a Master's degree or Ph.D. that is SEVP-approved.

Further steps

Receiving an RFE can strike terror in most F-1 visa holders. If you receive an RFE, it is important that you thoroughly review it and respond within the deadline with as much evidence as possible to support your application. Getting help from an immigration attorney might help you to avoid making mistakes that could result in a denial of your application.

If your application for OPT is approved, you will be able to settle into your life in the U.S. while you further your training through OPT employment. As you try to set up everything, you might need to find an apartment, purchase a car, open a bank account, and get a credit card. All of these types of transactions will depend on your credit history. Unfortunately, the credit record from your home country that you have built will not automatically be available to potential lenders, landlords, and creditors. Nova Credit solves this problem for F-1 visa holders with the global credit passport. Nova Credit translates the credit histories of international students into the Nova Credit score, which many major lenders and banks use to make credit determinations. Once you obtain your Nova Credit score, it will help you to get the things that you need for a more comfortable life in the U.S.

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