USCIS Issues Final Memorandum on Timeframes for Responses to RFEs

In July 2011, [FN1] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released to the public an interim policy memorandum (IPM) dated July 7, 2011, changing the amount of time USCIS officers may provide an applicant or petitioner to respond to a request for evidence (RFE), eliminating the tiered approach to establishing RFE response *1335 times, and providing applicants and petitioners residing outside the U.S. who are responding to RFEs with additional mailing time. USCIS has now released the final version of this memorandum. Like the IPM, the final PM is dated July 7, 2011, entitled “Change in Standard Timeframes for Applicants or Petitioners to Respond to Requests for Evidence; Revisions to Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 10.5(b), Chapter 25.2(e)(3), Chapter 38.1(e)(6), and Appendix 10-9; AFM Update AD11-36,” and numbered PM-602-0040. The final PM is unchanged from the IPM.

The PM explains that previous guidance provided USCIS officers the flexibility to determine individual response times for RFEs tailored to the circumstances of each case but this delegated flexibility led to inconsistencies in the RFE process. The PM seeks to further USCIS’ goal of improving consistency in its policies and adjudications by amending the standard timeframes USCIS provides for responding to RFEs and by limiting the use of discretion to reduce the response time from the standard timeframes. Accordingly, the PM amends the standard timeframes listed in Appendix 10-9 of the AFM to include a standard timeframe of 30 days for Form I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and a standard timeframe of 84 days for all other form types, regardless of whether the request is for initial or additional evidence, or whether the evidence is available in the U.S. or is obtained from overseas sources.

The PM permits USCIS officers to reduce the response time from the standard timeframes only after obtaining supervisory concurrence.

The PM also provides that the maximum response time for an RFE may not exceed 12 weeks (84 days), but that, when an RFE is served by mail, USCIS officers should include additional mailing time for the RFE to reach the applicant or petitioner and for the response to reach USCIS. The standard mailing time established by 8 CFR § 103.5a(b) is three days; however, as a matter of policy, USCIS has determined that the mailing time should be longer when the applicant or petitioner is residing outside the U.S. Accordingly, Appendix 10-9 of the AFM is amended to include appropriate mailing times in addition to standard response times.

The PM notes that it does not apply to asylum applications or applications for relief under § 203 of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act [FN3] (NACARA 203). Pursuant to 8 CFR § 208.9(e), an asylum officer may, as a matter of discretion, grant a brief extension of time following an interview during which the asylum applicant may submit additional evidence. 8 CFR § 240.67(b)(6) contains a similar provision for NACARA 203 applicants.

[FN1] The PM, including the revisions to the AFM, is reproduced here.

[FN2]. USCIS Issues Interim Memorandum on Timeframes for Responses to RFEs  (July 18, 2011).

[FN3]. Pub. L. No. 105-100, 111 Stat. 2160 (Nov. 19, 1997), codified in scattered sections of 8 USCA. NACARA § 203 provides that certain Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and nationals of former Soviet Bloc countries are eligible to apply for cancellation of removal under the standards for suspension of deportation similar to those that existed prior to enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009-563 (Sept. 30, 1996).

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