The author’s views are entirely his or her own and do not represent legal advice or council.
If you’re applying for an employment- or investment-based immigration visa, you know getting a request for evidence (or RFE) can slow down the process. In this week’s Plan Friday, Brent explains how to avoid the 7 most common reasons for an RFE.
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Today I’ll be talking about 7 common reasons an immigration visa application will get a request for evidence, or RFE, and how to prevent that. An RFE doesn’t mean your visa application is getting denied; it means USCIS needs more information before they can approve it. This is most relevant to L-1, E-2, and EB-5 visa types, but hopefully useful to others as well.
First, some bad news. RFEs have been on the rise in the past few years for all immigration visa types. H-1B visas have been hit the hardest, due to the anti-immigration stance of the current administration. L-1 visas are also under more intense scrutiny than ever before. Even if you’ve successfully gotten your visa renewed several times, USCIS could come back with an RFE questioning your eligibility.
Getting an RFE is frustrating because it takes time (and probably money) to respond to it and submit the documents or proof that USCIS asked for. They want evidence that the visa applicant or company is legit, otherwise they’ll deny the visa. It doesn’t mean you have to completely redo your visa application, but you better have the material they’re asking for. Don’t panic, but do take it seriously, and make sure you submit your documentation within the required timeframe--usually 30 to 90 days.
Of course, in a perfect world, you would prevent an RFE by submitting complete and solid information the first time, and USCIS will approve your visa.
Here are 7 of the most common reasons people get an RFE, and how to avoid them.
#1 Vague Business Description
If you’re opening a restaurant, you have to specify what type of restaurant, what neighborhood, what price range, and what meals you’ll serve. If you’re launching a hotel, what amenities will the rooms have, and how close are you to the airport and other main modes of transportation? These are just examples, but for any industry, be very clear about exactly what your company does.
Your immigration business plan should include your company history, mission, leaders, and goals. And you should spend a full page at the very minimum on your products or services. It’s not uncommon to spend 5 to 10 pages on products or services, especially if you include blueprints, photos of your retail space, product prototypes, packaging, and so forth. For our restaurant example, include your menu with prices. If you’re opening a hotel, include floorplans, rates, and so on. If you’re creating an app, show screenshots of it and reviews from the app store.
#2 Vague Market and Industry Analysis
Your record store will serve everyone in your entire city? Sorry, that won’t fly. A vague market and industry analysis--or one that’s not very positive--can also trigger an RFE. USCIS wants to know who your target market is and what competitive advantages you have over others in the market. A SWOT analysis isn’t required, but some people like to include one. In any case, make sure you have a realistic comparison of your top competitors. USCIS also wants proof that your company operates in a thriving industry--specifically, recent concrete data showing that your industry is growing. Sad to say, record stores are not doing so well.
#3 Investment is Too Small
For E-2 visas, USCIS requires “substantial investment” that’s enough to fund your business, which varies based on your industry. Technically, you can get approved for an E-2 visa by investing less than $50,000, if it only takes that much to successfully run your company. But I typically tell people to invest at least $100,000 for an E-2 visa--and much more if the company needs it.
If your company requires a lot of expensive equipment, real estate, and a large, highly trained staff, your “substantial investment” required will be a lot higher than if you’re buying, say, a coffee shop. If you’re applying for an EB-5 visa, the required investment is much higher--either $500,000 or $1 million under the current program criteria.
#4 Lacking “At-Risk” Capital
Not only do you have to make a substantial investment, but you can get an RFE if you don’t demonstrate that your investment is “at-risk.” The short version is, you have to allocate money for your business that you have no guarantee of getting back. Some examples are paying a web developer, general contractor, and marketing agency. USCIS wants to see that you’re not gonna back out, and that you’re serious about investing money into the U.S. economy. This is especially true for EB-5 applicants.
#5 Role and Responsibility Misalignment
A big reason for an RFE on an L-1A visa application is saying that someone will hold the title of “executive” or “manager,” but their responsibilities don’t line up with that. An executive or manager must be doing high-level work (not sales or production) and manage 5 to 8 other managers and high-level employees. You also have to establish a physical office.
#6 Unclear Staffing Timeline
An EB-5 applicant can get an RFE if there’s not a clear staffing timeline laid out for hiring the required 10 full-time jobs. Since job creation is so key to investor visas, particularly EB-5s, you have to include the job titles and exact months when you plan to hire each position.
#7 Implying an Extended Stay
Finally, E-2 and L-1 visa applications can trigger an RFE if USCIS thinks you might try to stay in the U.S. after your visa expires. Make it clear that you just want to come to the U.S. for the allowed number of years, and then you’ll return to your permanent residence in your home country.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t rush your business plan and visa application. Do it right the first time, with solid, recent research, and geared toward fulfilling every USCIS requirement.
Of course, the best way to prevent an RFE is to partner with experts who have worked on lots of immigration visa business plans before. They’ll know how to avoid common pitfalls and can give you invaluable feedback. A good partner, like Masterplans, will develop your business plan and stand behind their work, revising it for free if you get an RFE.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is intended to be general information; it is not legal or financial advice. Specific legal or financial advice can only be given by a licensed professional with full knowledge of all the facts and circumstances of your situation. Consult with legal and financial experts before making financial investments.
Brent Butler is Masterplans’ founder and CEO.