It’s easy to feel like a computer just filling out endless forms for USCIS in order to immigrate to the U.S. However, there is one form that USCIS has to fill out and send to you: I-797 form Notice of Action. There are different versions of the I-797 that have different purposes, but they are all probably the most important documents USCIS will send you. If you have a safe, put any I-797 you receive in there next to your family jewels, passport, and that baseball card collection.
This I-797 guide will help you maneuver through the different types of this form. You’ll also learn how to check your I-797 status online and how the form can be useful outside of just alerting you to changes in your case.
Form I-797 Notice of Action: What is it?
After submitting any immigration application to USCIS, the primary way the agency communicates with you is through the I-797 form. (This is not a form you fill out.)
USCIS sends Form I-797C to communicate the following things:
Form I-797C, Notice of Action can be used to be USCIS to communicate the details above (receipt, rejection, transfer, re-opening of a case and appointment – biometric, fingerprint, interview, rescheduled). Do not ignore the information detailed on this form as it can result in additional delays to your case.
I-797 Processing Time
I-797s usually notify applicants that USCIS has received their application. You will likely receive an I-797 2-3 weeks after submitting your application. It is important to read the form thoroughly as it also tends to state instructions you must follow for the rest of the application process. Instructions can include interview requests, a list of documents you need to bring to an interview, travel instructions, and requests for further evidence, among others. I-797s also will be sent if your immigration application has been approved.
What happens after I-797 approval notice?
Along with instructions, it’s important to read whether the I-797 you receive comes with any immigration benefits. Most do not include any benefits and explicitly state so, but some do.
Form I-797C After 4/2/2012
The above image is how Form I-797C looks after April 2, 2012. It is printed on plain paper and will have a header saying “This notice does not grant any immigration status or benefit.”
Previous versions of the Form I-797C issued prior to April 12, 2012, remain valid and should be kept for your records.
The I-797 proves why it’s imperative to alert USCIS if you ever move so they know where to mail all this critical information. Whenever you have a change of address, make sure to fill and submit AR-11, Alien’s Change of Address Card, or update it on through your USCIS online account.
What Does the Priority Date on the I-797 Mean
Your I-797 might come with a priority date if you’re applying for a visa or green card. After your birthdate, this might become the most important date to remember. Your priority date is the date USCIS received your application. You’ll use this priority date when you look at the visa bulletin to see where you are in the queue. When the final action date matches your priority date, that means you’re current. When you’re current, you can now adjust your status or go through consular processing to get your green card or visa.
How Long Does it Take to Get an I-797
You should receive an I-797 usually two to three weeks after submitting your application. Remember that the I-797 is often just a notice from USCIS that they received your application and nothing more. However, it’s still important to save.
Different Types of I-797 Forms
The I-797 you receive will depend on what type of immigration application you submitted and where you are in that process.
I-797, Notice of Action
The I-797 that doesn’t have a letter at the end of it is the simplest one. This is sent from USCIS notifying you that they’ve received your application. Although simple, there are two important details in the basic I-797: priority date and receipt number.
We’ve discussed the priority date above. The receipt number is going to be the most important number to remember after your phone number. This 13-digit alphanumeric code is how you can check your case status online. The number is also your identifier when continuing the application process. Most immigration officials will request it. You can check your case status with your receipt number.
I-797A, Notice of Action for Replacement of I-94
If you filed an I-94 extension, asked to adjust your status, or changed your address, you’ll receive an I-797A. If you receive this form, it usually means that your extension or status adjustment was approved. At the bottom, you will find a new I-94 with a new expiration date.
I-797B, Approval of the Alien Worker Petition
If you filed an I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker form, you’ll be happy to receive the I-797B. With the I-797B, you’re approved to work in the U.S. While you’re approved to work, it doesn’t always mean your extension of stay is approved. If you don’t see a new I-94 with the I-797B, you might have to return to your country and go to a consulate to have your visa stamped. Make sure to read all the instructions on the I-797B to see how you should proceed.
I-797C, Important Follow-Up Information
Along with letting you know that USCIS received your application, I-797C might let you know of an appointment, rejection, transfer, or reopening of a case. It’s essential to read through the entire form to understand what your next steps should be.
The appointments mentioned in an I-797C might be a biometric appointment or an interview with a USCIS immigration officer. You will also receive an I-797C for rescheduled appointments.
You will notice that at the bottom, it states in all capital letters, “THIS NOTICE DOES NOT GRANT ANY IMMIGRATION STATUS OR BENEFIT.” While that is true, make sure to keep it safe as the form can serve as verification.
Make sure to act as quickly as possible regarding the form’s instructions to avoid delays in processing.
I-797D, Benefit Card
If it’s possible to have a favorite form, then it has to be the I-797D. It’s the form that comes with gifts. Depending on what you’re applying for, the I-797D might come with a green card or an employment authorization document. You are not required to respond to this form. While the gifts are nice and shiny, you should still save the I-797D just in case you lose your benefits card.
I-797E, Request for Evidence
This one might be our least favorite I-797 form. The I-797E means that your missing documents from your original application or USCIS is requiring further supporting documents. Requests for Evidence are prevalent and can be as simple as a marriage or birth certificate so do not assume that you are automatically going to be denied since that’s not the case. They can also be more involved, like a request for a series of bank statements. The burden is on you to prove to USCIS that you meet all their requirements for eligibility. Make sure to submit every document requested in the manner it was asked and in a timely fashion (on or before the stated date). If you don’t respond to the Request for Evidence, you risk rejection.
Our experts also recommend sending your submission to USCIS with a delivery service that you can track (i.e., FedEx, USPS certified mail). Due to the sensitive nature of responding to RFEs and the potential delays to your case, it is highly advised to work with a qualified immigration attorney.
I-797F, Transportation Letter
The I-797F serves a purpose besides to notify you of your application: it lets you travel. USCIS will send this form to overseas applicants so they can travel. There are instructions on every I-797F that are specific to your case. Make sure to make copies of this form and keep it in a safe place. If you are a permanent resident and have been out of the U.S. for less than a year you can acquire a transportation letter by filing Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document. The filing fee for the I-131A is $575 and allows you to apply for the travel document if you are returning from temporary travel overseas of less than a year and your Permanent Resident Card was lost/stolen/destroyed. It’s also for those who have lost or had their re-entry permit stolen or destroyed.
Using Your I-797 Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS experienced growing delays in processing. On August 19, 2020, they released guidance that the I-797 could be used as a form of employment eligibility verification information while dealing with the delay in processing employment authorization documents. The government said they would accept it as evidence of employment authorization until December 1, 2020.
Checking Your Case Status Online If You Lost Your I-797 Form and Receipt Number
We’ve told you throughout this article to save your I-797s, but we understand mistakes happen. If you lost your I-797 and don’t have your receipt number saved anywhere, don’t panic. You have to make an appointment with USCIS and bring valid identification documents to ask for your receipt number. This is the only way to meet with anyone from USCIS. With the receipt number, you can now check your status online.
You can also check on your case status without a receipt number by calling USCIS at 1-800-375-5283. However, the phone wait times can be long.
How We Can Help
With so many forms to keep track of it can make the immigration process that much more complicated. For that reason, it’s best to have a professional immigration team handle your case. With decades of expertise in the industry and cutting-edge knowledge of the inner workings, VisaNation Law Group attorneys have helped countless individuals and families successfully immigrate to the United States. The best way to get started is to schedule a consultation online.