I-797 Form

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. 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.

What is the I-797 Form?

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.

I-797s usually notify applicants that USCIS has received their 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. They can also be more involved, like a request for a series of bank statements. Make sure to submit every document requested in the manner it was asked. If you don’t respond to Request for Evidence, you risk rejection.

I-797F, Transportation Letter

The I-797F serves a purpose besides 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 is specific to your case. Make sure to make copies of this form and keep it in a safe place.

Using Your I-797 Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has experienced growing delays in processing. On August 19, 2020, they released new guidance that the I-797 can be used as a form of employment eligibility verification information while dealing with the delay in processing employment authorization documents. Even though the I-797 says it is not evidence of employment authorization, the government will accept it until December 1, 2020.

To use your I-797 in that fashion, it needs to have been sent on or after December 1, 2019, through August 20, 2020. The I-797 also has to say that your application for employment authorization was approved. For the I-9, the I-797 will only serve as employment eligibility verification and not any form of an identification document.

This is the only instance so far where an I-797 will be used that way. However, with upcoming budget shortfalls and shrinking in the workforce, it’s essential to save any I-797 just if USCIS makes further changes.

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

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While a simple form, the I-797 can come with complicated instructions and requests for complex documents. Help from VisaNation Law Group is vital to assist you in your entire application process.