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This is a form US Citizenship and Immigration Services uses to provide information. Officially, the name of the form is a “Notice of Action.” Here’s a list of just five of the things an I-797 might mean:
A “Receipt Notice” acknowledging that they have received a case, providing a case number that can be used for tracking and as a receipt for fees paid;
A “Biometrics Notice” providing an appointment date and time for fingerprinting and pictures as part of a background check (required for certain applications);
A “Transfer Notice” sending the case to another facility for adjudication or further processing;
An “Appointment Notice” setting a date for an in-person interview at a USCIS office; or
An “Approval Notice” for an application or petition (called a “Welcome Notice” in the case of approval of an I-485 Application to Adjust Status).
An I-797 Notice of Action can be issued for many different purposes – there is no one thing that “I-797” means unless specified (i.e.: “I-797 Receipt Notice” or “I-797 Appointment Notice”).
These mean almost nothing. Although frequently used on message boards and often referring to the order in which an I-797 Notice of Action has been received after filing a case, the order doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the significance of the I-797. In most cases, the initial I-797 (often referred to as “NOA 1”) will be a Receipt Notice, as described above. However, it could in theory also be a Rejection Notice where the initial filing isn’t accepted for processing. “NOA 2” – the second I-797 Notice of action Received after filing – may be a Biometrics Appointment Notice, a Transfer Notice, a Notice of an Appointment, an Approval, or other notice depending on the type of case, the specific facts of an individual case, and/or workload or policy shifts at USCIS. Referring to a USCIS notice by “NOA number” is therefore confusing, potentially dangerous, and essentially useless without further specifics on what the I-797 form is actually about.