Last updated on February 21st, 2019
If you’re planning on entering the United States, but are not a U.S. citizen, you’ll need to get a visa in order to enter the country. The type of visa you apply for will depend on your situation, as well as why you’re entering the country.
For example, if you’re on vacation, you’ll probably need a B-2 tourism visa. If you’re planning to permanently move to the United States for work, you’ll most likely apply for an Employment-Based visa and green card.
If you’re entering the country temporarily (such as in the B-2 example above), you’ll have to file for one of the “nonimmigrant” visas. Your first step in this process will be completing and submitting Form DS-160, the Online Nonimmigrant
What is Form DS-160, and Why is it Important?
Form DS-160 is an electronic form that must be filled out and submitted through the United States Department of State’s website. Because this form is only available as an online resource, it will require that you have a reliable internet connection to fill out. Form DS-160 is the application that must be used by all foreigners seeking to enter the United States as nonimmigrants.
The information that you supply in Form DS-160 will be relied on by United States consular officials as they process your request for a visa on which to enter the country. As they’re going through your request, the supplied information will allow them to determine whether you’re eligible for the type of visa that you’re requesting. As such, the form is important, and you should take the time to fill it out properly and thoroughly.
The other major component of your visa application is a consular interview. This interview, along with your submitted Form DS-160, will be the primary sources of information on which a decision whether to issue you a visa will be based.
What is a “Nonimmigrant” Visa?
In order to enter the United States, you’ll need a visa. Which type of visa you’ll need depends on the facts of your situation. There are two categories of visa for which you may apply, and whether you’ll fall into one or the other depends on the purpose of your travel or visit to the United States.
Generally, an immigrant visa is given to individuals who intend to enter the United States, and remain there permanently, making it their new home, with no thought of returning to their home country.
Nonimmigrant visas, on the other hand, are issued to individuals who intend to travel to and remain in the United States for only a limited period of time and with a limited purpose, and then return to their home country following the expiration of their visa. Such limited purposes include tourism, academic study, and temporary work.
Examples of nonimmigrant visas include those given to business visitors (B-1), academic students (F), and tourists or vacationers (B-2). Examples of immigrant visas include those for employment-based immigrants, such as those possessing advanced degrees or exceptional abilities (E2), and religious workers (SD, SR).
Fiancés of United States citizens seeking to get married in the United States (K-1) and spouses of United States citizens (K-3), will be eligible for “K” visas. This type of visa is technically a nonimmigrant visa, even though they are issued for immigration purposes.
Completing Form DS-160
Completing the form is a multi-step process that can be done by anyone with an internet connection.
Where do I find the form?
In order to submit your Form DS-160 application, you’ll need to access it from the website of the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You’ll click on the link indicating the proper form, and you have begun the process.
It should be noted that the application must be filled out in English, using only English characters. You must answer the questions in the form that are marked as “mandatory” before you’ll be allowed to submit the form. However, some questions will simply not apply to you, and you may leave them blank.
What additional documents will I need?
In order to fully complete Form DS-160, you’ll need to have available a few other documents containing information for which you’ll be asked. You’ll need to have your passport available, as well as a schedule of your travel plans while you’re in the United States, provided you have made such plans at this time. You’ll also need to have your résumé. If you’ve been to the United States before, you’ll need to know the dates of your five most recent trips or visits to the country.
If you’re a student or exchange visitor, applying for an F or J visa, you’ll need to have your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) ID, which can be found on Form I-20 or DS-2019 that you should have received from your school or program. Additionally, you’ll need the name and address of the school at which you’ll be studying in the United States.
If you’re a temporary worker petitioning for entry, you’ll need to have available a copy of your Form I-129.
Can someone else complete the application for me?
If you, the applicant, are unable to fill out the application yourself, due to illiteracy or another reason, you may do so with the assistance of another person. Also, if the application is for a young child, the child’s parents may complete and submit the form.
However, if another person helps you, this other person’s name must be indicated on the final submission page. Additionally, you, as the actual applicant, must be the one who actually clicks the “Sign Application” button at the end.
What are the browser requirements?
What if I don’t finish the entire form at once?
You may start your Form DS-160 application, but then find that you cannot complete the entire thing at one time. This is not a problem, and you may save your partly-completed application, and then come back later and finish it.
In order to save your progress, you’ll need to have your application identification number that you were issued when you first started the new application. This number is important, so you should write it down when you first get it.
Each time that you click the “Next” button at the bottom of an application page, the form will automatically save the progress that you’ve made on the application up to that point. It will be saved on the CEAC website for 30 days. This also provides protection in the event that your internet connection is lost, the website times you out, or for whatever other reason you’re prevented from finishing.
If you anticipate that it will be more than 30 days before you’re next able to return to working on the application, you should save the form to the hard drive of your computer by clicking the “Save Application to File” button on the webpage. If you do decide to save your partly-completed application to a hard drive, this should only be done on a private computer.
Submitting Additional Form DS-160s
If you have already completed and submitted a Form DS-160 in order to apply for a visa, you may use this previous application in the event that you need to apply for an additional visa. This is useful for people who find themselves needing to travel to the United States frequently, and saves the time needed to complete an entirely new Form DS-160 from scratch each time a visa is required.
If you have saved a completed Form DS-160 to your computer’s hard drive, you may use this saved form to fill in some of the questions on your new application.
When you start the new application, at the “Getting Started” page, you may select “Option B – Upload a Previously Saved Application.”
Alternatively, you can select “Option C – Retrieve Application,” if you’ve already submitted a previous application.
With both of these options, the information that you previously submitted will automatically populate the corresponding answer boxes in your new application. However, you should take the time to review the answers in the new application, in order to make sure that your information hasn’t changed in the meantime.
The Photo Requirement
An important part of completing the Form DS-160 application is attaching an acceptable photograph of yourself. This will allow the government to identify you. Given that Form DS-160 is completely electronic, you’ll need to have a digital image that you can upload and submit over the internet. It is important that your photo comply with the government’s requirements in order to ensure that your application is received and processed smoothly.
Your photographic image must be in color, have been taken within the last six months, and show your current appearance. It must show your full face, with your eyes open, and show you in front of a white or off-white background. It should show you from your shoulders up, and your face must not take up less than 50% of the photo’s total height.
The digital photo’s dimensions must be square, meaning that the photo’s height must be the same as its width. It must not be smaller than 600 x 600 pixels, nor larger than 1200 x 1200 pixels. The digital photo should be in JPEG format, and the file must not take up more than 240 kilobytes.
If you don’t have a digital photo, such as one taken with a digital camera, readily available, you make scan and use a preexisting hard-copy photo. The traditional, hard-copy photo must be two inches by two inches in size, and meet the same content requirements as described above. The digital scan must be done at a resolution of 300 pixels per inch.
While the government recommends that you make use of a professional photo service in order to make sure that you satisfy all of the requirements, you may choose to take your photo yourself, provided you have the necessary equipment and expertise. Just be careful, and make sure that you comply with all of the requirements, as otherwise this may be a basis for the denial of your application.
What is the Submission Process?
Once you’ve completed Form DS-160 and answered the questions to the best of your ability, you must sign the form. Because this is an online resource, you’ll need to sign electronically by clicking the “Sign Application” button at the bottom of the last page of the form.
By clicking here, you are representing the same things that you would be if you were signing a paper application, specifically that you’ve read and understood the form, and that all of your answers are true and accurate to the best of your knowledge.
What do I do After I Submit the Form?
Once you’ve completed and submitted your Form DS-160 electronically, you’ll need to take a few more important actions that will have implications for the next several steps in your visa application process.
First, you’ll be taken to a confirmation page, displaying a bar code. You must print off this confirmation page, as well as the bar code, though you need not print off the entire completed application.
Second, you’ll need to contact the United States consulate or embassy nearest to you in your home country in order to arrange for and schedule an interview appointment. Note, that the consulate or embassy will not contact you, and that each particular consulate or embassy will have different scheduling requirements and procedures. You should check with them beforehand for their specific requirements.
Third, you’ll need to pay the visa application processing fee. This amount will depend on the specific consulate or embassy to which you’re applying.
After completing Form DS-160, you must print off the confirmation page, displaying your identification number, and bring it with you to the consular interview. This will allow the consular official to pull up your application and go through it in order to make a final decision.
In the event that you’ve lost your printed off confirmation page, you may still retrieve this page after you’ve submitted your application in order to bring it to the interview. You’ll need to go to the CEAC’s website and select your embassy or consulate.
Once you’ve been taken to the “Getting Started” page, select “Option C – Retrieve Application,” and type in your Application ID. This will take you to the confirmation page for that application, which you may re-print as needed.
Form DS-160 is an important preliminary step in the larger nonimmigrant visa application process. Given its exclusively online nature, there are a few important issues that are not present with the traditional paper forms used in the immigration world. Thus, you’ll want to make sure that you follow the form’s instructions carefully, and provide all the requested information. Doing so will help the process to go smoothly, and decrease the amount of time that you’ll have to wait before you can enter the United States.