Last updated on January 30th, 2019
If you’re an individual who is hoping to enter and immigrate to the United States, you will at some stage of the process encounter Form DS-260, the Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application.
This form is an important step in the process, and you need to understand where it fits in the larger picture of your immigration efforts, and how to handle filling out and submitting the form to the government.
Because this form is entirely online, it is unique among the several other immigration forms and applications you’ve likely encountered, so it is worth discussing some of the implications of this web-based feature.
This article will discuss the process and timing of filling out Form DS-260, and then walk you through how to actually fill out the form and answer its questions. Finally, we’ll discuss what to do after you’ve submitted Form DS-260, and the next several steps in your immigration efforts.
What is Form DS-260, the Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application?
If you’re eligible for and are pursuing an immigrant visa so you may enter the United States, you and your United States citizen sponsor will begin a potentially lengthy process. The ultimate goal of this process is legal permanent residency status for you in the United States. Once you obtain permanent residency, you’ll be issued a green card, meaning you may legally live in the U.S.
There are two methods by which you may apply for and obtain a green card.
The first is known as consular processing, and is available for immigrants who are at the time living outside of the United States. This requires you to go to the United States embassy or consulate in your home country, and fill out the paper work and attend an interview there. If you’re approved, you’ll be granted permanent residency status before you even arrive in the United States.
In order to make use of this method, you must already have an approved immigrant petition and visa number immediately available. This means that before you can even contemplate consular processing and permanent residency, you must first make sure that you are eligible for an immigrant visa, which in turn requires you to fit one of the specified categories. The most common of these visa categories include family-based and employment-based. Form DS-260 is one stop along the way in the consular processing journey.
The second method is called adjusting status, and is available only to immigrants who are currently living in the United States. If you’re eligible for adjustment of status, this means that you don’t have to leave the United States and return to your home country in order to go through consular processing.
When do I Fill Out Form DS-260?
Once you’ve determined that you’re eligible for a family-based, employment-based, or another type of immigrant visa, you’ll want to begin the process of obtaining that visa, and ultimately permanent resident status. This section will walk through the visa petition process, and set the stage by discussing the various steps you must go through prior to filling out and submitting your Form DS-260.
Step 1: Sponsor/Petitioner Files I-130 – Petition is Approved
The first step in your visa application process will be to have your United States sponsor or petitioner file Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative. This form is available on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) website here. Your sponsor will likely be your petitioning family member. If you’re applying for an employment-based visa, your sponsor will be your employer, and he or she will need to file Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, available here.
Along with your petition for visa forms, you must also submit Form G-325A, which supplies important biographical information about you and your sponsor, allowing the government to perform background checks on you. You may also submit Form G-1145, which is optional, but is useful as it allows USCIS to provide you email or text message notifications when your petition has been approved.
Step 2: USCIS Forwards I-130 Petition to National Visa Center
If your Form I-130 petition is approved by USCIS, it will be forwarded to the State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). In the event that your petition is not initially approved, USCIS will send you a denial form, along with an explanation of the reason(s) for your denial, and instructions on how you may appeal or correct the denial.
Once the NVC has received your approved I-130 petition, it will hold on to it until an immigrant visa number becomes ready and available for you. How long this will take will vary depending on a variety of factors, including how backed up the NVC is at the time.
Step 3: The NVC Contacts You About Your DS-260
Once the NVC has the approved petition, it will contact you and provide instructions and information that you’ll need in order to fill out your Form DS-260.
In order to access the online form, you’ll need to know several pieces of information that will have been provided to you. You’ll need to know your NVC case number, NVC invoice ID number, and beneficiary ID number.
Completing Your Form DS-260
After the NVC has contacted you and given you the go-ahead, you may begin the process of accessing, filling out, and submitting your Form DS-260.
Because this form is only available electronically, and a paper version does not exist, you’ll need to first make sure that you have access to a reliable internet connection. However, you don’t need to complete the entire form in one sitting. If you need to leave your computer to do something else, you may save your progress and return to finish filling it out at a later time.
Form DS-260 can only be completed in English, using English language characters. So make that this doesn’t present an issue for you, or that someone you know is available to help you.
Additionally, you should note that once you submit your Form DS-260, you will not be able to go back and edit it or correct errors. So you’ll need to make sure that it’s right the first time. Similarly, if you’ve already submitted one DS-260, you cannot submit a second form in an attempt to correct any errors made in the first form.
Select an Agent
An important step in the process that you should take prior to actually filling out Form DS-260 is to designate an agent. This is the person who will receive all communications from the NVC on your behalf.
In order to designate a person, such as an attorney, complete and submit Form DS -261, the Choice of Agent and Address form, available online at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).
Because a lot of important documents and communications will be sent to the address of your agent, it’s important that your agent have a stable address. For this reason, many people select their attorneys, family members, or an immigration professional. You may also designate yourself as your own agent.
Pay the Fees
After you’ve submitted Form DS-261 designating your agent, you’ll need to pay two different fees to NVC. The first is the fee for the review of the Affidavit of Support, the bill for which is sent to your sponsor or petitioner. The second is the immigrant visa processing fee. NVC will send this bill either to you, or your designated agent.
The preferred method for paying these fees is online, using your checking account number and bank routing number, which can be found on your check. Paying online provides the best assurance that you’ll actually be credited for your payments, and that everything stays in order.
However, you also have the option of paying through the mail.
Access Form DS-260
Once all the fees are paid, you may begin the process of completing Form DS-260. You can find the form in only one place, the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) of the Department of State. You’ll need to first go to CEAC’s login page in order to start a new Form DS-260, which can be found here. In order to begin the login process, you’ll be prompted for your NVC case number, which was provided to you in your NVC welcome letter.
Fill Out Form DS-260
Most of the questions that you’ll encounter in Form DS-260 are relatively straightforward, and most ask for general biographical information. However, it’s still important to get all of this information right, and some of the questions may be a little ambiguous. It’s also important that the information you supply match the answers to the biographical questions you gave on Form G-325A earlier in the process.
A few of the questions, however, may cause confusion, so it’s worth taking a moment to clarify what exactly they’re asking.
You’ll be asked for the address of all the places that you’ve lived since you were 16. Here, “lived” means any place that you’ve resided, as opposed to just those places that you consider your permanent home. For instance, if you left your permanent home in order to attend university in a different city, you’ll need to include the address of your temporary university residence.
You’ll also be asked whether you have any children. “Children” includes biological children, as well as step children and adopted children, even if they are over 21 years of age.
The form will ask whether you have an address in the United States at which you intend to live, what this address is, and whether this is the address to which your green card should be sent. It’s not essential that you have a United States address lined up before you arrive in the country.
Further, if you supply an address at which you intend to live upon arrival in the United States, you may want to designate a different address to which your green card should be mailed. You may not receive the actual green card until many months in the future, and your living situation may have changed by that point. Thus, it may be wiser to select a more permanent and stable address for the green card mailing, such as a relative or a lawyer.
You’ll need to print out the confirmation page at the end, once you’ve submitted your Form DS-260. You must bring this page with you to your consular interview.
After Filling Out Form DS-260
Once you’ve filled out your Form DS-260, and double-checked it for errors (remember that you cannot revise it once you’ve clicked submit), you may submit it for review. This signals the end of one step in the process, and the beginning of another.
The NVC will now transfer your petition to the United States embassy or consulate located in your country.
You will eventually be contacted by the office of the consulate, which will schedule you for a visa interview. You will not be scheduled for an interview until an immigrant visa is available for you, which may be some time.
It is important that after you submit your Form DS-260, you remember to contact the NVC regarding any major change in your information, such as if you change addresses.
Go to Your Immigrant Visa I
It is vitally important that you show up, on time, on the date that the consular office has scheduled for your visa interview. If for some reason you cannot make it on that date, contact the consular office as soon as possible and attempt to reschedule. If possible, you should have your spouse or sponsor attend the interview with you.
Prior to attending the interview, you’ll be given instructions to get your fingerprints taken.
You’ll also need to bring with you and present the results of a medical exam, conducted by a consulate-approved physician. This exam is intended to make sure that you’re not inadmissible for medical reasons.
At the interview, a consular officer will ask you a series of questions about your visa petition, aimed at evaluating your eligibility for a visa and green card. For example, if your visa eligibility is based on your marriage to a United States citizen, you’ll be asked pointed questions that evaluate the legitimacy of your marriage
If the consular officer decides to grant your petition for a green card, he will give you what’s called a visa packet. You should not open this packet. When you arrive at a border crossing or port of entry, you will need to give your visa packet to the border official. Here, you will face one final inspection, and if deemed admissible, will be granted permanent residency in the United States.
Your green card should arrive in the mail about 45 days following your entry.
Filling out Form DS-260 is one step in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa, and the ultimate result of this process will be the ability to live freely and legally in the United States. Because the stakes are so high, it’s important to take your time and get Form DS-260 right.