Navigating the DS-260 Online Application for an Immigrant Visa

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Immigrant visa applicant prepares DS-260 online

If you are applying for a green card from outside the United States, you will be preparing the DS-260 online application. It also means you are nearing the end of what may have been a lengthy wait and often exhausting process.

Generally, it’s time to prepare the DS-260 online application once an immigrant visa is available and you’ve submitted all of the other documents that will support the application. This article provides you a general explanation of the steps leading up to the DS-260 application and an overview of what to expect after completing it.

Online DS-260 Explained

The DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application is the U.S. State Department’s process for applying for permanent residence in the United States. In other words, it's a green card application. While certain individuals already present in the U.S. may be able to apply through adjustment of status, individuals outside the U.S. must go through consular processing. The DS-260 online form is the path to submit this formal request for an immigrant visa through the consular processing path. Individuals with an immigrant visa are known as permanent residents and will be issued a green card once inside the United States.

What Happens Before Preparing the DS-260

Prior to filling out the DS-260 online, you must go through several steps. In fact, an immigrant visa must be available to start the application. In order for an immigrant visa to be available to you, a visa petition must be filed, approved, and current.

There are various ways foreign nationals may be eligible for an immigrant visa. Most commonly, U.S.-based family members file a petition (Form I-130, Petition Alien Relative) or U.S.-based employers file a petition (Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker). CitizenPath’s online immigration services can help your relative easily and affordably prepare the family-based petition. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must approve the petition. Depending on the qualifying relationship, the I-130 processing time will vary significantly.


USCIS approves the immigrant visa petition

For immediate relatives (spouse, children (under 21) and parents of U.S. citizens), the process is relatively quick because an immigrant visa is always available. There is no cap. However, the preference categories may take longer. Some of these categories may take several years.


USCIS forwards the case to the NVC

After approving the petition, USCIS will forward your case to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will coordinate your case before it reaches the U.S. embassy. They help you make sure you have all the forms and documents needed to support your DS-260 online application. For immediate relatives, it may take 4 to 6 weeks after USCIS approval to reach step 3. However, preference categories that still are not current, may have cases that wait at the NVC for a long time. Every month, the State Department does communicate where they are in the queue. For more information on what is "current," learn how to read the visa bulletin.


NVC contacts you to prepare the DS-260 online

Next, the National Visa Center will invite you to fill out the DS-260 online form. You’ll need to wait until you get their specific instructions. In order to start, you must have your NVC case number, NVC invoice ID number, and beneficiary ID number.

How to Fill Out the DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Application)

Before you can actually fill out the DS-260 application, you'll need to pay the fee and assign an agent.

Select an Agent with Form DS-261

The online DS-261 is a simple electronic form that allows you to designate a person to receive communications. It tells the State Department how to communicate with you during the application process.

Although you may assign yourself as an agent, it is common practice to designate an attorney or family member (often the petitioner) as a contact. You may also receive communications. But assigning another contact will help keep them knowledgeable of your case.

Pay the Fees

Next, the NVC will require you to pay two mandatory fees online. There is a DS-260 online processing fee ($325) and a fee to process the affidavit of support ($120). The total fees are $445.

You will not be able to access Form DS-260 until NVC processes your payments. After submitting your payments online, it may take one week to process.

Submit Financial Sponsorship Documents (Affidavit of Support)

At this point, family-based applicants generally must submit a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The person who filed the I-130 petition will also fill out the I-864 affidavit for you. In short, Form I-864 is a contract between the petitioner (sponsor) and the U.S. government. The sponsor agrees to repay the government should you ever depend on the U.S. government for public benefits (welfare).

If the sponsor needs help preparing the document and gathering supporting documents, CitizenPath can help. Designed by immigration attorneys, our online service makes the form easier and helps eliminate common mistakes that cause delays and denials. We even guarantee that USCIS will approve your affidavit. You'll get the neatly prepared form and custom filing instructions.

Filling Out Form DS-260 Online

When NVC informs you it is time, you may prepare the DS-260 in the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) of the Department of State. Remember, you’ll need your case number and other details before you can start.

You’ll find that most the questions are straight forward, but these tips may help you navigate the process:

  • Be prepared to use English. So if you’re not comfortable reading English, get someone like your petitioner to help you. If you are listing addresses or names that aren’t in the Roman alphabet, you must transliterate them.
  • List all children. Regardless of their ages, list all of your children, including stepchildren, legally adopted children and biological children. To qualify as a step child, generally the child must have been under age 18 at the time of the parents’ marriage.
  • Be truthful. Always provide honest answers when preparing U.S. immigration forms. Immigration officials are well trained to find discrepancies. If you feel your answer to a question will create a problem, speak to an immigration attorney.
  • Review your social media. The U.S. government will ask you to disclose your social media accounts and will review your online presence. Be on your best behavior when posting information online.
  • Review you answers. Before submitting the application, take the time to review your answers. If necessary, you’ll be able to save your progress.
  • Upon completion, you’ll have an opportunity to print the online DS-260 confirmation page. Take this page with you to your consular interview. If your information changes before you interview, that’s okay. It’s common for people to change jobs, have new child, or open another social media account. Simply provide an update to the consular officer at your interview.

Sample DS-260

Never prepare your application based on a sample. But a sample DS-260 may be helpful to give you a preview of what to expect or give you context for a particular question. You can access the Department of State’s official sample DS-260 application here.

An immigrant visa applicant drinks coffee while preparing DS-260 on the website

What to Expect After Filling Out the Online Application

You're not quite done. Before the NVC will schedule your immigrant visa interview, there are a few final steps.

Submit Civil Documents that Support Your DS-260

You and each family member immigrating with you must submit civil documents. Civil documents include items such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and police records that support the information provided on your online DS-260. You must gather, scan, and then upload these documents to the CEAC website. Your civil documents must be issued by the official issuing authority in your country. If these documents are not in English, you must also include a certified translation.

Prepare for Your Visa Interview

After the NVC schedules your visa interview appointment, they will send you, your petitioner, and your agent/attorney (if applicable) an email noting the appointment date and time.  Before you may attend the interview, you’ll need to do a few more things. Wait until you get your interview appointment letter. The letter will contain more specific guidance. U.S. embassies in different countries may have slightly different requirements. So pay close attention to your specific letter. In general, you must:

  • Schedule and attend a medical examination. Each family member that will immigrate must get a medical exam performed by a U.S. government-approved doctor.
  • Register for courier service. The embassy needs you to register with an approved courier service so that they may return your visa stamped passport to you.
  • Gather required documents for interview. Take original or certified copies of all civil documents that you already submitted to the NVC. Further, take any other documents requested in your appointment letter. Generally, you do not need to take financial support documents unless you have additional evidence that may help your case.
Entering the United States on an Immigrant Visa

If the consular officer approves your online DS-260 application, that means you’ve been granted permanent resident status in the United States. For now, the consulate will place an I-551 stamp inside your passport to indicate you’re a permanent resident.

There is one final fee – an immigrant fee of $220 (at the time of publishing this article). Pay this fee at your earliest convenience. It goes toward the production of your new green card. Use the stamp in your passport to initially enter the U.S. If you’ve paid the immigrant fee, your green card should arrive within a few short weeks of entry.

The DS-260 online visa application comes near the end of the consular process. While important in its own right, many of the steps and ancillary responsibilities during the path to a green card are equally important. Most people can prepare the online DS-260 without problems. For petitioners, CitizenPath can help you ensure the petition (Form I-130) leading to a green card is prepared correctly and the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) meets the criteria outlined by the government.

CitizenPath provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application or petition. We provide support for the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130), Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), and several other immigration services.

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