All immigrant visa applicants must complete and file DS-260 Form and DS-261 Form online. Learn how to fill out the forms in SelfLawyer’s guide.

Foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa from abroad must apply by using Forms DS-260 and DS-261.

Administered by the National Visa Center (NVC), these forms are a foreign-born national’s first step to permanent resident (green card) status through consular processing.

What is DS-260 Form?

Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application) is the first step in the application process to become a permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States.

Form DS-260 is an online visa application that must be completed and submitted through the National Visa Center’s website.

Form DS-260 can be found and completed online at: https://ceac.state.gov/IV/Login.aspx

What is Form DS-261?

Form DS-261 (Online Choice of Address and Agent) is also an online form to be completed and submitted through the National Visa Center.

This form tells the United States government how to communicate with you about your visa application.

Form DS-261 can be found and completed online at: https://ceac.state.gov/IV/Login.aspx

What is the National Visa Center?

The National Visa Center (NVC) is a branch of the United States Department of State.

The NVC is charged with processing all permanent resident (green card) applications submitted by foreign-born individuals applying for immigration through their local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The NVC is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

What are the Consular Processing Steps?

A basic outline of the DS-260 consular processing steps are:

Family-based immigration – I-130 Sponsorship

Foreign-born nationals who wish to immigrate to the United States through a relative must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

To start the immigration process, your sponsor must complete and file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with all other necessary documentation.

USCIS will send your sponsor notice of receipt of Form I-130 in about two to three weeks.

This I-130 application will be approved if USCIS can verify your relationship with your sponsor and your sponsor’s citizenship status is legitimate (U.S. citizen or permanent resident).

Your sponsor will receive notice of USCIS decision in about 7 to 15 months.

National Visa Center

If your sponsor’s I-130 application is approved, the application and other submitted materials will be sent to the National Visa Center.

The National Visa Center (NVC) will tell your sponsor when it receives the I-130 application.

You and your sponsor must pay close attention to this notification because it will contain three important numbers:

  • a unique NVC identification number
  • your NVC case number, and
  • an invoice number.

You should immediately become familiar with all three numbers because they are essential to continuing your immigration process.

DS-260 and DS-261 – How to Fill Out 

Once your sponsor is notified that their I-130 application has been received by the National Visa Center, it is time for you to complete Forms DS-260 and DS-261.

Both DS-260 and DS-261 are online forms, meaning they must be completed and submitted online through the National Visa Center’s website here: https://ceac.state.gov/IV/Login.aspx

Complete Form DS-260 first, as it is your visa application.

On the NVC website, you will be asked to enter your case number located on the notice received by your sponsor.

Only after entering this case number do you have access to the rest of Form DS-260.

Then, complete the rest of the form.

As with every U.S. government form, it is extremely important that you answer every question completely and honestly.

After finishing Form DS-260, print and keep it in a safe place — you may be required to bring it with you to your immigration interview.

After completing and printing Form DS-260, immediately complete and submit Form DS-261.

Form DS-261 advises the NVC of how to contact you throughout your immigration application process.

In completing this form, you are required to provide a contact agent.

Pick your contact agent carefully because this person will represent you during your immigration application process.

This person can be anyone you choose:

  • yourself
  • a trusted friend
  • a family member
  • your sponsoring relative, or
  • an immigration attorney.

Submit Requested Documentation

Once Forms DS-260 and DS-261 are completed and submitted, NVC will notify you of any supporting documents necessary to supply.

Any delay in submitting these requested documents will slow the processing of your application.

When Processing Begins

After Forms DS-260, DS-261, and all supporting documents have been filed, your immigration application is ready to be processed.

The time NVC will begin processing your application depends on your sponsor and your family relationship with your sponsor.

If you are sponsored by a U.S. citizen and are an “immediate relative” (spouse, child under 21 or parent of a U.S. citizen), NVC will begin processing your application immediately.

This is because there is an unlimited number of visas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

If your sponsor is a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you must wait for a visa to become available for your visa category.

After submitting Form DS-260 and DS-261, NVC will tell you (or your agent) that your application is complete but “visas are not currently available for your visa category” with instructions to check the “Visa Bulletin” page of the U.S. State Department’s website.

“Priority date” refers to the date that your visa number becomes available.

The State Department’s visa bulletin can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html

DS-260 Fees

Once NVC has processed your DS-260 and DS-261 applications, it is time to pay all necessary fees and undergo a host of other steps.

As of February 2020, there is a $325 processing fee for Forms DS-260 and DS-261.

All immigrants filing Form DS-260 must also file Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support).

Form I-864 is an affidavit showing support from your sponsoring relative if you are not financially able to support yourself after arriving in the United States.

There is a $120 processing fee with Form I-864.

All persons seeking permanent resident status (green card status) must undergo a biometric exam.

This exam requires you to give fingerprints, photographs and other information that will be given to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) so a background check may be performed.

An interview will not be scheduled until your FBI background check is complete.

There is an $85 fee for biometric services. 

Scheduling Immigration Interview

After all your applications have been filed, all supporting documentation submitted, and all fees paid, NVC will schedule an immigration interview.

This usually takes about one or two months for the interview to be scheduled.

Medical Examination

Under U.S. immigration law, every foreign national who applies for immigration must undergo a medical examination to decide if they pose a risk to the public health of the United States.

In your NVC interview letter, you will be instructed to undergo an immigration exam and complete Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination).

Schedule this exam quickly, because the exam and all associated laboratory tests must be completed before your immigration interview date. 

While there is no fee associated with Form I-693, you are responsible for paying for your I-693 medical exam (these fees vary depending on doctor and location).

NVC will instruct you to bring your completed I-693 form with you to your immigration interview.

Immigration Interview

Your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate will schedule an immigration interview.

You will be notified of its date, what you must bring to the interview, and any other relevant information. 

Approval

Within a few weeks of your interview, the USCIS will notify you of the results of your visa application.

If approved, USCIS will place a visa stamp in your passport until your actual green card is processed.

At this time, you will be required to pay USCIS a fee of $200 for the production and mailing of your actual permanent resident card (green card). 

DS-260 and DS-261 Fees

There are many fees associated with obtaining your permanent resident card (green card) under Forms DS-260 and DS-261.

As of February 2020, these fees include:

  • DS-260 and DS-261 application fees: $325.00
  • I-864 (Affidavit of Support) application fee: $120.00
  • Biometric services fee: $85.00
  • I-693 medical exam: No fee (but you must pay for the examination)
  • If approved, production fee for green card: $200

DS-260 Processing Time

How long it takes to receive your green card after filing Form DS-260 depends on several factors, including:

  • Which U.S. Embassy or Consulate you are applying through;
  • Whether your relationship with your sponsoring family member falls under the “Immediate Relative” or “Family Preference” category of immigration law; and
  • Whether your sponsoring relative is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

Depending on these circumstances, you may receive your green card in a few months, or several years.

DS-260 Checklist

Some of the supporting documents to be filed with Form DS-260:

  • Confirmation that Form DS-260 had been filled online;
  • Copy of your current passport;
  • Birth certificate (with English translation if necessary);
  • Police clearance certificate if over the age of 16 and lived in the country of application for more than six months;
  • Document of current marital status (certificate of marriage, divorce, death, etc.);
  • Military records, including document proving honorable discharge;
  • Certified court or prison record, if you were ever convicted of a crime;
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (including any financial documents supporting affidavit);
  • Form I-864A Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member (including any financial documents supporting affidavit); and/or
  • Any other documents requested by the NVC and/or the USCIS.

DS-260 Filing Tips

Forms DS-260 and DS-261 are online forms that must be completed and filed through the United States Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

Answer All Questions

The CEAC system will not let you move on to the next page until every required question is answered on the current page.

Most of the questions on Form DS-260 are mandatory.

If there is a file marked “Optional” you can leave that field blank.

Some fields will not apply to you; in those instances, you can check the box next to the field marked, “Does Not Apply”.

All other fields are mandatory and must be answered. 

If you fail to answer any required mandatory question, CEAC will not allow you to proceed to the next page.

Instead, you will receive a message instructing you to correct an answer.

Answer All Questions in English

You must complete Forms DS-260 and DS-261 in English.

CEAC does not recognize foreign characters or symbols.

If you attempt to answer a question with a character or symbol that CEAC does not recognize, you will be asked to re-enter your answer.

Be sure to translate all answers into English.

Save Your Application Often

SelfLawyer recommends that you save Forms DS-260 and DS-261 as you complete each page.

The CEAC system will “time out” due to inactivity after a set period.

If the system times out, you will lose all your answers since the last time you saved your application.

Form DS-260 is extensive and difficult to complete in one sitting.

If you need to stop and take a break, simply save your work and return later.

However, if you fail to complete Form DS-260 (or Form DS-261) within 30 days, CEAC will remove your uncompleted form(s) from the system and you will be required to start anew.

Any time you save your work or are timed-out, you can retrieve your saved application by returning to the Consular Electronic Application Center website.

Access the Immigrant Visa – Summary Information screen and select View/Edit from the IV and Alien Registration section.

You will then be provided with a list of the applications saved in your case, along with their respective statuses: “Not Stated”, “Incomplete” or “Submitted”.

To display and proceed with an incomplete application, select the “Edit” button to the right of the application’s status.

Review Your Answers Carefully

Before you can electronically sign and submit Form DS-260, the CEAC requires you to check all your answers.

This is a good time to look at your immigration application to confirm all the answers are correct.

Remember, if you submit incomplete or wrong answers this will hurt your chances of getting a visa.

Print Your Completed Application

After completing Forms DS-260 and DS-261 be sure to print your records.

You may be asked to bring a copy of these forms to your interview.

It is a good idea to study your answers before your interview, so the information entered on Form DS-260 will match the information detailed in your interview answers.

Submit Your Application

Submit your application by clicking the “Sign and Submit Application” button on the “Sign and Submit” page.

However, once submitted, you will not be able to access your application again without calling for assistance from the National Visa Center, the Kentucky Consulate Center, or the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are currently located. 

What You Should Expect in Your Consulate Interview?

The last step in the immigration process is the interview.

During your consulate interview, you will have to answer a number of questions.

Some are general, others very specific.

These questions are designed to decide if you qualify for a visa.

If you’re applying based on marriage, the consular officer may ask personal questions designed to determine if your marriage is genuine or an attempt to evade U.S. immigration law.

Your consulate interview can take as little as twenty minutes.

For security reasons, you might not be approved on the day of your interview.

Instead, you may be asked to return to the Embassy or Consulate to pick up your immigration visa.

There will be a time limit on when you are allowed to immigrate to the United States (usually six months).

Interview Documents Checklist

Some of the documents you might be required to bring to your consulate interview:

  • Two U.S. passport-style colored photographs;
  • Original passport (must be current and not expire within six months after the interview);
  • Your completed Form I-693 Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination;
  • Visa fees or receipts showing fee was paid online; and/or
  • Any other document(s) requested by the NVC or U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

File Your Form DS-260 with SelfLawyer

File your immigration forms online with SelfLawyer. Licensed immigration attorney review, online forms preparation and same day filing. Start your application now.

Related links:

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130 is Approved, What to Do Next

Marriage-based green card

How to Prepare Medical Form, I-693

The New Public Charge Rule

USCIS Immigration and Naturalization Forms, Fees and Processing Time in 2020

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