By Kristina Karpinski
On September 3, 2013, the Department of State implemented use of the DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, and the DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. These two forms are to be used for immigrant visa applicants processing at all U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. The DOS introduced the online forms in 2010, but until now required them only for applicants processing at a limited number of posts.
The online DS-260 and DS-261 are replacing the paper DS-230 and DS-3032. The online forms are submitted to DOS through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC) website at ceac.state.gov. In order to access the online forms, the applicant or preparer must input his or her NVC case number and invoice I.D. number. All of the information entered online is accessible by the National Visa Center (NVC) and the consular posts, and the applicant is not required to submit a paper version to the NVC or bring a copy to the visa interview. Applicants applying for immigrant visas under the Diversity Lottery Visa program and the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program will continue to use the DS-230.
Most fields on the DS-260 must be completed before the application can be submitted to DOS. The system will not allow you to continue without providing the required information unless the field is specifically marked "Optional." If a mandatory field is left blank, an error message will appear and the applicant must complete the required field before proceeding with the form. A partially completed application can be saved by clicking on the "Save" button at the bottom of each page. It is recommended that data be saved often to ensure information is not lost. A saved application can be accessed by returning to the CEAC website and selecting View/Edit from the IV and Alien Registration section of the Immigrant Visa – Summary Information screen. The applicant can continue completing the form by clicking on the "Edit" button on the right side of the application's listed status. Once all of the fields are completed, the applicant submits the form by clicking on the "Sign and Submit Application" button. Should the applicant need to make any changes to the form after submission, he or she will have to contact the NVC to request access to the form. If a case has already been sent by NVC to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate interview, any changes to the form will have to be made at the post.
The NVC has indicated that if an applicant has already submitted the DS-230 and it has been accepted, the DS-260 will generally not be required unless specifically requested by NVC or a consular officer. If a case is already documentarily qualified and awaiting scheduling of the IV interview, the case will proceed with the DS-230. If a case is still in the document collection phase and NVC sends a checklist for additional information or documents, a request may be made to complete the DS-260 even if the DS-230 was previously submitted. The applicant will be instructed by NVC if completion of the DS-260 is necessary.
It is important to distinguish the now mandatory use of the DS-260 for processing at all embassies and consulates worldwide from the "Electronic Processing Program" used for electronic submission of documents and the I-864 Affidavit of Support for processing at select embassies and consulates. Under this program, the I-864 is downloaded, completed, signed, scanned, saved as a PDF file and e-mailed to the NVC. Also, the required civil documents and supporting documents must be converted to pdf files and then e-mailed to the NVC. For these select consular posts it is not required to mail the I-864, civil documents, and other supporting documents to the NVC, but the applicant must be prepared to present the original physical documents at the time of the visa interview. For all other posts, the I-864 and documentation are still mailed to the NVC.
Currently, all immigrant visa applicants processing at the following consular posts are required to submit their documents and I-864 electronically under the electronic processing program: Amman, Jordan; Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Damascus, Syria; and Sana’a, Yemen,. Some special immigrants processing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan also process under this program. Applicants processing at the consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico who are immigrating as the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen (i.e., in the IR-1, IR-2, CR-1 or CR-2 categories), are also required to follow the instructions for electronic processing. These applicants will have “MEP” as the first three letters of their NVC case number for "Mexico Electronic Processing." Additionally, applicants processing in Guangzhou, China and Montreal, Canada have the option of either processing electronically or submitting their documents and the I-864 by mail. Eventually, processing through all posts will be done electronically.
For additional information on the DS-260, DS-261 and Electronic Processing Program, go to travel.state.gov and read the FAQs on DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and the instruction pages on Required Electronic Processing and Optional Electronic Processing.