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June 9th 2023

The ultimate guide to Form DS-260 and DS-261

Forms DS-260 and DS-261 allow you to apply for permanent residence from any country outside the United States. In this guide, we provide an overview of both forms as you prepare to apply for permanent residency in the U.S.

Forms DS-260 and DS-261 allow you to apply for permanent residence from any country outside the United States. In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of both forms as you prepare to apply for permanent residency in the U.S.

What is Form DS-260?

Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application) is an online immigrant visa application. It is completed and submitted online through the National Visa Center (NVC) and the U.S. embassy or consulate where you intend to file your nonimmigrant visa application.

Foreign nationals applying for family-based immigrant visas or green cards while abroad are required to file this form. If Form DS-260 is approved, you may be granted a marriage-based green card, which means that you will have the right to legally work and reside in the United States indefinitely.

What is Form DS-261? 

Form DS-261 (Online Choice of Address and Agent) is also an online form. It accompanies Form DS-260 and is used to inform the State Department how you should be contacted during the green card application process. 

What is the National Visa Center? 

Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the National Visa Center (NVC) is the branch of the U.S. State Department that handles green card applications.

Family-based immigration requirements

Prior to submitting an application for a family-based immigrant visa abroad, a family member must first complete and submit Form I-130 with USCIS. This form establishes your relationship with a U.S citizen or permanent resident, which then establishes your eligibility for a family-based green card. 

Eligibility requirements for a family-based green card are as follows: 

  • Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, such as a spouse, an unmarried son or daughter under the age of 21 or a parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old

  • Other relative of a U.S citizen or permanent resident are classified under the family-based preference categories

  • A family member of a U.S. citizen is an unmarried child who aged 21 or older, a married child or a sibling who is aged 21 or older

  • A family member of an permanent resident is a spouse of a green card holder, an unmarried child aged 21 or younger of a green card holder or an unmarried child aged 21 or older of a green card holder

  • A fiancé of a U.S. citizen or the child of the fiancé is a foreign national who is engaged to be married to a U.S. citizen (K-1 nonimmigrant visa holder) or the foreign national child of another foreign national engaged to a U.S. citizen (K-2 nonimmigrant visa holder)

  • Widow/widower of a U.S. citizen

  • a foreign national who was married to a U.S. citizen and who was married to their U.S. citizen spouse at the time of their spouse’s death

  • VAWA self-petitioner, victim of battery or extreme cruelty

  • a foreign national who is an abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

  • a foreign national who is the child (unmarried and under the age of 21) of a U.S. citizen or green card holder

  • a foreign national who is an abused parent of a U.S. citizen

Filing immigrant visa applications

To begin the immigrant visa application process, the U.S. citizen or permanent resident must complete and file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). This form is completed and filed on behalf of an intending immigrant by a relative who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). Form I-130 is filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and establishes the relationship of the immigrant visa applicant with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident..

When USCIS receives and processes Form I-130, and if the form is approved, it will be forwarded to the NVC. The green card case associated with Form I-130 will then be transferred from USCIS to NVC.

Once the NVC receives your green card case, the family member sponsoring your immigrant visa application will receive a notification via email or U.S. postal mail. The notice that your sponsoring family member receives will contain a case number, the beneficiary’s (your) ID number and an invoice number. 

The beneficiary number is a unique number that NVC assigns to each green card applicant. When submitting Form DS-260, and paying the accompanying fees at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) of the NVC, you must reference this beneficiary number.

If the family member sponsoring your application for a green card is a citizen of the United States, your application processing will begin immediately after your case is transferred to NVC from USCIS.

However, if the family member who is sponsoring your green card application is an permanent resident, NVC will hold your case until its “priority date” emerges in the State Department’s visa bulletin. Visa numbers for family-based green cards are limited; as such, they may not be available immediately. “Priority date” refers to the date that your visa number becomes available.

Generally, it takes between 8 and 10 months to receive a priority date after a visa number to become available for applicants who are sponsored by green card holders. When the visa number becomes available, it will be listed in the visa bulletin of the U.S. Department of State.

Completing Form DS-260

To complete Form DS-260, you will need to enter your case number. Once you enter your case number, you will be able to access and update any information on the form. Once you have assessed and made any necessary changes on the form, you will need to re-enter your case number on the Sign and Submit page of Form DS-260.

After submitting the form, print the confirmation page; you must present your confirmation page when you attend your visa interview. 

Completing Form DS-261

After submitting Form DS-260, proceed with completing and submitting Form DS-261. As mentioned, this form lets the U.S. Department of State know how to communicate with you about information pertaining to your green card case. 

In order to file Form DS-261, you will need to have access to the following: 

  • Internet connection

  • Your NVC case number 

  • Your invoice ID number

The first step in completing this form involves choosing an agent. Your agent is the person who NVC will communicate with regarding your green card case. You can act as your own agent, or you can choose a trusted individual, such as the family member who is sponsoring your green card. You may also select a friend or an immigration attorney. It can take up to three weeks for NVC to process your completed DS-261. 

When your DS-261 has been processed by NVC, you must then pay the necessary filing fees; a $325 application processing fee to the State Department and a $120 fee for Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support). All intending immigrants must have Form I-864 filed on their behalf by a beneficiary to prove that they will not become a public charge upon being admitted into the United States.

Final steps of filing for an immigrant visa

Following the submission of Form DS-260 and Form DS-261, NVC will process your application and contact you with a date for your visa interview. When you complete your interview and if your request for a family-based immigrant visa is approved, an immigrant stamp will be placed in your passport. Finally, after paying a $220 filing fee, USCIS will produce and send you a physical copy of your green card. 

The takeaway

While you wait to hear back about the visa application, you can prepare for your new life in the U.S. There are many more important documents and steps to take before you’ll be ready to move to the country. For example, did you know that your credit history doesn’t automatically transfer with you when you immigrate? That means that companies and financial institutions will have no record of your previous financial history. In turn, that can make it very difficult to secure loans, secure an apartment lease, mobile phone companies, and other service providers.  

Nova Credit's Credit Passport® technology helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to national bureau databases, Nova Credit partners with companies to include information from your Credit Passport® in applications to make it easier for newcomers to get approved for credit cards, loans and other products. Once you establish a U.S. credit account using the credit you’ve earned, you can start building a local credit history. Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK.

Moved to the U.S. from Australia, Kenya, or the Philippines?

Start your U.S. credit building journey on the right foot

A strong credit score helps you access a lot in the U.S., and a credit card is an easy way to start building your U.S. credit score. Access your free international credit score, and see which U.S. credit cards could be right for you.

More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa 

The ultimate guide to the L-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the O-1 visa

How to check your USCIS case status

How to read the Visa Bulletin

How to build credit after moving to the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

No credit check cell phone plans

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