Everything You Need To Know About Forms DS-260 and DS-261

In a Nutshell

Forms DS-260 and DS-261 are the forms you fill out once U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your I-130 petition for a marriage green card. After USCIS sends your approved I-130 form to the National Visa Center (NVC), you can submit Form DS-260: Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application and Form DS-261: Online Choice of Address and Agent. There is no filing fee for Form DS-261, but you will need to pay a $325 immigrant visa application processing fee and $120 Affidavit of Support fee to access Form DS-260. The usual processing time for DS-260 is three months, while the current marriage green card processing time ranges from 27 to 46 months.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Updated March 12, 2023

What Is Form DS-261?

Form DS-261: Online Choice of Address and Agent lets you choose how you want the Department of State to communicate with you throughout the green card application process. On the National Visa Center's welcome letter, you'll see instructions for submitting Form DS-261.

There is no fee to file Form DS-261, and it may take the National Visa Center (NVC) up to three weeks to process the form. You must log in to your Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website portal using the case number the NVC sent to you to access Form DS-261.

What Is Form DS-260?

Form DS-260 is the Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application. If you are a foreign national applying for a family-based green card from abroad, you are required to submit this online form. Once the NVC approves your Form DS-260, you can move forward in the marriage-based green card consular process.

To access and submit Form DS-260 on the CEAC website, you must first submit Form DS-261 and pay the following fees:

What Is the National Visa Center (NVC)?

The National Visa Center is a branch of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The NVC is responsible for processing the second stage of your green card application if you're applying from abroad.

First, the NVC will send you a welcome letter by mail or email, depending on which notification method you selected on your application. The welcome letter will contain your case identification number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number. You'll need these details to complete your online immigrant visa form and pay your application fees.

You can complete the online forms and pay the fees on the CEAC website. 

When Do I Need To Submit Forms DS-260 and DS-261?

You can file DS-260 and DS-261 after the NVC receives and begins processing your case. The NVC will start processing your case after USCIS approves your I-130 petition and sends your case to the NVC. 

If the green card petitioner is a U.S. citizen, the NVC will begin processing the case right away. If the green card petitioner is a U.S. green card holder (legal permanent resident), processing will continue when your priority date is current.

You need to check the Department of State’s visa bulletin to find out if the NVC is currently processing applications with your priority date or if there are backlogs and delays. Once your priority date is current, you can submit the rest of your green card application.

How Do I File Form DS-261?

To file Form DS-261, you first need to sign in to the CEAC website with the case number that is on the welcome letter that the National Visa Center sent you. Then you must identify your relation to the person applying for a green card. If you are filling out your own Form DS-261 you will identify yourself as the applicant. If another person — such as your petitioner spouse — completes the form for you, they should select the corresponding option.

Next, you'll arrive at a webpage asking you to choose an agent. An agent is a person who the NVC will communicate with throughout the process. You can be the agent. Your green card sponsor, a friend, an immigration attorney, or another trusted individual can be the agent too. Double-check that all contact information you provide is correct before you submit the form — you can’t change this information after submitting the form.

After the NVC processes your Form DS-261, you will have to pay two required filing fees online. The immigrant visa application processing fee is $325 and the Affidavit of Support fee is $120. Some applicants don’t have to pay the Affidavit of Support Fee. You can confirm that on the State Department website. You should expect to wait up to a week for the NVC to process your DS-261 payment.

How Do I File Form DS-260?

After the NVC processes your DS-261 payment, you can file Form DS-260 online through the CEAC. You need your case identification number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number from the NVC’s welcome letter to access the form. Keep reading to learn about the questions you’ll need to answer.

Answer Biographical Questions

Form DS-260 asks biographical questions, such as other names you have used and your date and place of birth. It also asks you to list every address you have physically lived at since the age of 16 (not just the addresses you have used as permanent addresses).

Answer Questions About Your Social Media Profiles

You will also answer questions about any personal social media platforms you have used in the last five years. Be sure that all information on your social media accounts is consistent. Update any public information displayed on your accounts, such as your name or marital status, to reflect your actual name or status. 

Immigration officials review your social media accounts to confirm your identity. They also want to ensure that you are not associated with groups that threaten U.S. security.

Confirm Your Mailing and Permanent Address(es)

On the DS-260, you'll have to confirm your mailing address and permanent address. Your permanent address is where you intend to live after arriving in the United States. 

You can also choose whether your permanent address is where you would like the NVC to mail your permanent resident card (green card). It is important that you have access to this address for the next several months, as it may take a while for your green card to arrive at your U.S. address. 

If your U.S. address changes before you receive your green card, you can change your address online or call the USCIS Contact Center.

Provide Information About Your Family

The next section of the form asks you to provide information about your family members. Please record all familial relationships here. For example, you must include all stepchildren, adopted children, and biological children, whether or not they are immigrating to the U.S. with you.

You'll also answer questions about your previous U.S. travel and describe your work, school, and training history. You also have to respond to questions about your medical health history.

Answer Admissibility Questions

You will then answer a series of questions to determine whether you are "legally inadmissible" to the United States. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, be sure to explain your situation fully. A “yes” answer does not automatically disqualify your green card application, but you will likely need to provide documentation to support your explanation. 

Tips for DS-260 Filing Success

You can't move on in the Consular Electronic Application Center system if you leave any important information blank. Be sure to answer every question. You should also save your work frequently. If you are inactive for too long, the online system may time out and erase your information.

Please note that you must complete the form in English and transliterate any words that are not in English characters. Finally, make sure to print the confirmation page, as you will need this for your immigrant visa interview

For additional help with filing forms for the family-based green card consular process, please see our detailed filing guide.

What Supporting Documents Do I Need To File With Form DS-260?

In addition to Form DS-260, you and your spouse will also have to submit certain supporting documents.

As the applicant spouse, you will need to provide:

  • Proof of your nationality. This can be a copy of your birth certificate and your passport photo page.

  • A copy of your marriage certificate. If you had any previous marriages, you need proof of marriage termination, such as a divorce or death certificate.

  • If you have served in the military, you will need a copy of your military record.

  • If you have a history of infractions, you may need to provide police clearance letters documenting these incidents.

As the sponsoring spouse, you will need to provide:

  • The Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) to prove that you can financially support your spouse in the United States.

  • If you had any previous marriages, you will need proof of marriage termination, such as a divorce or death certificate.

  • Proof that you have ties to the United States. Proof of address or a state-issued ID should be enough if you live in the U.S. If you are living outside of the United States, you have to meet one of the following requirements:

    • You hold temporary residence abroad and maintain a primary domicile in the United States.

    • You were abroad at the request of U.S. government employers or U.S. institutions.

    • You intend to come back to the U.S. and establish yourself before or when the applicant enters the United States.

Depending on which U.S. consulate or embassy processes your application, you may need to provide more documents. You should submit all supporting documents together in one package.

What Happens After I File Form DS-260?

After you successfully file Form DS-260, the National Visa Center will send your paperwork to your local U.S. embassy or consulate. The NVC will ask you to schedule an immigrant visa interview at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. 

Before your interview, you must complete a medical exam with a USCIS-approved doctor. You’ll find more details on the interview process and the medical exam at your local U.S. embassy or consulate’s website.

Once you schedule your interview, you’ll receive an interview appointment letter from the NVC. The letter lists everyone who has to be at the interview.

What Do I Bring to the Immigrant Visa Interview?

You must bring the following to your interview:

  • Your valid passport and two passport-size photos

  • Your appointment letter

  • The Form DS-260confirmation page

  • All supporting documents that you uploaded to the CEAC website

The embassy or consulate will return all original documents to you after your interview but may keep any photocopied documents.

If you didn’t translate any of the required documents sent to the NVC, you should do so in preparation for your interview and bring them with you. Also, be prepared to pay any outstanding fees at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

What Happens After My Immigrant Visa Interview?

After the interview, the embassy or consulate will decide the outcome of your case. You'll get the final decision either immediately after your interview or later on. If the embassy approves your application, you'll receive a U.S. visa that is valid for up to 12 months so you can travel to the United States.

As an approved applicant, you'll also receive a sealed envelope with your file. Don’t open this envelope. A U.S. border officer will open it when you immigrate to the United States.

With an approved visa, you may now pay the required USCIS Immigrant Fee ($220) online. USCIS will then mail your official green card to your U.S. permanent address within three to four weeks of entry. As a permanent resident, you will get a Social Security number, allowing you to work in the United States and pay any required taxes.

How Long Does Form DS-260 Take To Process?

The NVC processes most cases within three months, but this timeline can vary by case. Check the current processing time to see how long you will have to wait for your case to be created and reviewed. 

Typically, the longer you wait to submit, the longer the form will take to process. Keep in mind, the marriage green card process can take 27 to 46 months, so filing your paperwork as soon as possible is important.

How Can I Check My Form DS-260 Status?

You can check your application processing progress online by entering your case number on the CEAC’s Status Tracker.

You may also contact the National Visa Center by phone to check your application status.