This is the sixth installment of Heartland Immigration's 101 page e-book, How to Get a Visa for the United States.
Filling Out the Visa Application, Form DS-160
After you decide which embassy or consulate to which you should apply, you should go to their website (using the links above), and thoroughly read all the information related to visa applications. If you're applying for a business visitor/tourist visa (B-1/B-2) or any other nonimmigrant visa (meaning a short-term visa, as opposed to applying for a visa that will lead to a green card), then you really don't need to read all the information provided about immigrant visas – just read about nonimmigrant visas. But make sure you really do pay close attention to what's provided. Though the form you fill out to apply for a visa will be the same for any given visa no matter where in the world you apply, there are small differences between the various embassies and consulates in how they deal with applications, how they schedule interviews, and what they request from applicants in the way of supporting documents (much more on supporting documents to follow!).
For almost every kind of nonimmigrant (short-term) visa, the form you'll need to fill out to apply is called the DS-160. It's what's called a "smart form," which means it changes the questions it gives you based on your answers to previous questions (for example, males between certain ages have to answer more questions and give more information than other applicants - the DS-160 feeds you these questions if you signify that you're a male within the established age range), and it relatively recently replaced a bunch of other forms - it's a consolidation of several older forms, which means (depending on the visa for which you're applying) you usually only have to fill out one form, which is good for you.
The DS-160 is filled out completely on-line, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. It's nice and efficient if you're relatively computer savvy, but it's caused problems for a lot of older people who aren't quite as with it when it comes to technology and for some persons from countries that don't have reliable internet. It's good from the government's perspective - less paper to shuffle and keep track of for them, and since it's electronic, it can be stored in their system and viewed by consular officers and other personnel all over the world with ease.
There should be a link on the website of the embassy or consulate to which you're applying for the DS-160, which is housed in a database called the Consular Electronic Application Center. You can jump directly to that site with this link: https://ceac.state.gov/GENNIV/General/complete/complete_gettingstarted.aspx?node=GetStarted. The DS-160 is divided up into several areas: personal (as in biographical) information; passport information; travel information (about past travel and your intentions for your upcoming proposed trip to the United States, including your travel companions, and your point of contact and where you'll be staying in the U.S.); information about your family; information about your past and present work and/or education/training; and "security and background" information.
The last one, the security and background portion, is what seems to worry people the most. It's where the U.S. government asks you, essentially, whether you've ever done anything that might indicate you're a security risk or if there's anything in general about you that might make your presence in the United States undesirable. You should be honest about this stuff. It's important to know that answering "yes" to one or more of these questions doesn't necessarily mean you won't be able to get a visa to visit the United States. For a few of them, it is in fact a deal breaker if it brings you within the ambit of the statutory ineligibilities listed in U.S. immigration law (but then again, a waiver is available for some ineligibilities). There's more in this guide about how to handle possible ineligibilities, but for now suffice it to say that it's best to just be up front about things in your past that you're not particularly proud of (if they're relevant - no need to go out of your way to include something detrimental to your cause if it's not asked about in the application or at your visa interview).
The DS-160 is relatively straight-forward. Most people don't have too tough of a time filling it out, but if you do, there's no shame in e-mailing or calling the embassy or consulate to which you're applying to ask for help. It's perfectly acceptable to do so. Also, here you can find a list of frequently asked questions from the Department of State website that may be worth reviewing before you get started or if you run into trouble trying to fill out the application: http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_4401.html.
Once you make it to the end of the application you'll reach a page telling you it's been successfully submitted (meaning it gets routed to the embassy or consulate to which you're applying for your visa - the one you selected at the beginning of the DS-160 application). At the end of the process you should print the form and save it. You'll need (in many cases) the 10 digit barcode number from the last page of the printed electronic visa application form to be able to schedule a visa interview. You should also bring this to your visa interview (you most likely won't need it, but still probably a good idea in case for some reason they can't find your application online - this will prove that you submitted it, which could help you get a new interview time shortly after you go back and do the application again on-line).
A few things to note about the DS-160 visa application:
● You don't have to finish it all in one sitting. It's possible to start, fill out part of the application, and then step away and come back to it later. Your application is automatically saved every time you hit the "Next" button. If you're going to stop working on it for a while and pick it back up later, you need to record your "Application ID," which is displayed in the top, right-hand corner of the screen. You'll need this ID to pick your application back up later. If you think it might be 30 days or more until you work on it again, you should permanently save the application to your computer or a disk. To do this, hit the "Save" button at the bottom of the page, and then follow the instructions you see to save the application data so you can upload back into the system later.
● It's available in some languages other than English, but not in all languages. It costs a fair amount to have the whole thing translated, so the State Department started by doing the most commonly spoken languages of applicants, like Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and French. They add more languages as funds allow, but there's no guarantee your particular language will be available. You don't have to do anything to select a particular language. Once you select, at the very beginning, the name of the city in which the embassy or consulate to which you're applying is located, the DS-160 will automatically use the language of that area (if it's one of the languages they've translated, otherwise it'll just be in English). You'll still see English as you go through the form: to see the translation, just point the cursor over the text you want to see translated, and a little box with the translated language will appear. Pretty useful, even if your English is strong (and if you're reading this guide, it probably is).
● You have to upload a photo, in JPEG format, into the DS-160 on-line application. This is different than applying for a visa in the old days, when an applicant just had to show up at the embassy or consulate with a couple photos in hand. Now, they want to have it in the system ahead of time (I recommend bringing the actual picture with you to your visa interview; some embassies/consulates require this, as there are often problems with the photo uploaded into the system, and if you bring it with you, they can do it for you before your interview). There are some very particular instructions about these photos. Here are the State Department's instructions for these photos (you can find this page here: http://travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/visaphotoreq_5334.html). They must be:
● In color
● Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image's total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. View the Photo
Template for more size requirement details.
● Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
● Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
● Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
● With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
● Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis
● Uniforms should not be worn in your photo, except religious clothing that is worn daily.
● Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and the head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.
● Headphones, wireless hands-free devices, or similar items are not acceptable in your photo.
● If you normally wear glasses (without tinted lenses), a hearing device, or similar articles, they may be worn in your photo.
● Dark glasses or glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable.
● Glare on glasses is not acceptable in your photo. Glare can be avoided with a slight downward tilt of the glasses or by removing the glasses or by turning off the camera flash.