by Ashley Emerson Mendoza

The DS-160 is an online form submitted to the US Department of State as part of a nonimmigrant visa application for temporary travel and work in the United States. At the consular stage of the nonimmigrant visa process, applicants must submit a completed DS-160 for all nonimmigrant visa categories, including applicants applying for K visas (additional information about the consular process can be found in my prior post). Consular Officers at US Embassies/Consulates worldwide use the information entered in the DS-160 to process the visa application and, along with other required documentation and a personal interview (with some exceptions), use this form to determine an applicant’s eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.

The DS-160 focuses on the foreign national’s biographic data as well as schooling, work, and travel history. Since 2010 this form must be completed and submitted electronically. The main items needed to fill in the fields of the DS-160 are the passport (for biographic information and number, any prior visas, and reference to past international travel), the I-797 Approval Notice from USCIS (if applicable), any related documentation (such as SEVIS information if the applicant was a student in the US) and, importantly, a digital passport-style photo ready to upload (the specifications for this photo are exact). Some US Embassies/Consulates require foreign nationals to complete the DS-160 prior to scheduling a visa interview; others merely require that it be completed and submitted forty-eight hours prior to the interview date.

This post addresses frequently encountered idiosyncrasies and common questions when filling out the DS-160. It is important to note that the DS-160 is often updated and the questions included on the form may change, or new questions may be added without notice. Therefore it is important to check the US Embassy/Consulate website for the latest updates before commencing the form.

I have dual nationality, so I have more than one passport. Which passport should I use for the DS-160?
Except when applicants are applying for a visa where country of nationality can determine eligibility for a visa (e.g. Australians and the E-3 visa), foreign nationals should use the information from the passport they intend to have the US visa processed into to fill in the DS-160.

Can I answer the DS-160 questions in my native language?
No. All answers must be in English, using English characters only. The only part of the DS-160 that is an exception to this rule is where foreign nationals are asked to provide their full name in their native alphabet. DS-160s submitted in any language other than English will be denied and the applicant may be required to submit a new application.

Translations of questions on the DS-160 are available in many languages from the drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner of the application.

I started my DS-160 online and don’t have time to complete it now. What should I do? Will I lose everything I entered!?
When a new DS-160 is started online, the online system assigns it a unique Application ID number. It is important for foreign nationals to write this number down, as they will need this number to access the form again in the future. The online system will also have foreign nationals select and answer a security question. After beginning to draft the DS-160, save the form as soon as possible by clicking the “Save” button at the bottom of the last completed page. It is important to do this because if foreign nationals stop working on an application for more than twenty minutes, the session will expire and they will need to have noted the relevant information in order to access the DS-160 again (otherwise the information will be lost).

In order to access a previously drafted DS-160 and pull it up again, go to the DS-160 website homepage and click “Retrieve an Application.” The online system will then prompt foreign nationals to enter their Application ID number and click “Retrieve Application.” If the Application ID number is valid, foreign nationals will then be prompted to enter the first five letters of their last name, their birth year, and the answer to the pre-selected security question. Once that information is submitted, the DS-160 draft should pull up.

If foreign nationals do not plan to complete and submit the application within thirty days of saving it, they should download the application draft to their computer by clicking the “Save” button at the bottom of the last completed page, then clicking the “Save Application to File” button, and following the instructions. When they are ready to complete the application, go to the DS-160 website homepage, select the US Embassy/Consulate location of the visa interview, click “Upload an Application” and follow the instructions.

When I initially started my DS-160, I selected Paris, France as the US Embassy where I would be applying for my visa. Now I need to travel to Milan for a series of business meetings, so I scheduled my visa interview at the US Consulate in Milan. Will I have to fill out a whole new DS-160?
No. The US Embassy/Consulate that a foreign national actually applies at should be able to access the form using the barcode on the DS-160 confirmation page, which foreign nationals are required to bring to the visa interview. Therefore, in this instance, the US Consulate in Milan is able to accept the DS-160 even though the DS-160 lists the US Embassy in Paris as the location where the foreign national originally intended to submit the application.

I was arrested for a DUI when I was a teenager years ago, but I was told that my arrest record has been cleared. Do I really have to answer “Yes” to whether I have ever been arrested since it was so long ago and probably wouldn’t even show up on my record anyway?  
On the DS-160, the exact question asked is:

“Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty, or other similar action?”

Based on the wording of this question, if a foreign national has EVER been arrested during his or her lifetime, the answer to this question is “Yes.” Regardless of the foreign national’s age at the time of the arrest, what country the arrest occurred in, whether the arrest record was sealed or expunged, and whether the foreign national was ever convicted, it is very important to disclose the arrest. If foreign nationals mark “Yes” to this question, a text box will appear for an explanation. Foreign nationals should consult their immigration attorney about what to write in the text box.

More in depth information on the immigration consequences of alcohol-related driving offenses in particular (including for when applying for a visa) is available in my colleague Matthew Bray’s excellent post.

Who do I list as my current employer? My visa petition with USCIS has already been approved through my future management agency in the United States, so do I list their information? I work for myself as a freelancer in my home country so I’m not sure if I have to list unemployed? Or self-employed?
Foreign nationals should generally not list their US petitioner (US employer or agent) as their current employer UNLESS at the time they are completing the DS-160 they already have a presently valid and unexpired US visa sponsored by that same US petitioner. Otherwise, foreign nationals should list their present employer or agency abroad as their current employer. If the foreign national is a freelancer, he/she may list “Self-Employed” and provide his/her personal information as current employer. If the foreign national is not currently working, he/she may list “Unemployed.”

Do I really need to upload a photo? It’s such a hassle to get a digital photo. Can I just scan in my most recent passport picture and use that?
The online system requires foreign nationals to upload a picture to complete and submit the DS-160. This photo must comply with the exact specifications set forth by the Department of State. Usually scanning in a recent passport picture will not comply with these requirements—specifically, the photo uploaded must be less than six months old. If the uploaded photo is not accepted, the online system normally specifies why. While the online system does provide foreign nationals the option of continuing and submitting the form without a photo, it is best to change the photo and ensure it meets the specifications and upload it again. If foreign nationals submit the form without a photo, they may bring a hard copy of their photo with them to the visa interview instead; however, if a photo is not submitted with the online DS-160, it is possible that there could be a delay in processing the foreign national’s visa into his/her passport after the visa interview.

I live with my partner and we’ve been together for twenty years. We are not legally married, but we have two kids and we own property together. What do I put for marital status on the DS-160?
There are several options that can be reported for marital status on the DS-160. These include: “Married;” “Common Law Marriage;” “Civil Union/Domestic Partnership;” “Single;” “Widowed;” “Divorced;” “Legally Separated;” and “Other.” Most often, if two adults have been living as partners for an extended period of time, there is no engagement for marriage, and no papers of any kind of have been filed for recognition as a married couple, the answer to this question is “Single.” If, however, the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes common law marriage, the foreign nationals should consult an attorney about which option to select.

The DS-160 asks if I’ve been ten-printed before. I’ve given my fingerprints before, but I don’t remember when the last time was and if it was all ten fingers. How should I answer this question?
If a foreign national has attended a visa interview at a US Embassy/Consulate abroad AFTER 2007, he/she has most likely been ten-printed. Being ten-printed simply means having all ten fingerprints taken. Beginning in 2007, US Embassies/Consulates worldwide have put this procedure into practice to facilitate a more secure and efficient overall visa application process.

Last summer I left my passport with my old US visa in the back of a taxi. I never filed a police report, but I did get a new passport. Now I am getting a new US visa put into my passport. What information do I need to include for the questions asked about whether I’ve ever had a US visa or my passport lost or stolen?
On the DS-160, the exact questions asked are:

“Have you ever lost a passport or had one stolen?”
“Has your U.S. Visa ever been lost or stolen?”

If a prior passport was lost or stolen, foreign nationals should check “Yes” to the first question. If that lost passport had a US visa in it, foreign nationals should also check “Yes” to the second question. If foreign nationals mark “Yes” to either of these questions, a text box will appear by that question for an explanation. In the text box, foreign nationals may provide the facts of the circumstances surrounding the incident including date and location of the loss/theft. It is advisable for foreign nationals to consult their immigration attorney for the best advice about what to write in the text box.

I vacationed in the US over the summer last year and did a cross-country road trip. When I was boarding my return flight home, I was informed that I stayed one day past the ninety day limit for the visa waiver program. I was told I can no longer come to the US with just my passport and would need a visa next time I visit. There are a few questions on the DS-160 I don’t know how to answer.
On the DS-160, there are several questions that might be applicable to situations where foreign nationals overstayed their authorized period of stay in the US on the visa waiver program. The exact questions are:

Have you ever been denied travel authorization by the Department of Homeland Security through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

Have you ever been refused a U.S. Visa, or been refused admission to the United States, or withdrawn your application for admission at the port of entry?

Have you ever been unlawfully present, overstayed the amount of time granted by an immigration official or otherwise violated the terms of a U.S. visa?

This can be a complex situation and the answers to these questions will depend on more detailed information according to the circumstances in each case. Thus foreign nationals should consult their immigration attorney about how to answer these questions and what to write in the corresponding text boxes that may appear.

What is an immigrant petition? I already have an approved work visa for three years, does this qualify?
On the DS-160, the exact question is:

“Has anyone ever filed an immigrant petition on your behalf with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services?”

An immigrant petition refers to a petition for permanent residence (that is, a Green Card petition) as opposed to a nonimmigrant petition, which requests visa classification for a temporary period of stay. If foreign nationals have been approved for nonimmigrant classification, and have never filed a Green Card petition, they should answer “No” to this question.

Due to the economy, I’ve had a tough time holding the same job over the past few years. The instructions for the past employment section say to go back five years, but I can’t add enough prior employers. It only lets me add two. What should I do?
This is a current limitation of the online system. Foreign nationals who have held more than two jobs in the past five years should provide the information for their two most recent jobs. It is also a good idea to have a resume or printed addendum to the DS-160 to bring to the visa interview in case the interviewing officer would like more information regarding a foreign national’s employment history.

I am nearly done with my DS-160 and am in the review section. I need to correct a few typos, but the edits I’m making from the review page “edit” link aren’t saving. Why?
In order for data changes made from the review page links to save, applicants must use the buttons at the bottom of each page to navigate, instead of the browser's back/forward buttons or the buttons along the side of the screen.
I am traveling with several members of my band to tour the US. Can I use my DS-160 to create a family or group application?
Yes. After submitting the DS-160, on the “Thank You” page, there is an option to create a family or group application. When foreign nationals select this option, certain information from their application, such as destination, will automatically be imported to and displayed on a new application. Please note that if foreign nationals use this option they must create an individual application for each family member or for each individual within the group.

How do I sign the DS-160?
When foreign nationals click on the “Sign Application” button at the end of the form, they electronically sign the DS-160. Failure to sign may result in termination of the application.

The electronic signature certifies that foreign nationals have read and understood the questions in the application and that the answers are true and correct to the best of their knowledge and belief. It is crucial to note that the submission of an application containing any false or misleading statements may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States. All declarations made in the application are unsworn declarations made under penalty of perjury.

Most foreign nationals (unless exempted from appearing in person) will certify that they have answered all questions on the DS-160 truthfully in a second manner at their interview, when their fingerprints will be electronically scanned. By providing their fingerprints, foreign nationals again certify that they have answered all questions on the DS-160 truthfully and to the best of their knowledge, and that they will tell the truth during the visa interview.

I just submitted my DS-160 but noticed an error! How do I fix this?
In most circumstances, the safest thing to do is to create and complete a new DS-160.

If the foreign national notices the error on the day of the visa interview, or when there is not enough time to complete a new DS-160, he/she should disclose the error to the interviewing officer PRIOR to having his/her fingerprints taken. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the error on the DS-160, the interviewing officer may accept the correction at the interview and approve the visa application.

In other circumstances, the interviewing officer may deny the visa application. If the visa application is denied based on errors or incomplete answers on the DS-160, the US Embassy/Consulate should reopen the DS-160 and ask the foreign national to correct it. To do so, go to the DS-160 website homepage and click “Retrieve an Application.” The online system will then prompt foreign nationals to enter their Application ID number and click “Retrieve Application.” If the Application ID number is valid, foreign nationals will then be prompted to enter the first five letters of their last name, their birth year, and the answer to the pre-selected security question. Once that information is submitted, the DS-160 draft should pull up.

After correcting the DS-160, the foreign national should contact the US Embassy/Consulate where he/she applied to receive specific instructions on how to move the visa application forward.

I have FINALLY successfully completed my DS-160! Do I need to print the entire application to bring to my visa interview with me? Or just the confirmation page?
Foreign nationals MUST bring the DS-160 confirmation page containing the application ID number and barcode to the visa interview so the US Embassy/Consulate officer may retrieve the DS-160. Without the confirmation page, the US Embassy/Consulate may not be able to process the visa.

Foreign nationals are NOT required to bring the entire printed DS-160 application to a visa interview; however, it is prudent for foreign nationals to bring a printed copy of the entire DS-160 application, and moreover to retain this for their records.

After submitting the DS-160, I lost my printed confirmation page. Can I print a new one?
Yes. Foreign nationals can reprint the confirmation page of a DS-160 that has already been submitted. In order to do so, go to the DS-160 website homepage and click “Retrieve an Application.” The online system will then prompt foreign nationals to enter their Application ID number and click “Retrieve Application.” If the Application ID number is valid, foreign nationals will then be prompted to enter the first five letters of their last name, their birth year, and the answer to the pre-selected security question. Once that information is submitted, the DS-160 draft should pull up. From there foreign nationals will be able to view and print the confirmation page.

Overall, completing the DS-160 can be time consuming (the US Department of State estimates completion of the form to take approximately seventy-five minutes), but in most cases it is not difficult. Some foreign nationals opt to use their immigration attorney to complete and submit the DS-160; others choose to complete the DS-160 themselves. Some common reasons that foreign nationals seek an attorney’s aid in completing the DS-160 include not having enough time to upload the information and when there are arrests or other criminal or immigration issues in their background that would need to be addressed in the DS-160.