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What you need to know about the US visa application process

You’ve selected your visa. What's next in the process?

Applying for a US visa means more than completing forms and gathering info to satisfy requirements. Before you submit those forms, you’ll also need to find a person to sponsor your stay in the US. Then comes scheduling your mandatory interview with the US Consulate on the way to approval.

Other guides in this series

Prepare for your visa interview | Choosing the right US visa

Do I need a sponsor for my US visa?

If you plan to study or work in the US on a visitor visa, you’re going to need a sponsor. Sponsors can be family members, close friends or prospective employers that are citizens and lawful residents of the United States.

Legally referred to as a petitioner, your sponsor signs an official Affidavit of Support accepting financial responsibility for you in coming to the US. On approval of this affidavit, the US considers the petitioner your legal sponsor.

Once this affidavit is approved by the US, you can officially start the application process. You’ll need to pay any required processing fees, gather documentation and complete the forms specific to the visa you’re pursuing. After your petition is processed, you’ll receive a unique visa immigrant number.

Because process, procedures and requirements can change — often without much warning — confirm the exact documentation required for your circumstances at each stage of the application process.

The application process step by step

1. Choose an agent.

For your visa application to be processed, you’ll need to designate an agent who will receive information and updates about your case. You may act as your own agent or choose anyone that you trust — an employer, family member or attorney, for example.

To formally designate an agent, complete DS-261 — Choice of Address and Agent online with the Consular Electronic Application Center.

You are not able to continue through the application process until your DS-261 is approved. Allow up to three weeks for the National Visa Center to process this form.

2. Pay your processing fees.

You’re responsible for paying two main processing fees to proceed through the application process: an Immigrant Visa Processing Fee and an Affidavit of Support Fee. At the time of this writing, these fees start at $535 and vary by visa and other details.

Pay these fees online through the Immigrant Visa Invoice Payment Center by entering your bank routing number and a checking or savings account number from a US bank. You’ll also enter your NVC case number and invoice ID from your welcome letter received with approval of your agent form.

It will take up to a week for NVC to process these fees.

3. Submit your applications and documentation.

Your fees paid, you’ll return to the electronic application center to submit Form DS-260 — Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. Log in with your NVC case number and invoice ID from your welcome letter.

Submitting this form does not mean that you’ve formally submitted your visa application. It’s simply another step toward your interview with a US consular officer, who will submit the form on your behalf.

4. Gather your supporting financial documents.

Next, you’ll gather your completed Form 1-864 — Affidavit of Support and any required financial evidence that proves your sponsor can support you financially if you’re unable to support yourself.

In line with this entire process, forms are specific to different types of sponsors. Be sure that you understand the exact forms and documentation needed for your situation.

Expect to submit many photocopies of these forms. One will need to go directly to the National Visa Center, and certified copies may be required by the US Consulate at the time of your mandatory interview.

Any document written in a language other than English requires official translations with signed verification from a translator that the content is accurate and the translator is competent.

What type of supporting documentation can I expect to submit?

You’ll need to confirm the exact forms necessary for approval of your specific visa. In general, expect to submit:

  • Birth certificates
  • Court or prison records
  • Marriage certificates or termination documents
  • Military records
  • Original documents for your petitioner or sponsor
  • Photocopy of your valid passport’s biographical data page
  • Banking and other financial documentation

5. Submit your information.

Gather your required documentation and completed forms in one package to submit to the NVC. Note that if you do not submit this information together in one package, your application may be significantly delayed.

Email your information to the NVC

Avoid a visit to the Post Office by electronically submitting your forms and documentation. For this method, you’ll scan and save all your documents, evidence, forms and translations into one PDF file that’s no larger than 5MB. Email this PDF as an attachment to

Included your NVC case number in the email subject line. If you have multiple case numbers to process, you’ll need to email each PDF package separately.

Mail your information to NVC

To mail your information, put together copies of your forms and documentation (unless otherwise specified) with the document cover sheet included with your NVC welcome letter.

Send this information together in one package to:
Attn: DR
National Visa Center
31 Rochester Avenue, Suite 100
Portsmouth, NH 03801-2914

Allow at least six weeks after receipt to the NVC for officials to process your forms.

6. Prepare for your mandatory interview.

The NVC schedules appointments one month in advance, allowing you to choose from among available dates and time slots after your documentation is approved.

At this point, you’ll receive your official appointment letter indicating the date and time of your appointment. Your supporting documentation will be forwarded to the US Embassy or Consulate for further review in the meantime.

You’ll need to schedule a medical examination according to the instructions you’ll receive with your letter ahead of your interview.

After these tasks, all that’s left is for you to keep together your original documents and forms to review with the US consular officer at the time of your interview.

Bottom line

As you gather, copy and submit your forms, it can sometimes feel like there’s no end to the application process itself — much less the other preparations you’re undoubtedly making for your big move to the US.

You are not alone and have many resources to access along the way, including guidance from the US State Department itself.

Learn more about what you can expect during your mandatory interview with the US Consulate, including what to bring along to your appointment.

Other guides in this series

Prepare for your visa interview | Choosing the right US visa

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