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State Department Introduces New Electronic Form and Pilot Electronic Processing Program

Two new electronic procedures have been introduced by the U.S. State Department (DOS) concerning visa processing at U.S. Consulates abroad. One is new final rule that allows DOS to require applicants to use a new web-based online DS 260 form. This form will eventually replace the hard copy DS 230 form used for processing immigrant visas. For the last several months, temporary non-immigrants have been using a web-based online DS160 form for non-immigrant visas.

While the State Department may find web-based submissions easier to use because they receive electronic data ahead of time before the applicant’s interview, it is more cumbersome for applicants and attorneys to use. A host of logistical, not to mention ethical, issues come into play because the new rule requires only the applicant to hit the enter/submit button attesting that all information is truthful. Applicants are often not in the same city or country as the attorney. Not everyone is computer literate around the world. Often, people have to go to internet cafes or use travel agents to help fill out the forms. Lawyers have ethical duties for the content they prepare for forms, while travel agents do not. Secondly, attorneys prefer to discuss the questions and answers with their clients BEFORE data is submitted to the U.S. Consulate. Every question has a legal consequence, and online editing and saving can be cumbersome, or the program can time-out if the applicant and attorney get tied up in a phone conversation about the form. Because the applicant is the one with the account, it makes it more difficult for attorneys to prepare their clients if they are abroad.

The second new program is actually a pilot program for applicants processing permanent immigrant visas abroad. The National Visa Center (NVC) coordinates the paperwork between the applicant and the Consulates around the world. Now, applicants in Ashgebat, Turkmenistan, Montreal, Quebec, Canada and Guangzhou, China will submit required documents via scan and email with originals brought to the interview. This will hopefully speed up processing by the NVC and help to prevent mailing delays, especially the time needed to get original foreign documents sent to the U.S. Now, applicants eligible for the pilot program can just hold on to their original documents until the interview and email them ahead of time upon request by the NVC.