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Accessing US Visa application forms

Ask the US Embassy

Wednesday, September 05, 2012    

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A: Should I use a visa consultant to help me with my application? I was told I'll get my visa faster if I pay for professional help.

B: Although the visa application process may seem daunting at first, with numerous forms to complete and various fees to pay, it is designed to be as straightforward and accessible as possible. All the forms are available for free, and can be accessed and completed by anyone with basic computing skills. If you are not comfortable using a computer, a close friend or family member who knows how to use a computer is a good person to ask for help.

The embassy cautions applicants to take care before paying for professional assistance with a visa application. Many of the "visa consultants" and "immigration experts" advertising their services make false promises and charge exorbitant amounts to provide a very basic service. Most important to remember is that under no circumstances does paying for professional help expedite the application process. There is no "express service", and anyone claiming to possess inside knowledge on how to make the process move faster is not telling the truth.

A visitor's visa application requires the fewest forms and fees: the DS-160 application form and a one-time fee of $14,400. While many applicants employ a travel agent to help them complete the application form -- often at the cost of another $2,500 -- the embassy cautions that this is not strictly necessary, and may in fact prolong the application process. If the officer discovers that the travel agent did not in fact ask you every one of the questions on the form, for instance, you will be asked to complete a new form yourself and return to the embassy at a later date. Moreover, if the officer discovers that information on your application form is misleading or incorrect, it may raise concerns about your credibility as an applicant. Whether you do complete your forms yourself or rely on a travel agent, it is of the utmost importance that you verify that all the information reported on your application is complete and correct: you are personally responsible for your application.

Immigrant visas require more forms and paperwork, but the necessary documents are still available for free online. US citizens and lawful permanent residents who are filing petitions for family members file form I-130. Once the I-130 petition is approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC). US petitioners then file the required Affidavit of Support form (either form I-864, form I-864EZ, or form I-864W). There are detailed instructions available on www.travel.state.gov for petitioners who are unsure which Affidavit of Support form to use. Note that for family preference categories, NVC will contact the petitioner when the case's priority date is about to become current: it is at that time that the petitioner will file the Affidavit of Support form.

Whether you are applying for a visitor's visa or an immigrant visa, be wary of organisations that require payment for immigration and visa services. Some of these organizations may be fraudulent entities seeking to elicit payment for information or forms that are available free of charge on US government websites. Official US government websites end in ".gov". Information on websites with other suffixes (".net", ".com", or ".biz", for example) should be viewed with suspicion. Comprehensive information on visas and immigration, as well as all necessary forms, is available on official US government websites, including www.travel.state.gov and www.uscis.gov.

For more information about American Citizen Services, please visit our website, http://kingston.usembassy.gov/service.html.

Reminder for US citizens

The 2012 election season is underway in the United States. To register to vote from abroad or to sign up to receive state-specific election alerts, visit http://fvap.gov. You may drop off your voting materials with postage affixed at the US Embassy in Kingston or at the US Consular Agencies in Montego Bay and the Cayman Islands for delivery to the United States.

The US Embassy staff in Kingston will answer questions you may have regarding the US Mission, including consular law, regulations and/or practice. In order to respect privacy, staff will not answer questions about specific visa applications. The embassy employs a visa appointment system, so it is only necessary for visa applicants to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.

Send your questions to: editorial@jamaicaobserver.com and we will send them to the embassy.

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