DS-230 vs DS-260
Government agencies often operate in an opaque manner, shielded from public scrutiny. One rare opportunity to influence agency policy is when an agency requests comments on a regulation or form. Attorney Mark Stevens submitted this comment today on the immigrant visa application form DS-230:
Dear Department of State,
I submit this comment in response to the request for comments on form DS-230.
I am an immigration attorney and I have prepared approximately 100 applications for immigrant visas using form DS-230. I have also had the misfortune of preparing many applications for immigrant visas using the new online-only form DS-260. Since September 3, 2013, the Department of State has not used form DS-230 for immigrant visa applications, and only accepts applications using the online-only form DS-260. I am unclear why the agency is requesting comments on a form no longer in use, but I will take this chance to comment on the transition from DS-230 to DS-260.
Form DS-230 was a simple, four-page form that people could reasonably fill out in a few hours. As an attorney, I could easily print out the form, give it to my clients, and ask them to fill in the necessary information and return it to me. The online-only form DS-260 performs the same function as the paper form DS-230 and conveys the same information. But form DS-260 is a monstrosity compared to form DS-230. If you print out every page of form DS-260, it amounts to a mind-boggling 57 pages. See Form DS-260 (attached).
Further, form DS-260 itself changes depending on your answers to the questions. For example, if your response to one question means that certain questions on the form are not relevant to you, the form will gray out those questions and prevent you from answering them. At first, this sounds reasonable, but it makes it impossible for me to tell my clients what information is necessary. The problem is aggravated by the nature of the immigrant visa application process. Attorneys must gather information from visa applicants abroad, but often only have direct access to the sponsoring relative or business in the United States. This is due to language barriers and the inherent difficulty of communicating with someone on the other side of the world. Requests for information from applicants must often be routed through the sponsoring relative or business. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to convey highly nuanced instructions as demanded by form DS-260, such as “Fill in these 6 particular pages of questions out of 57, but only if these questions are relevant to you.”
In the transition from the paper world to the electronic world, the Department of State has transformed an easy, four-page form into a 57-page behemoth that morphs depending on your answers to the questions. Preparing an application for an immigrant visa used to only take two or three hours, but now I estimate it takes 10 hours. If attorneys in the United States find the online form burdensome, unrepresented people in other countries must find it much more burdensome, considering that many countries do not have well-developed information technology infrastructure. Imagine a 76-year-old grandmother in Cambodia trying to access the online form DS-260; she would likely find it impossible without assistance.
I understand that requiring everyone to use the online form allows information to be submitted directly to Department of State databases, and simplifies the process from the Department’s perspective. However, I believe that in transitioning to the electronic world, the Department has shifted the burden of data entry onto applicants and amplified that burden exponentially. Because the Department has made the immigrant visa application process much more difficult, I have had to increase my fees accordingly, imposing a financial burden on applicants.
I urge the Department to simplify form DS-260 or restore the option to use the paper form DS-230.
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