When an applicant is trying to receive a green card via consular processing, there is a different set of forms that need to be filled out and completed after the I-130 petition has been approved by the USCIS. Once this form has been approved, the agency forwards the approved case to the National Visa Center (NVC), in which case the foreign spouse is applying for a green card is given a case number.
The DS-261 is a State Department form (the State Department has delegated responsibility for overseas consular processing cases) that needs to be filled out by the principal applicant once they have received their case number. The form is technically called the Online Choice of Address and Agent. It is a fairly simple form to complete, and it mainly tells the State Department how they should best communicate with you. There is currently no fee to file this form and it can take the NVC up to three weeks to process the DS-261.
Where to fill out the application
Unlike USCIS forms that have easily downloadable PDFs for any applicant, the DS-261 and DS-260 for that matter need to be accessed and completed online. This is part of the State Department's way of handling consular processing. Applicants will first need to take the case number that was provided to them when the NVC first reached out to them after the I-130 had been approved and a visa number was available.
Applicants will copy and paste their case number into the sign-in page of the CEAC—Consular Electronic Application Center. The link for this website is the following: https://ceac.state.gov/IV/Login.aspx
Information Provided by the Applicant
The form asks the applicant their first and last name (surname), their email address, and whether they already immigrated to the U.S. and no longer need to apply for an immigrant visa. In most cases, if the applicant is going through consular processing for the first time, or has a past visa that has expired, they will answer “No” to this question.
In addition, on the first page, the DS-261 asks applicants to name an agent or attorney if they would like the CEAC to send them relevant information about the principal applicant’s visa information. The applicant can easily select “No” here or provide the name, address, email address, and phone number of the agent they have hired if they wish.
On the last page of the application, the principal applicant needs to sign and submit the form, and also verify if there was or was not a preparer who helped the applicant complete this form.