Argghh! Initial Experiences with Form DS-160 in China

Update: The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has now agreed, similar to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, that prior to Mar. 1, if an applicant has connectivity problems filling the DS-160 then he or she may instead use the old Forms DS-156 and 157.

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The U.S. State Department has announced that in March 2010 all nonimmigrant visa applicants in China will need to use the new Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application. This form combines and replaces previous Forms DS-156, 157, and 158.

To test the form with smaller groups, the State Department began to require its use for the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) corporate visa programs in Shanghai (effective Jan. 11) and Beijing (effective Jan. 20). Our firm’s initial experience with the form has been frustrating.

The main problem is that this Form must be completed and filed electronically on the State Department’s website (http://ceac.state.gov/genniv), but the website is unstable. The website itself has posted a warning:

ceac_connectivity_issues1

However the problem is more serious than that warning implies. The website crashed so often that over the past days (Wed., Jan 20 to Fri., Jan. 22) it has been very difficult to complete the form. The most common error is a “time out” error:

ceac_time_out

We tried many hours (including early mornings and late nights) filing the forms from multiple PCs and from three of the firm’s offices in China and the U.S. But time after time the system crashed. Only by filing the form over and over did we sometimes get lucky enought to finish the filing process.

We have explained the problem to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Embassy has agreed to our request to continue to accept the old Forms DS-156 and 157 for the AmCham corporate visa program through Mar. 1.  However, the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai insists that the DS-160 must be used. Applicants with difficulties filling the DS-160 in Shanghai should be aware that the AmCham program is now optional, meaning that an appointment may be scheduled through the normal channel by calling the Visa Call Center. The regular channel will continue to accept Forms DS-156 and 157 until Mar. 1.

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