Guide to USCIS Photo Requirements

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • When applying for a U.S. visa, all applicants, including children, must provide a photo.
  • Specific requirements for the photo include square dimensions, an RGB color scheme, JPEG format, and a size under 240 KB.
  • The photo should show the full face, neck, and shoulders with a non-smiling expression, and the head should be centered with both ears visible.
  • Additional requirements exist for different types of visas, and it is recommended to have the photo taken by professionals to ensure compliance and avoid delays in visa processing.

When applying for a U.S. visa, there are certain guidelines laid out by the USCIS, which you must adhere to. Many first-timers get confused by this mainly because they don’t have complete knowledge of the process. If you consider yourself one of them, this article is for you.

Here’s what you need to know about photo requirements for the U.S. visa application.

Photo Requirement for U.S. Visa

Photos are required by all applicants irrespective of the type of visa you are applying for. This is also mandatory for children. Whenever your visa is checked by an official, they will match your photo with your face before moving ahead.

There are two ways by which a U.S. embassy or consulate will ask for your photo. First is the digital photograph; these are taken at a photo studio, scanned, and then stored in a digital format (usually a .jpg). The other way is to have your photo taken at the offsite facilitation center or Visa Application Center. So, you’d have to be present there physically.

You can check the requirements in detail here.

Requirements for Digital U.S. Visa Photos

A digital photo is required for each applicant who is applying for a U.S. visa. It must be uploaded along with the DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. As already mentioned, it must meet certain requirements to be accepted by the online portal and then by the officials.

Here are all the photo requirements you need to know:

  • The image pixel dimensions have to be square with a minimum of 600 x 600 pixels and a maximum of 1200 x 1200 pixels.
  • It should be in an RGB color scheme with 24 bits per pixel. Black and white photographs aren’t accepted.
  • It has to be in JPEG format (.jpg extension).
  • The size of the photograph(s) should be less than 240 kilobytes. If it is larger than 240 KB, you’re required to compress it, but the compression ratio should be 20:1.
  • Brightness and contrast tools should be used minimally. The photograph must represent a natural skin tone.

Image Content requirement (as to what should be included in the picture):

  • The image should contain the applicant’s full face, neck, and shoulders in frontal view with non-smiling expression.
  • Nothing below the applicant’s shoulders should be included in the photograph.
  • The eyes should be pointing towards the camera and opened normally.
  • The head must be centered within the frame and must not be tilted.
  • Both ears should be visible and not covered by hair.
  • The height of the head (which is measured from the hair to the chin) must comprise 50-69% of the photo.
  • Every facial feature must be seen in the picture unobstructed.
  • The applicant must have a light-colored background with no distracting objects or shadows.
  • There should be no discernible dot patterns within the photograph.
  • No eyeglasses or sunglasses are permitted in the photo except for rare medical cases.
  • No hats, head coverings, or fancy items are allowed except for religious purposes. But they should not cover facial features.

Scanning guidelines:

  • The scanned images must be taken from a photo-quality paper.
  • If you’re scanning a paper photograph, its dimension should be no less than 2 x 2 inches or 51 x 51 mm square.
  • The scanned photo should be printed at around 300 pixels per inch.

While posing for the photo, you should look relaxed and natural without giving any expression.

Additional Visa Photo Requirements

Besides the standard requirements mentioned above, there are some additional requirements for certain types of visas. So, if you are applying for any of the following visas, you must consider certain things while preparing your photographs.

Non-Immigrant Visa Photo Requirements

In addition to submitting the digital photos along with your DS-160 application, you must also submit a physical photo. The requirements are usually the same as a digital photo. It should be at least 2 x 2 inches, and the background should be light-colored, among other requirements. The physical copy shouldn’t be tampered with or altered in any way and should not have any writing.

Immigrant Visa Photo Requirements

Immigrants applying to stay in the U.S. permanently must submit two physical copies that are identical to one another. The requirements are, again, the same.

Diversity Visa Photo Requirement

Diversity Visa applicants who are looking to enter the U.S. on a DV or lottery program must upload a picture of themselves which meets the following criteria:

  • It should be square with a dimension of 600 x 600 pixels.
  • It should be in JPEG format.
  • The size should be 240 kilobytes or less.

If you’re scanning an existing photograph, make sure it has at least 300 pixels per inch. There will be more photos asked for once your application is accepted and interviews are scheduled. You’re required to carry them along with you.

Where to Get a Visa Photo Taken

The USCIS doesn’t provide any specifications on where to get a photo taken. Since the requirements are stringent and non-negotiable, it’s better if you leave it to professionals, as opposed to taking it yourself. Many photo studios and agencies specialize in immigration-related photography. They will take, process, edit, and present the photographs for you. While they may charge an extra fee for this, it is well worth it.

If you have faith in your photo processing skills, you can also do it yourself. You have to use a light-colored background, preferably white, and have a high-quality digital camera. Put the camera on a stand or ask one of your friends to take the photo for you.

The bottom line is you shouldn’t opt for self-photography just for saving a few dollars. Bad quality photos or photos that don’t meet the specifications result in delayed visa processing.

How to Get a Visa Photo for a Baby

Everyone is required to submit their photo when applying for a U.S. visa. Toddlers are no exception. Parents have their photos taken within the guidelines laid out by the USCIS. Here are some tips for taking a visa photo of a baby:

  • The photo should be of the baby alone; no one can be accompanying the baby in the picture.
  • There are no background requirements, so you can take the photo with your baby on the floor. But make sure there are no shadows on the face.
  • If he/she is on a car seat, cover the car seat with white fabric to provide a blank background.

What to Do If Your Appearance Has Changed Recently

If there’s a difference between your current appearance and your appearance in the photo, you’re required to submit a new photo — even if it is less than six months old. Your appearance may change significantly because of plastic surgery, added or removed face piercings, scars, drastic weight gain or loss, gender transition, etc. For facial hair changes, a different photo won’t be required.

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When applying for a U.S. visa, it’s imperative to comply with all the requirements, not just photographic. In case of confusion, it’s best to get legal help from experienced attorneys.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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