Guide to the DACA Application Process

Read this guide to learn about the important documents and steps undocumented students must complete to apply for the DACA program.

portrait of Bethanny Parker
by Bethanny Parker

Published on September 2, 2021 · Updated on March 17, 2022

Reviewed by Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

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Guide to the DACA Application Process

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What Is DACA? | Reasons to Apply | Eligibility Requirements | Document Checklist | How to Apply | Renewal Requirements | Additional Factors | Helpful Resources

Note: The following information is based on the most recent news and legislative updates regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While new applications are not being processed, the program is still in place and students with current DACA authorization are in good standing until further updates from federal government agencies.

The DACA application process can be frustrating and confusing. In addition to completing and filing the I-821D form, you must gather several documents to prove your eligibility. You'll also need a biometrics exam.

If you're eligible for DACA but aren't sure how to apply, this guide can help. You'll learn the steps you need to take to apply for DACA, as well as the documents you need to produce to prove your eligibility. You'll also learn how to navigate the DACA renewal process.

What Is DACA?

DACA provides a way for certain individuals who came to the U.S. as children to remain in the country for renewable two-year periods and obtain a work permit. DACA allows students and other undocumented individuals to remain in the U.S. and legally obtain work.

The DACA program was implemented through an executive branch memorandum and was announced by President Barack Obama in June 2012. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started accepting DACA applications on August 15, 2012. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported there were approximately 616,000 active DACA recipients as of March 2021.

The DACA program does not give recipients legal status, but rather offers deferment of any removal action. This protection lasts for two years from the date of DACA approval. Recipients must renew their DACA status every two years.

Reasons to Apply for DACA

DACA applicants are young people who grew up in the United States for the majority of their lives. Many were so young when they arrived that they do not even remember their home country. For these students, being sent back to the country they came from would be traumatic.

In addition, DACA recipients are able to get a work permit. This allows students to obtain employment legally, which usually leads to higher wages than they would be able to get otherwise. Being able to work allows students to save money, which they can invest in their education.

DACA recipients can enroll in higher education. Although they can't qualify for federal financial aid, there are many scholarships available for undocumented students and DACA recipients.

What are your thoughts on the DACA program? What are some ways the program could be improved for future undocumented college students? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Ricardo Crespo

Ricardo Crespo

“Though not a permanent solution, I would not be where I am today without the DACA program and for that, I am grateful to the U.S. government.

Four things come to mind that could be improved about the DACA program: the length of renewal, the costs, in-state tuition benefits, and the uncertainty of the entire program. Having to pay over $500 every two years to be considered a human in this country is really taxing on students' mental health, not to mention having to deal with the uncertainty of whether the program will still exist the next day.

Additionally, paying out-of-state tuition in the state where you have lived for over 15 years is truly upsetting and just feels like yet another way to cheat hardworking DACA recipients out of something they already have enough barriers obtaining: education. In the end, the entire program will never be enough until a more permanent pathway to citizenship is created for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers all over the U.S.”

Eligibility Requirements for Undocumented Students

DACA applicants must meet several eligibility requirements to be eligible for DACA protection. DACA requirements include the following:

Document Checklist for DACA Application Process

Requirement Document Examples
Proof of Identity You need a photo ID to prove your identity. This can be a passport, ID from your country of origin, birth certificate with photo identification, school or military ID, or other photo ID.
Proof of U.S. Arrival prior to 16th birthday You can use school records, a passport with an admission stamp, travel records, medical records, dated bank transactions, employment records, tax receipts, or insurance policies as proof.
Proof of Continuous Residence You can use rent receipts, utility bills, school or military records, official church records, birth certificates of children born in the U.S., passport entries, driver's license receipts, or vehicle registration as proof.
Proof of Student Status You can use official records from your school, including report cards or transcripts, a U.S. high school diploma or certificate of completion, or a U.S. GED diploma as proof.
Proof of Immigration Status You can use Form I-94, I-95, or I-94W with an authorized stay expiration date as proof. You can also use a final order of exclusion or removal or a charging document placing you in removal proceedings.
Completed Form I-821D You must fill out United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-821D, which includes information about yourself, including your travel history and current and previous addresses.

Source: U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services

How to Apply for DACA

What is one detail every student should know as they navigate and complete the DACA application process? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Jennifer Herrera

Jennifer Herrera

“With so much uncertainty surrounding DACA, one important detail during the application process is to stay informed. This includes watching the news, monitoring your case status, and reaching out to USCIS with any questions or concerns.”

Renewal Requirements

DACA renewal requires three forms: Forms I-821D and I-765 and the I-765W worksheet. Applicants must complete all three forms and submit them along with the $495 fee and a copy of their work permit (front and back).

You do not need to resubmit the proofs that you submitted with your original DACA application. However, if you have new proofs for anything that has changed, you must send those.

You can renew your DACA for up to one year after it expires following the above instructions. However, if it has been more than a year, you must start over again and file as if you are a first-time DACA applicant.

Additional Factors to Consider

How can colleges and universities better support DACA or undocumented students? question-mark-circle
Portrait of Judith Perez-Castro

Judith Perez-Castro

“Have people in charge of administration educated on the subject and trained to work with DACA students. It's always exhausting and anxiety filled having to disclose and explain what DACA is to someone you are seeking help from. Provide funding for them, along with support systems such as counseling or organizations.”

5 Resources for DACA Assistance

Educators for Fair Consideration

This organization provides legal services, scholarships, and personal and professional development for undocumented young people in the San Francisco Bay Area.


This website provides a list of legal and education resources for Dreamers, including a list of organizations that offer legal assistance and DACA grants.

Mission Asset Fund

MAF offers financing for those who need help paying their DACA application fees and other USCIS application fees.

Immigrants Like Us

This organization hosts the website, which helps undocumented individuals fill out their DACA forms free of charge through an easy online interface.

Immigrants Rising

This organization provides legal options for immigrants, helps them understand their options, and shows them how to earn money through entrepreneurship.

Frequently Asked Questions About The DACA Application Process

Do undocumented students qualify for student loans? true

Undocumented students do not qualify for federal student aid, but there are other types of student aid that they can qualify for. Many scholarships and grants are open to undocumented and DACA students. Some opportunities specifically target undocumented and DACA students. Undocumented students without a Social Security number cannot fill out the FAFSA.

Which organizations offer scholarships specifically for DACA students? true

Scholarships for DACA students are offered by a variety of organizations. Examples include Golden Door Scholars and TheDream.Us. Many churches and faith-based organizations may also offer aid to DACA students.

Where do I send the DACA renewal application? true

The filing address for form I-821D depends on your location and the shipping method you use to ship the package. Use this chart from USCIS to find the correct address. USCIS accepts DACA applications at three locations around the country: Phoenix, Dallas, and Chicago.

What do DACA students have to consider for employment eligibility after college? true

DACA students need to keep their DACA status current for continued eligibility for a work permit. Applicants should submit DACA renewals 120-150 days before their DACA status expires to ensure that it will be renewed on time. This buffer will prevent a gap in their work eligibility.

Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about legal issues.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

Dr. Susana M. Muñoz is Associate Professor of higher education, Program Coordinator of the Higher Education Leadership (HEL) Program, and Co-Director of CSU initiatives for the Race and Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE) Center in the School of Education at Colorado State University (CSU).

Her scholarly interests center on the experiences of minoritized populations in higher education. Specifically, Dr. Muñoz focuses her research on issues of equity, identity, and campus climate for undocumented Latinx students, while employing perspectives such as legal violence, racist nativism, and Chicana feminist epistemology to identify and dismantle power, oppression, and inequities as experienced by these populations. She utilizes multiple research methods as mechanisms to examine these matters with the ultimate goal of informing immigration policy and higher education practices.

Dr. Muñoz has been honored by the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics for her teaching and research. She was also recognized as a Salzburg Global Fellow and named one of the "top 25 most influential women in higher education" by Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine. She also brings 13 years of student affairs experience in multicultural affairs, Greek life, diversity and leadership training, TRiO programs, and residence life.

Meet the Students

Portrait of Judith Perez Castro

Judith Perez Castro

Judith is an incoming law student at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law and an ICLEO Fellow. She is also a part-time court reporter for Clinton Superior Court in Indiana. Judith attended Wingate University where she graduated with summa cum laude honors in May of 2020. She identifies as a first-generation student and is a recipient of a full-ride scholarship through the Golden Door Scholars program.

Her father's near deportation in her junior year of high school inspired Judith to pursue a law degree so she could one day defend immigrant, working-class families. After receiving her law degree, Judith plans to start her legal career as a pauper attorney in her hometown of Frankfort, Indiana, and specialize in criminal and immigration law.

Portrait of Ricardo Crespo

Ricardo Crespo

Ricardo is a first-year medical student and North Carolina native. Ricardo has a professional interest in family medicine and aspires to be someone his patients can trust and come to for anything. He also has a keen interest in both sports medicine and community service, and strives to always be as involved in the community as much as possible. Additionally, Ricardo works as a Spanish tutor and volunteers as an interpreter at a free clinic.

Portrait of Jennifer Herrera

Jennifer Herrera

Jennifer is an undergraduate student at Meredith College studying economics and public Health. This summer, Jennifer had the privilege of working as a Golden Door Scholars Intern in the Scholarships team of the Road to Hire Program where she has developed a passion for serving others and giving back to her community.

Feature Image: Matthew Horwood / Contributor / Getty Images News