Guide to the DACA Application Process
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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.
How Can DACA Be Improved?
"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," Ricardo Crespo, a first-year medical student and DACA recipient, said.
However, Crespo said changing the following factors would improve the program:
- The length of renewal
- The costs
- In-state tuition benefits
- 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," Crespo said.
Crespo added that paying out-of-state tuition in the state where he's lived for over 15 years is "truly upsetting."
"It just feels like yet another way to cheat hardworking DACA recipients out of something they already have enough barriers obtaining: education," Crespo said. "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:
- You must have been under 31 years old on June 15, 2012.
- You must have arrived in the U.S. prior to your 16th birthday.
- You must have lived in the U.S. continuously from June 15, 2007 to the present.
- You must have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.
- You must not have had a legal immigration status on June 15, 2012.
- You must be a high school graduate, have a GED diploma, be honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces, or be enrolled in school.
- You must not have been convicted of a felony or more than three misdemeanors.
- You must be at least 15 years old unless you are involved in removal proceedings or have a final removal or voluntary departure order.
Document Checklist for DACA Application Process
|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
Determine whether you are eligible for DACA and get legal advice to help you understand the benefits and risks of applying for DACA. Decide whether applying for DACA is a good idea for you.
Gather the documents you need to prove your eligibility. These may include your photo ID, passport, school and military records, rent receipts, utility bills, high school diploma, or GED diploma.
Prepare your application. Fill out Forms I-821D, I-765, I-765WS, and G-1145 carefully and accurately. Make sure you answer every question completely. USCIS prefers that these forms be typed, but if necessary, you can use black ink to fill out these forms.
Mail in your forms along with the application fee of $495. Make your payment by check, money order, or cashier's check payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." Include a cover letter with your application.
Attend your biometrics appointment and watch out for a request for evidence (RFE). If there is any supporting documentation missing from your application, you'll get an RFE. All applicants must complete a biometrics exam.
Jennifer Herrera, an undergraduate student at Meredith College, said you should also stay up-to-date on the latest DACA news throughout the application process.
"With so much uncertainty surrounding DACA, one important detail during the application process is to stay informed," Herrera said. "This includes watching the news, monitoring your case status, and reaching out to USCIS with any questions or concerns."
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
- The Cost: The application fee of $495 may seem high to many individuals, especially students. However, students benefit from being able to enroll in college or university classes.
- Health Needs: Being able to legally work opens up the possibility of receiving benefits from an employer. Since many employers offer health insurance, individuals with health issues may gain greater access to healthcare as a result of DACA.
- Travel: A DACA provision allows recipients to travel outside of the country for school, work, or humanitarian reasons. This can be useful for students who want to study abroad without worrying that they won't be able to come home.
- Fear: The downside of DACA is that the government will have a record of you, along with your address. If the DACA program is eliminated, there is no guarantee that the government won't use this information.
How Can Colleges Support DACA and Undocumented Students?
Judith Perez-Castro, an incoming law student at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law and an ICLEO Fellow, said being a DACA student is stressful, but colleges can take measures to lessen that burden.
"Have people in charge of administration educated on the subject and trained to work with DACA students," Perez-Castro said. "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 ImmigrationHelp.org website, which helps undocumented individuals fill out their DACA forms free of charge through an easy online interface.
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?
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?
Where do I send the DACA renewal application?
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?
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.
Meet the Students
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.
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.
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.