Can DACA Recipients Apply for a Green Card?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides temporary relief for thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. However, the program doesn’t offer a direct path to permanent residency or citizenship.

This has left many DACA holders wondering whether they can apply for a green card, become permanent residents, and eventually become citizens of the United States.

This article explores whether DACA recipients can apply for Lawful Permanent Status and the available options.

What Is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA?

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s an immigration program that provides temporary protection from deportation and offers employment authorization (work permit) to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. To be eligible for DACA, individuals must:

  • Have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday,
  • Have lived in the U.S. for at least five years,
  • Be enrolled in or completed high school,
  • Have a clean criminal record.

Because DACA provides temporary status, the recipients must re-apply every two years to renew their status and work authorization. However, the DACA program is subject to changes in policies. For this reason, most people with DACA are uncertain about their future in the U.S. and often seek alternative options, such as applying for a green card.

How to Transfer from DACA to a Green Card?

Unfortunately, the DACA program doesn’t provide a direct pathway to a green card or U.S. citizenship. However, a DACA recipient may be eligible for a green card under certain circumstances. 

DACA Green Card Through Marriage 

Marriage is one potential pathway a DACA recipient can use to become a green card holder. If the DACA recipient marries a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), they may be eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card.

However, there are a few things the DACA recipient must consider when applying for a green card through marriage

First, their marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder must be bona fide. In other words, to transition from a DACA to green card through marriage, the couple must prove they entered the marriage in good faith and did not intend to obtain a green card through marriage. Some of the documents the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may need to establish a bona fide marriage include:

  • Valid proof of marriage, e.g., a marriage certificate,
  • Joint bank accounts,
  • Joint lease and mortgage agreements,
  • Photos of the couple on vacations,
  • Affidavits of people who know the couple,
  • Joint insurance policies,
  • Utility bills in the couple’s names.

To apply for a marriage green card, the DACA recipient’s spouse must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with the USCIS. This form establishes the relationship between the DACA recipient and their spouse and starts the process of obtaining a green card through marriage.

After the USCIS approves this petition, the DACA recipient can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (to obtain a green card from within the United States), pay the mandatory fees, and attach all the required supporting documents.

Next, the USCIS schedules a biometrics appointment to collect the DACA recipient’s fingerprints and photos and a green card interview with the couple to determine whether their marriage is genuine.

If the application for the immigrant visa (green card) is successful, the DACA recipient will receive their green card through their mail. The green card gives them legal status and the right to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

Employment-Based Green Card for DACA Recipients

A DACA recipient may be able to apply for a green card through employment if their employer is willing to sponsor them for an employment-based green card.

Typically, this process involves the employer filing a labor certification application with the Department of Labor and a petition with USCIS on behalf of the DACA recipient. But that’s not all. There are other requirements the employer and the DACA recipient must meet to be eligible.

  • For example, the employer must demonstrate that there are no U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to perform the job offered to the DACA recipient. Additionally, the employer must agree to sponsor the employee for permanent residency and to support them in the green card application process.

On the other hand, the DACA recipient must have the necessary education, training, and experience for the job through which they seek green card sponsorship. Typically, these jobs must be in a specific occupation requiring at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

After meeting the eligibility requirements, the employer files Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, with the USCIS to petition on behalf of the DACA recipient. If the USCIS approves this petition, the DACA recipient may apply for a green card through the Adjustment of Status process by filing form I-485. Next, they’ll attend a biometrics appointment and green card interview and finally await the USCIS’s decision.

Family-Based Green Card for DACA Recipients

DACA recipients with qualifying family members who are U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents may be eligible for family-based green cards. These family members include spouses, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21 of DACA recipients.

The qualifying family member initiates the family-based green card application by filing Form I-130 with the USCIS to petition on behalf of the DACA recipient. Then, the DACA recipient will have to wait for a visa to be available before applying for a green card through the Adjustment of Status process.

Green Card Through Asylum for DACA Recipients 

Some DACA recipients who qualify for asylum may eventually become permanent residents of the United States. However, the green card through asylum process may be time-consuming and have complex eligibility requirements. 

To be eligible for asylum, the DACA recipient must have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Then, the DACA recipient must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within one year of their last arrival in the country. In the application, the DACA recipient must include detailed information about the fears or persecutions they experienced in their home country.

The processing time for an asylum application can be lengthy, and the DACA recipient may need to wait several years for a decision on their case. However, once the USCIS approves their application, the DACA recipient may be eligible to apply for a green card by filing Form I-485 after one year of being granted asylum. 

DACA Green Card Through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a form of immigration relief available to certain immigrant children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. Eligible children, including DACA recipients, may apply for a green card if the USCIS approves their SIJS petition.

To qualify for SIJS, the DACA recipient must:

  • Be unmarried,
  • Under the age of 21,
  • Have been declared a dependent of a juvenile court due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment by one or both parents,
  • Obtain a state court order stating the findings about their dependency and need for long-term court-ordered care and custody.

The DACA recipient must also file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with USCIS and await their decision. Usually, the USCIS reviews the petition and decides within 180 days of receiving a complete application. If the USCIS approves the petition, the applicant may be eligible to apply for a permanent residency. 

Factors That May Affect Your Green Card Application as a DACA Recipient

Applying for a green card as a DACA recipient comes with several challenges. Here are some of the factors that may affect your green card application:

Criminal Record

If you have a bad criminal history, it may affect your ability to obtain a green card. Some crimes may render you inadmissible to the United States, while others may make you deportable. 

Immigration Violations

Violating immigration laws may significantly reduce your chances of getting a green card. Some of the common immigration violations include overstaying a visa, gaining unlawful entry into the U.S., and seeking employment in the U.S. without work authorization.

Health Concerns 

If you have a medical condition that is considered a public health threat or that would require expensive medical treatment, you may have lower chances of obtaining a green card.

However, depending on the nature of your case, you may be able to apply for a waiver. An experienced immigration attorney can guide you through this process. 

Why Can’t DACA Recipients Apply for Citizenship?

DACA recipients can’t apply for citizenship because DACA is a temporary program and there’s no direct DACA path to citizenship. Instead, the program offers eligible individuals who came to the United States as children with work authorization and temporary protection from deportation.

However, DACA recipients may be eligible to apply for adjustment of status through other means, such as marrying a U.S. citizen or green card holder. 

How Much Does it Cost to Obtain DACA?

As of May 2023, the total Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application fee is $495. This fee covers both first-time DACA applications and the biometrics fee and is also the same for DACA renewal.

However, this fee may change from time to time. For this reason, it is always advisable to use the USCIS Fee Calculator tool to keep up with the most update fees for your application. Additionally, there may be extra costs associated with obtaining necessary supporting documents or hiring an immigration attorney to help with the application process. 

How Can DACA Recipients Become Permanent Residents?

DACA recipients don’t have a direct path to permanent residency or a green card. However, they may be able to pursue certain options to obtain a green card. These include:

  • Marrying a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident,
  • Getting an employment-based green card sponsorship,
  • Qualifying for a family-based green card,
  • Seeking asylum,
  • Obtaining the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Can DACA Recipients Travel?

DACA recipients (also known as Dreamers) may be able to travel within the United States, outside of the country, and re-enter the United States under certain circumstances. However, some specific rules and limitations apply.

For instance, DACA recipients must have valid identification, such as a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, to book or board flights. In addition, if traveling abroad, DACA recipients must apply for advance parole, which allows them to leave the United States and gain lawful entry when they return without losing their DACA status.

What Is the Difference Between a DACA Recipient and an Undocumented Immigrant?

DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants differ in their immigration status. DACA recipients are individuals who came to the United States as children and met certain eligibility criteria. The program provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization to the recipients. However, it doesn’t offer a direct pathway to citizenship or lawful permanent residence status.

On the other hand, undocumented immigrants are individuals who entered the United States without authorization or overstayed their visas. As a result, these individuals have no permission to work or live in the U.S. and are subject to deportation at any time. 


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