Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration program created by President Obama in 2012 that allows Dreamers—undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—to live and work legally in the United States and avoid deportation. The program has faced a lot of contention. In 2020, the Trump Administration issued an order terminating DACA. This prevented Dreamers from submitting first-time DACA applications, even after a Supreme Court decision rejected the Trump order.
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an order to allow for both new DACA applications and DACA renewal requests. Unfortunately, on July 16, 2021, a Texas judge ruled that the DACA program was unconstitutional. In response to that ruling, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no longer processing new DACA applications. However, the court ruling is currently on appeal, and you can still submit new applications to reserve your place in line if the law changes. This guide explains the DACA application process.
Can I Apply For DACA?
You can apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a DACA Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if you meet the following eligibility rules:
- You were under the age of 39 on June 15, 2020
- You came to the United States before your 16th birthday
- You’ve continuously lived in the U.S. from June 15, 2012 until today
- You were physically present in the U.S. without lawful status on June 15, 2012
- You are physically present in the U.S. when you apply for DACA
- You are currently in school, you have a high school diploma or GED, or you were honorably discharged from the U.S. military
- You have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
Can I get DACA if I’ve previously worked without a work permit?
Yes! Even if you’ve previously worked without a work permit, you can still apply for DACA. In fact, for initial DACA applications, one of the ways that USCIS suggests you could prove you were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 is by submitting employment records, such as pay stubs or W-2 tax documents. USCIS guidance also allows your employer to provide information to support your DACA application. USCIS does not share this information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency in charge of immigration enforcement and removal proceedings.
How to apply for DACA
To submit a first-time Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application, you must do three main things. First, you must complete and sign the required forms for the program. Then, you’ll gather all the required supporting documents, and finally you’ll mail both the forms and supporting documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Step 1 - Complete and Sign USCIS Forms
To submit a new DACA application and get work authorization, you must file these three forms:
- Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
- Form I-765WS, Worksheet for Form I-765
There are also optional USCIS forms you can submit with your application, depending on whether you’re interested in added benefits:
- If you would like to travel outside of the U.S. as a DACA recipient, you must also complete Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, so you can be granted Advance Parole once USCIS approves your DACA request.
- If you would like to receive email notifications about your DACA application, you should complete Form G-1145 as well.
- If you want to pay your filing fees with a credit card, you must submit Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions with your application.
You can download the latest version of all these forms from the USCIS website.
Step 2 - Gather Supporting Documents
In addition to the forms above, you must also submit two recent passport photos with your application and pay the filing and biometrics fees. Most drugstores with photo services will provide passport photos. The total fee for a DACA application is $495. The full charge includes the $410 work authorization fee for the Form I-765 and an $85 biometrics fee. You can pay the fees either with a credit card or by check or money order. Make your check or money orders payable to the order of “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” so that USCIS can receive and process your payment.
In addition, you must submit these documents with your USCIS forms, filing fees, and passport photos for a new DACA application. You must submit the following:
- Proof of your identity
- Proof you came to the United States before your 16th birthday
- Proof of expired immigration status (if applicable)
- Proof that you have been living in U.S. since June 15, 2007 and were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
- Proof that you are currently a student (if applicable)
- Proof that you are a U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces veteran who was honorably discharged (if applicable)
Our supporting document checklist provides more information about how to get these documents for your DACA application.
Step 3 - Mail your application packet to USCIS
When you’re ready to apply for DACA, organize your forms, filing fees, passport photos, and supporting documents into a filing packet. You will be mailing this packet to a USCIS lockbox or service center - you will find the specific mailing address information on the uscis.gov website. It is helpful to include a cover letter with your filing packet that lists the forms and documents included in your application. A cover letter will make it easier for USCIS to review your application. You are welcome to use this sample DACA application cover letter as a template.
You should also make copies of everything in your application packet (including your check or money order) for your records. You should not submit original documents for anything other than passport photos to USCIS - you may not get them back. Instead, submit copies of these documents with your application packet. ImmigrationHelp.org can help you prepare the required forms and supporting documents for your DACA application for free.
What is the DACA application timeline?
A typical DACA application takes 6-12 months to process. During that time, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will send several notices about your application to the mailing address that you provided on your paperwork. Most people who apply for DACA and employment authorization receive the following notices in order.
Receipt Notice (2-3 weeks after you file)
You will receive a notice that USCIS has received your application 2-3 weeks after you mail it to USCIS. This notice will contain a unique code called a “Receipt Number” that consists of 3 letters and 10 numbers. For example, “ABC1234567891. You can use this code to track the status of your application online.
Biometrics Appointment Notice (4-6 weeks after you file)
As part of the DACA process, you will need to attend a biometrics (photo and fingerprinting) appointment. USCIS will schedule this appointment and send you notice of the date, time, and location 4-6 weeks after you file your application. The appointment itself will usually occur 6-8 weeks after you file.
DACA Approval Notice (5-10 months after you file)
If all goes well, USCIS will approve your Form I-821D and send you an approval letter 5-10 months after you file your application.
Employment Authorization Card (6-12 months after you file)
After USCIS approves your I-821D, they will process your I-765 within about 90 days. You should receive your employment authorization card 6-12 months after you file your application.
If you haven’t received any notices 105 days after filing your application, contact USCIS. You should also remember that the coronavirus pandemic has lengthened the processing times for many immigration applications.
How much does it cost to apply for DACA?
To submit your Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application, you will have to pay a total of $495 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The total amount includes $410 for your employment authorization (work permit card) and $85 for your biometrics appointment (photo and fingerprinting).
How can I get help paying for my DACA application?
Many immigrant youth eligible for DACA have a hard time affording their DACA application. If that’s you, the ideas below may help:
Prepare the forms yourself
DACA is expensive enough without having to pay an attorney to help you. A great way to save money is to file for DACA yourself. ImmigrationHelp.org has worked with immigration attorneys to build an app that will help you prepare your DACA paperwork on your own for free. This app will produce all the required paperwork to apply for DACA. You will only need to pay the filing fees and not the $1,000+ that lawyers often charge. If you use the ImmigrationHelp.org app, we’ll even review your forms and supporting documents for you, for free, when you’ve completed the app!
Ask your community for help
Tap into the resources of the communities you’re a part of with one or more of these:
- Start a personal fundraising page on GoFundMe. They have specific resources to help young people crowd-fund for DACA application fees.
- Send letters and emails to select friends or family members asking for help. You can use this template as a starting point.
- Instead of gifts for your birthday, Christmas, or Chanukah, ask for money to help you pay for your DACA application.
- If you are a member of a church or other faith group, reach out to them. They may have resources available to help you.
- Many colleges have programs to help Dreamers - check in with your financial aid office to ask if they can help you.
- Apply for the Voto Latino pro bono “UndocuNeighbor” initiative.
- Check out these funding options from United We Dream.
Applying for DACA can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your DACA case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!