Can DACA Recipients Apply for a Green Card?

In a Nutshell

Since President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, eligible undocumented youth have received protection from deportation. The Trump administration terminated the DACA program in 2017, but President Biden restored DACA at the start of his presidency. DACA recipients enjoy benefits like an employment authorization permit. But DACA status and the work permit are only temporary. They are valid for two years, after which DACA recipients have to renew their status. Plans to grant DACA recipients more long-term legal status in the United States have been on the docket for a while but have yet to pass into law. It is still possible for some DACA recipients to get green cards. This article explains the existing pathways for DACA recipients to get green cards.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Written May 25, 2022

Can DACA Recipients Apply for a Green Card?

Yes, it is possible for DACA recipients to apply for a green card if they meet the lawful entry requirement. If you've entered the U.S. lawfully with Advance Parole or if you first entered with a valid visa, you may meet the green card eligibility requirement. The most common green card types are family-based, employment-based, and humanitarian. The following sections of the article will explain the opportunities that do or do not exist for DACA recipients to get those green cards.

Can DACA Recipients Get Family-Based Green Cards?

Yes, as long as you’re the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Marriage is a pretty common way that some undocumented immigrants and people with DACA status get green cards. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will allow you to apply for a marriage green card as a DACA recipient if your spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. However, two things may affect your application process. First, your spouse’s immigration status, and second, whether your initial entry to the United States was lawful or unlawful. 

If your entry to the United States was lawful, you could apply for a green card from inside the United States. However, if you entered illegally, you will have to apply from your country of origin.

Legal entry to the United States can happen in two ways. It can either be “with inspection,” meaning that you enter on a valid visa and an officer from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspects you when you arrive. The second way is through a Visa Waiver Program.

If you entered the United States unlawfully — meaning you most recently entered without a valid visa or an approved visa waiver and without being inspected by the U.S. CBP — you could still have the opportunity to apply for a marriage green card. But in this case, the application process is more complicated. You’ll have to apply at a U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate in your home country (consular processing) or meet the legal entry requirement before you can apply. You can fulfill the legal entry requirement by applying for Advance Parole.

What Is Advance Parole?

Advance Parole is a temporary travel document that allows DACA recipients to return to the United States after traveling to their home country for one of three purposes: humanitarian, educational, or employment. It will count as legal entry if you re-enter the United States using an Advance Parole travel document. Then you can apply for your green card using the same process as people who came into the United States lawfully.

If you can’t enter the United States with Advance Parole though, you’ll have to apply from your home country. There, you will have to wait for three years or 10 years as punishment for spending more than a year of unlawful presence in the United States. After waiting out your bar of entry, or filing a waiver with your attorney’s help, you can submit your green card application.

Can My Employer Sponsor Me for a Green Card if I Have DACA?

Yes, it may be possible for your employer to sponsor your green card if you meet the legal entry requirement. U.S. immigration law allows aliens to become lawful permanent residents through employment in the United States. This type of green card allows foreign nationals of “exceptional ability” to live in the United States and contribute to the U.S. workforce and economy. 

If you meet the legal entry requirement, you can apply for an adjustment of status to a green card from inside the United States. If you don’t meet the legal entry requirement, your employer can still sponsor your green card application. In this case, you’ll need to apply from your country of origin and you’ll have to wait out your three-year or 10-year re-entry bar outside the United States before you can apply. It will be up to your U.S. employer to decide whether to wait all this while to sponsor your green card application. 

It may be possible to file a waiver for your unlawful presence so that you don’t have to face the three-year or 10-year re-entry bar. You should consult with an immigration attorney or law firm to find out if you qualify for the waiver. You can find an immigration attorney for free or at a low cost through the legal aid network.

Can DACA Recipients Get Humanitarian Green Cards?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides green cards to specific foreign nationals based on humanitarian reasons. Such cases can be people who are seeking refugee and asylum status, abuse and crime victims, and human trafficking victims. Right now, there's no humanitarian provision in U.S. immigration law for DACA recipients to have a straightforward pathway to permanent residence. 

DACA is currently the only legal protection of undocumented youth from deportation. That may change if U.S. lawmakers pass the DREAM and Promise Act, which Congress recently proposed. The DREAM ACT is an immigration reform bill that provides official long-term status for Dreamers and people in Temporary Protected Status (TPS). 

Although both the DACA program and the DREAM Act aim to protect Dreamers, their extent of protection differs. The DREAM Act focuses on providing Dreamers permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship. On the contrary, DACA only offers deferred deportation to recipients that is renewable every two years. 

The DREAM Act paves a citizenship road for Dreamers by first making them eligible for lawful permanent residence. Having lawful immigration status will allow Dreamers to easily apply for permanent resident status for their undocumented family members. The DREAM Act will protect Dreamers from deportation and removal proceedings forever.  It will take away Dreamers’ inadmissibility for citizenship and allow them to apply for Naturalization after five years of being permanent residents.