DACA to Green Card: How to Transition to Citizenship

Updated on April 10, 2024

Dreamers are in the U.S. because their parents came to America illegally with the American Dream in mind and brought them along. Without DACA, Dreamers would be deported as they technically have no legal basis to be in the U.S. With DACA, they are allowed to stay in the U.S. and also allowed to work. But, can you go from DACA to Green Card? What are your options in the future to make your life in the U.S. more permanent? Let’s take a look!

At a Glance

  • Dreamers under DACA can explore transitioning to a Green Card for permanent residency in the U.S.
  • Options include family sponsorship, employment-based sponsorship, and humanitarian cases.
  • Legal guidance is crucial due to complexities, lawful entry requirements, and potential challenges.
  • DACA renewal and application costs apply; asylum may be an option, and individual circumstances vary, warranting professional assistance.

Understanding DACA and Its Limitations

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program established in 2012, providing deportation protection and work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. However, DACA does not offer a direct pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.

How to Get a Green Card While on DACA

While DACA itself does not provide a direct pathway to permanent residency or a green card, there are certain options available for DACA recipients to apply for a green card. Here are a few key steps to consider:

  1. Family-Based Green Cards: If you have an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, you may be eligible to apply for a green card through family sponsorship. This can be achieved through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. It is important to consult with an immigration attorney to understand the specific requirements and process for family-based green card applications.
  2. Employment-Based Green Cards: In some cases, DACA recipients may be able to obtain a green card through employment sponsorship. This typically involves an employer filing a petition on your behalf. However, it’s important to note that this option may require you to leave the U.S. temporarily due to your undocumented status. Working closely with an immigration attorney can help you navigate the employment-based green card process successfully.
  3. Humanitarian Green Cards: If you meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being a victim of human trafficking or persecution, you may be eligible to apply for a humanitarian green card. These cases are evaluated on an individual basis, and it is crucial to seek legal guidance to understand the specific requirements and options available.

It is important to note that applying for a green card while on DACA can be a complex process. Navigating immigration laws and requirements requires careful consideration and professional guidance. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney is strongly recommended to ensure that you understand the options available to you and to navigate the application process successfully.

Legal Entry Requirement

A critical factor in transitioning from DACA to a green card is the lawful entry requirement. If a DACA recipient entered the U.S. legally (with a valid visa) and overstayed, their path to a green card is more straightforward. For those who entered without a valid visa, obtaining Advance Parole to travel abroad and lawfully re-enter the U.S. can fulfill this requirement.

Naturalization Process

After obtaining a green card, DACA recipients can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. The general eligibility criteria include a continuous residence of five years as a permanent resident, good moral character, and passing an English language and civics test. For those married to U.S. citizens, the residency requirement is reduced to three years.

Challenges and Considerations

  • Advance Parole: For those who entered the U.S. without a valid visa, traveling abroad and re-entering legally can be risky and should be done with legal advice.
  • Waivers for Unlawful Presence: Those who lived in the U.S. unlawfully for more than 180 days may face a 3 to 10-year bar from re-entering. Obtaining a waiver is essential in these cases.
  • Legal Guidance: Navigating immigration law can be complex. Consulting with an immigration attorney is advisable to understand individual circumstances and options.

DACA Renewal and Application Costs

DACA recipients can renew their status and should do so between 120 and 150 days before expiration. The initial application fee is $495, covering filing and biometrics fees.

Asylum as an Option

Undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, can apply for asylum if they meet specific criteria, such as fear of persecution in their home country.

Read More

Final Thoughts

The transition from DACA to a green card and ultimately to U.S. citizenship is complex and varies based on individual circumstances. It involves navigating multiple legal requirements and often requires the assistance of immigration professionals. While DACA provides critical protection and benefits, recipients seeking long-term residency and citizenship must carefully consider and pursue available legal avenues.

DACA to Green Card FAQ

Can I Apply for a Green Card While on DACA?

Yes, individuals on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) can apply for a Green Card (Lawful Permanent Residency), but they must meet certain eligibility criteria, such as having a qualifying family relationship or employment offer.

What Are the Eligibility Criteria for DACA Recipients to Apply for a Green Card?

To be eligible for a Green Card, DACA recipients typically need a qualifying family relationship (such as marriage to a U.S. citizen), an employment offer, or fall under special categories like asylum or U visa for victims of crime.

Does Being on DACA Automatically Qualify Me for a Green Card?

No, being on DACA does not automatically qualify you for a Green Card. You must meet independent eligibility requirements for Green Card applicants.

Can I Adjust My Status to Permanent Resident While in the U.S.?

DACA recipients may adjust their status to permanent resident while in the U.S. if they are eligible for a Green Card through family, employment, or other special categories, and if they entered the U.S. legally.

What If I Entered the U.S. Without Inspection? Can I Still Apply for a Green Card?

If you entered the U.S. without inspection, it’s more complicated to adjust your status to a permanent resident. In some cases, you may need to leave the U.S. and apply from your home country, which could trigger bars to re-entry.

Does Marrying a U.S. Citizen Make Me Eligible for a Green Card?

Marrying a U.S. citizen can make you eligible to apply for a Green Card. However, you must meet all other immigration requirements and prove that the marriage is bona fide.

How Long Does the Green Card Application Process Take for DACA Recipients?

The time frame for the Green Card application process varies based on individual circumstances, including the basis for your application and the current workload of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

What Happens to My DACA Status While My Green Card Application Is Pending?

Your DACA status remains valid while your Green Card application is pending. It’s important to renew your DACA status as needed to ensure you remain protected from deportation and authorized to work.

Can I Travel Outside the U.S. While My Green Card Application Is Pending?

Traveling outside the U.S. while your Green Card application is pending can be risky, especially if you don’t have Advance Parole. Leaving without Advance Parole may result in the abandonment of your Green Card application.

Do I Need an Immigration Attorney to Apply for a Green Card?

While it’s not mandatory to have an immigration attorney to apply for a Green Card, navigating immigration law can be complex, especially for DACA recipients. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can be beneficial.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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