In a Nutshell
In 2012 President Obama passed an Executive Order that launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for millions of undocumented youth in the United States called Dreamers. DACA provides protection from deportation for eligible Dreamers, but it doesn't provide a pathway to long-term lawful permanent residence in the United States.Over the years, lawmakers have proposed many different laws to grant Dreamers a clear path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship, but none have passed yet. Still, it may be possible for some DACA recipients to get green cards and then naturalize as American citizens. This article explains the barriers to citizenship for DACA recipients and discusses the conditions under which some DACA recipients could get green cards and later naturalize.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated October 2, 2022
Why Can't DACA Recipients Apply for Citizenship?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have access to important benefits such as employment authorization and protection from deportation. DACA recipients can submit DACA renewals every two years to keep their work authorization (work permit) and the ability to remain in the country. But people with DACA status don’t yet have a direct path to citizenship in U.S. immigration law.
DREAM Act Reform
Congress has debated immigration reform, including multiple drafts of theDevelopment, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, several times over the last two decades. In the bill proposal, the Act would protect people in Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and would give Dreamers eligibility for permanent resident status. Permanent resident Dreamers could then apply for lawful immigration status for their undocumented family members. The Act would also provide a pathway to citizenship.
The bill has passed in the House of Representatives several times, but never in the Senate. The House of Representatives has approved the most recent2021 DREAM and Promise Act. Now, it is up to the Senate to decide on the Act.President Biden has said he supports the Act, but the administration has yet to make headway to pave the way for DACA recipients’ citizenship.
Still, if aDACA recipient can manage to get permanent residence, they may be able to pave their way to citizenship. An example would be getting a green card through marriage.
How Can DACA Recipients Become Permanent Residents?
Some Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients may be able to apply for permanent resident legal status.
If you’re a DACA recipient who entered the country lawfully — that is, with a valid U.S. visa —then you satisfy the lawful entry requirement for a green card. You may be able to petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an immigrant visa if you have an immediate relative like aspousewith U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence.
If you’ve entered the country lawfully, you canapply for a green cardfrom within the United States. You can apply for the green card even if you have some unlawful presence. For example, if you spent time in the United States without a valid legal status.
What if You Entered the U.S. Without a Valid Visa?
Many people entered the United States unlawfully, without a valid immigrant visa. In this case, you don’t yet meet the legal entry requirement. But you can meet the lawful entry requirement throughAdvance Parole.
Advance Parole travel documents allow DACA recipients to travel abroad and lawfully re-enter the U.S. when they return. Once you have lawfully re-entered the country, you may become eligible to apply for a green card. Still, if you haven’t yet entered the country lawfully, you’ll have toapply from your country of birth, usually after waiting out a three or 10-year re-entry bar if you don’t file an unlawful presence waiver with a lawyer’s help.
When Can You Naturalize After You Have a Green Card?
If you hold a green card for several years, you can eventuallyapply for naturalizationto become a U.S. citizen. U.S. veterans can naturalize after three years. Non-veterans qualify for naturalization after five years of being a lawful permanent resident.
Once you are naturalized, you are a lawful U.S. citizen. Naturalization allows you to vote in U.S. elections, enter and exit the United States for travel, and apply to get green cards for your eligible family members. The process takes about 7-15 months and will cost $725.
Becoming a U.S. citizen as a DACA recipient is complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the green card or naturalization process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit, we may be able to refer you to an experienced immigration attorney to help. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!
The entire process takes 8-14 months. But if your spouse is a permanent resident, you'll have to wait until USCIS approves your I-130 request before you can file Form I-485. Usually, USCIS takes 8-12 months to process I-130 filings and 11-26 months to process I-485 filings.Can you go from DACA to green card? ›
At a Glance: DACA recipients can apply for a Green Card to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. There are two main paths to transition from DACA to Green Card: Consular Processing or Transition through marriage.Why can't DACA recipients apply for citizenship? ›
DACA recipients are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The program does not grant them official legal status or a pathway to citizenship.Will DACA end in 2023? ›
What is the current status of DACA? DHS announced a final rule to continue the DACA program under the current policy. It went into effect on October 31, 2022. This rule means there are no changes for current DACA recipients and their ability to renew.Can DACA get married to a U.S. citizen? ›
Being married to a U.S. citizen automatically makes you eligible. You just need a valid proof of your marriage. File an I-130 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS. Once it is approved, you will receive an I-797 Notice of Action in the mail.Is DACA a path to citizenship through marriage? ›
An individual with DACA who has a lawful entry and who married a U.S. citizen may generally file an adjustment of status application. The principal form is Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status. But an adjustment of status package typically includes several other additional forms.What happens if DACA ends? ›
If DACA renewals were halted, DACA recipients could lose their protections from deportation, putting them at immediate risk. This means an estimated 25,000 U.S. citizen children each month would be living with a parent at risk of being torn from their families and deported to a country they likely don't even remember.How much does it cost for a dreamer to become a citizen? ›
The current naturalization fee for a U.S. citizenship application is $725. That total includes $640 for application processing and $85 for biometrics services, both of which are nonrefundable, regardless of whether the U.S. government approves or rejects an application.Can you have DACA forever? ›
Although the Trump administration tried in various ways to end the DACA program, the federal courts stopped it from terminating DACA altogether. Until and unless Congress passes a permanent fix, however, DACA is a program that could be canceled entirely.How can a DACA recipient get a green card without marriage? ›
Special Immigrants Green Card
If you don't meet the eligibility requirements for a marriage-based or employment-based green card, you may be qualified to apply as a special immigrant. This is another route to getting a green card in the USA without marriage.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded the expansion in June 2017, while it continued to review the existence of DACA as a whole.Will I lose my DACA if I get married? ›
DACA status is not impacted by a marriage so you can renew your DACA even after you are married. In most cases it would make sense to apply for an adjustment of status if you had lawful entry into the United States and your spouse is a U.S. citizen.Can you join the military with DACA? ›
Currently, DACA recipients are barred from joining the U.S. military. The Fight for the American Dream Act would reverse that restriction. Similarly, for DACA recipients who are honorably discharged after their service, the Act creates a pathway to grant them permanent residence status.Can a U.S. citizen sponsor a DACA recipient? ›
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.How can someone lose their DACA? ›
These are domestic violence, burglary, sexual abuse or exploitation, drug trafficking (or distribution), the unlawful possession or use of a firearm, and DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs). If a crime does not meet this definition, however, it still may be considered a significant misdemeanor.What is the new DACA Rule 2022? ›
What has changed? The rule does not make any significant changes to DACA eligibility, protections, or the application process. Current DACA recipients can continue to renew if they are eligible, but the government is still barred under court order from processing new, first-time applications.Is DACA being cancelled 2022? ›
Subject to current court orders, as of October 31, 2022, current DACA approvals and work authorizations remain in effect, and the Department of Homeland Security will continue to process DACA renewal requests and related requests for employment authorization.What happened with DACA in the Supreme Court? ›
The Supreme Court agrees with the lower courts' ruling that the Administration unlawfully ended the program. The Court's decision restores the 2012 Obama Administration DACA policy in full.How can DACA dreamers become citizens? ›
6. How do Dreamers become citizens? The DACA program does not provide a pathway for Dreamers to become U.S. citizens or even legal permanent residents. In fact, there is no legal pathway for Dreamers to earn citizenship at all, despite 86 percent of American voters supporting giving Dreamers pathways to legal status.What are the 5 requirements to become a U.S. citizen? ›
You need to be at least 18 years old, be a permanent resident with a green card for a least 5 years, 3 years if you are married to a U.S citizen. You must maintain continuous residence in the U.S., at least 3 months in California, and not have any trips outside the U.S. for 6 months or longer.
Unlike the DREAM Act, DACA does not create a path to lawful permanent residency for undocumented immigrants.Can you get your residency through DACA? ›
The DACA program does not provide a pathway for Dreamers to become U.S. citizens or even legal permanent residents. In fact, there is no legal pathway for Dreamers to earn citizenship at all, despite 86 percent of American voters supporting giving Dreamers pathways to legal status.Does DACA give residency? ›
Currently, DACA does not provide a pathway to permanent resident status, but it does provide approved applicants with work permits and the protection against the initiation of removal proceedings in two-year increments.Can DACA students apply for residency? ›
Students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are also eligible to establish residency for tuition purposes.Can DACA become citizens by marriage? ›
Steps to go from Daca to a marriage-based green card through consular processing. Being married to a U.S. citizen automatically makes you eligible. You just need a valid proof of your marriage. File an I-130 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS.What is the final rule for DACA? ›
The final rule affirms that: Current DACA recipients' deferred action, employment authorization, and advance parole will continue to be recognized as valid under the final rule. DACA is not a form of lawful status but DACA recipients are considered “lawfully present” for certain purposes.Can a US citizen sponsor a DACA recipient? ›
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.