What Is DACA, and How Do You Apply?

In a Nutshell

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides relief from deportation for eligible young immigrants who are documented and living in the United States. DACA recipients can get Social Security cards and work permits that they can renew every two years. This article explains all you need to know about the DACA program, including its history and purpose, who can apply for it, and how to apply if it's your first time or if you're renewing your status.

Written by ImmigrationHelp Team
Updated November 22, 2022

What Is DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program began in 2012 under an executive order from President Barack Obama. DACA protects over who came to the U.S. without lawful status from deportation. The program doesn’t give DACA recipients legal status, but it allows them to apply for work authorization. They can use work permits as official identification for many things. For example, they’ll need identification to get a driver’s license. DACA recipients are sometimes called “Dreamers.”

Are DACA Recipients Considered U.S. Citizens?

DACA recipients are not U.S. citizens, and the DACA program doesn’t currently provide a path to citizenship. But there are ongoing efforts to create paths to permanent residency for DACA recipients in U.S. immigration law. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) has been proposed but not yet passed in Congress. If the DREAM Act passes, DACA recipients would be granted temporary residency status and the right to work. It could also create a path to citizenship.

If you are a DACA recipient, you may still be eligible to apply for a green card. Some DACA recipients have received green cards through family-based, employment-based, or humanitarian green card programs.

Who Qualifies for DACA?

You are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if:

  • You entered the U.S. without lawful status before you were 16 years old.

  • You have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

  • You were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.

  • You had no legal immigration status on June 15, 2012.

  • You were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012.

  • You are in the U.S. when you request DACA.

  • You have no felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanor offenses.

  • You are an honorably discharged veteran of the Armed Forces or Coast Guard.

  • You graduated from high school, are currently in school, or have a General Educational Development (GED) certificate.

How To Apply for DACA

The DACA application — whether an initial or a renewal application — is comprised of three forms:

  • Form I-821D: Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

  • Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization Document (work permit)

  • Form I-765 WS, a worksheet to accompany Form I-765

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also requires DACA applicants to submit several supporting documents with their forms. USCIS is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency that handles DACA requests for the federal government. When you mail the forms, you should also submit the required $495 filing fee. This fee covers your form filing fees and your biometrics fee. USCIS will then schedule your biometrics appointment. Your application will be complete once your biometrics appointment is over.

To learn more about the process, check out our article on applying for DACA.

How To Renew Your DACA Status

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status is valid for two years, after which you must apply to renew it. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends renewing your status 120–150 days before its expiration date. You can renew your DACA status if:

  • You didn’t leave the U.S. on or after August 15, 2012, without completing Form I-131: Application for Travel Document. You should complete this form if you need an Advance Parole travel document to go abroad.

  • You have continuously lived in the United States since your last DACA approval.

  • You don’t have a criminal record with a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanor offenses.

  • You do not pose a threat to U.S. public safety or national security.

If you are eligible, you should sign and submit Forms I-821D, I-765, and I-765ws. You’ll have to pay a $495 renewal fee to apply. You’ll also need to submit some supporting documents. For more information, see our DACA supporting documents checklist.

To learn more about DACA renewals, read our DACA renewal guide.

What’s Happening With DACA Right Now?

The DACA program has been in flux for the last several years as federal judges and courts try to determine its validity. This has put many undocumented immigrants in a precarious situation — not knowing if they’ll be able to submit first-time applications or renew their current DACA status. Many also fear deportation. 

DHS is currently accepting and processing DACA renewal applications under a final rule that took effect on Oct. 31, 2022. If you’re a first-time applicant, you can submit a new DACA application, but DHS and USCIS are not currently processing them or issuing DACA status to first-time applicants.

In a November press release, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas spoke to the need for Congress to act, passing a law to protect DACA recipients. “This final rule is our effort to preserve and fortify DACA to the fullest extent possible. Ultimately, we need Congress to urgently pass legislation that provides Dreamers with the permanent protection they need and deserve.”

To see the latest news, check out our DACA News page.

How’d We Get Here?

In 2017, the Trump administration tried to end DACA for first-time applicants. The Supreme Court overturned President Trump’s termination of DACA. But, people could only submit renewal applications until the Biden administration took office. After President Biden’s election, a U.S. district court decision ruled to allow new applications, but a group of attorney generals in Texas objected. They filed a court case arguing that Obama did not launch DACA legally. That court case is ongoing, but the current court order doesn’t allow DHS and USCIS to process new DACA applications.