Steps to Apply for DACA for the First Time

Themes/Topics: Law & Policy

Geography: California, National

Audience: Ally, Undocumented Youth

IMPORTANT NOTE: Despite the Supreme Court decision to reinstate the DACA program, the Trump administration released a memo on July 28, 2020 that limits DACA and does not allow first-time applicants to submit an initial application. The new memo makes it clear that USCIS will reject and return any initial DACA applications and fees that have been submitted. The Trump Administration will likely be sued for this brazen move to subvert the Supreme Court’s decision on the DACA program. This information remains on our website in the case that initial applications will be accepted in the future. More updates will be provided as we learn more.

Overview

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), an executive order issued on June 15, 2012 by President Obama, protects eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States as children. DACA gives eligible undocumented immigrants:

  • temporary deportation protection
  • and a work permit that allows them to get a social security number.

Like other important policy changes, the DACA program was not a result of an overnight decision. DACA was made possible by many years of struggle and a movement led by undocumented young people.

DACA is a temporary solution that is a crucial first step in the right direction, but because it is not a lawful status and could be changed or terminated at any time, we encourage individuals to get involved in advocating for the passage of a permanent solution.

For an overview of possible long-term immigration options, check out our guide Beyond DACA: Immigration Options Every Undocumented Person Should Know.

You can also use Immigrants Rising’s free, anonymous, and online Immigration Legal Intake Service to help you understand your eligibility for DACA and long-term immigration options.

Read on to learn more about how to successfully submit a DACA application for the first time. If you are renewing your DACA, check out Steps to Renew DACA.

1. Understand Your Eligibility for DACA

It’s important to learn as much as you can about DACA to figure out whether it makes sense for you to apply.

First, you’ll want to confirm that you’re eligible for DACA. To be eligible you must:

  • Have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Have entered the U.S. before you turned 16 years old
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 up to the present time
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time you are applying for DACA
  • Have had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Currently enrolled in school (or have returned to school), graduated, obtained certificate of completion (e.g. GED) OR be an honorably discharged U.S. veteran
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

2. Get Legal Advice

We recommend you consult with an immigration attorney or a Department of Justice accredited representative before you decide whether to apply. They can help you weigh the benefits and risks of applying for DACA.

For tips on how to find an attorney, check out our Getting Legal Help resource.

3. Gather Your Application Documents

Carefully review the official USCIS instructions for gathering your pre-application documents.

Below is a summary of what you’ll need. DO NOT send original documents, as they will not be returned:

  • Two (2) passport-style photographs (for the Employment Authorization application) with your name and date of birth written on the back
  • Copy of foreign passport biographic page and any prior visa & I-94 cards (if available)
  • Copy of original birth certificate and translation OR unexpired passport
  • Copy of every criminal and/or traffic court case on record (if applicable)
    • Every incident/arrest/police report
    • Every criminal complaint/charging document from the district attorney (or other prosecutor)
    • Every final criminal court disposition record. That is the final ruling from the judge in your case stating the outcome after settlement, trial, or dismissal
    • Post-conviction showing that you completed all terms of probation/sentence.
  • Copy of school records, such as:
    • Proof of Enrollment
    • Report Cards and/or Transcripts
    • School Identification Card(s)
    • Awards from high school (and college, if applicable)
    • Copy of high school diploma or GED certificate (if applicable)
  • Proof of entry prior to age 16, continuous residence in U.S. since June 15, 2007 and presence on June 15, 2012, such as:
    • Federal Income Tax Returns or Tax Transcripts (filed independently or as a dependent)
    • Employment records, letters from internships & volunteer work, medical records
    • Leases, rental receipts, other dated receipts, utility bills, cell phone bills
    • Bank statements, credit card statements, copies of cancelled checks
    • Birth certificates of children and/or siblings born in the U.S. for the stated period
    • Affidavits from relatives, friends, teachers, and churches attesting to your presence
    • Photographs placing you in the U.S. since the age of 16 & since 2007

4. Prepare Your DACA Application Fees

The total application fee for DACA is $495. Due to USCIS’ uncertain withdrawal time, money orders and cashier’s checks are recommended, but personal checks are accepted. Checks must be made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Do not abbreviate. Cash is not accepted.

Fee exemptions are available, but only to people who meet the stringent requirements.

Financial Assistance:

Reach out to your local immigrant rights organizations and legal service providers to find out if they have any DACA fee assistance available.

Other organizations have established loan programs to cover the cost of applying for DACA:

  • Mission Asset Fund provides a 0% interest, credit-building immigration loan in California to help pay for the DACA fee
  • Self-Help Credit Union has a DACA loan program to help individuals pay for the DACA fee and other application costs

5. Download The Correct Application Forms From USCIS

USCIS will reject applications that use outdated forms, so it is important to use current application forms. Please visit the USCIS website to find the following forms in their current versions: (1) Form I-821D, (2) Form I-765; (3) Form I-765WS; and (4) Form G-1145.

6. Fill Out The Application Accurately

Please refer to USCIS’ Form I-821D Instructions which can be found here.

Tips for filling out your application:

  • Write your name and date of birth the same way on each form
  • Answer all questions completely and accurately
  • Provide all required supporting documentation and evidence
  • USCIS prefers that you type your answers into the form and then print it. If you are filling out your form by hand, use black ink. If you make a mistake, please start over with a new form
  • Copy/Scan your entire application for your records
  • Label your photographs with your full name and date of birth
  • Sign All Forms

7. Create a Cover Letter

A cover letter is useful for the USCIS agent reviewing your application to overview the application package in a glance, and serves as a checklist for you. Please refer to UWD’s sample cover letter as a starting point.

8. Prepare and Send Your Application

When sending your application, it is advised that you (1) do not have the forms stapled (paper clips are preferred) and (2) have it complied in the following order:

  1. $495 Fee
  2. Cover Letter
  3. Completed Form G-1145
  4. Completed Form I-821D
  5. Completed Form I-765
  6. Completed Form I-765WS
  7. Copies of any supporting evidence

The location of the USCIS facility receiving your application will differ based on where you reside. Please use the USCIS reference guide to find the correct location.

We highly recommend that you select a delivery option that allows you to track your package.

9. Track the Status of Your Application

E-Notification Confirmation: If you filled out Form G-1145 you should receive a one-time e-Notification when your application has been received by USCIS.

Paper Receipt Confirmation: You should also receive a paper receipt in the mail within 1-4 weeks of sending your DACA application even if you requested E-Notification.

You can track the progress of your DACA application online here. You may check manually each time or create an account with my.uscis.gov and enable push notifications.

10. Attend a Biometrics Appointment

Within four (4) months of getting your DACA receipt, you should get an appointment notice to visit an Application Support Center (ASC) to have your biometrics taken. Make sure to bring a valid government-issued photo ID (e.g. your passport) to your appointment.

11. Look Out for a Possible Request for Evidence (RFE)

If anything is missing from your application, or if USCIS has questions, you may be mailed a “Request for Evidence” (RFE). You will need to respond to this RFE with additional proof by the deadline given. If you ignore this request, your case will be automatically denied.

12. Await Notification of DACA Approval

The application processing time can take several months. You can track the processing times of all DACA applications here.

Once you are notified of your DACA approval, you will receive a work authorization card valid for one (1) year.

13. Prepare for Your DACA Renewal

Remember: DACA is temporary and you need to renew it every year. Read our Steps to Renew DACA to learn how you can prepare for your renewal.

You got this! We wish you great success in pursuing DACA and other long-term immigration options!

Back to Resources