DACA Recipients and Marriage Green Cards

If you are currently a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) beneficiary, and you are in a valid marriage with a U.S. citizen or U.S. green card holder, you may be eligible for a marriage-based green card of your own.

The following guide can help you determine your options. Please also be sure to read our detailed guides on the consequences of immigration violations for green card applicants and special considerations for undocumented spouses.

1. Are you married to a U.S. citizen? When your parents originally brought you to the United States, did you have valid visas at the time?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen and you entered the United States with inspection—meaning that you were inspected by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, and had a valid visa or entered under the Visa Waiver Program—then your application process for a marriage-based green card should be no different than if you currently had legal status. (For more details about that application process, including eligibility factors, read this article.)

In other words, DACA recipients who can prove that they “overstayed” their original visas and later became undocumented should face no special hurdles in applying for a marriage-based green card. You should not have to leave the United States, or apply for a special waiver of inadmissibility. 

This means that Boundless can help guide you through the entire marriage-based green card process. Read more about what you get with Boundless, or get started today.

All of the following scenarios are more complex, however, and likely require more extensive legal representation than the limited-scope independent attorney review that you would get through Boundless.

2. Are you married to a U.S. citizen? When your parents originally brought you to the United States, did you enter the country illegally?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen and you entered the United States illegally, you may still be able to apply for a green card, but there are many complicating factors.

If you have a travel document (also called Advance Parole), you may be able to travel outside the United States, return legally (“with inspection”), and then apply for a marriage-based green card from inside the United States.

If you applied for DACA before turning 18 (or within 180 days of turning 18), you should be able to return to your country of origin and apply for a green card through the U.S. embassy or consulate, just as anyone would do if living abroad and applying for a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen.

If you have no travel document and spent more than 180 days between turning 18 and getting DACA, you must leave the United States to apply for a green card at a U.S. embassy or consulate—but you will also be subject to a bar from re-entering the United States, for up to ten years. Therefore you must also apply for a “provisional unlawful presence waiver” in order to return to the United States without this years-long delay. To qualify for this waiver, you have to show that your spouse will experience “extreme hardship” if you are not allowed to live in the United States. There has to be a strong reason that you and your spouse can’t live together in your country of origin, as well as a compelling argument that your spouse will suffer if you aren’t allowed to live in the United States. 

If you have illegally entered the country more than once, you may be subject to a permanent lifetime bar to re-entering the United States, with no possibility of a waiver.

3. Are you married to a U.S. green card holder? 

If you are married to a U.S. green card holder (not a U.S. citizen), you won’t be able to apply for a green card from inside the United States—even if you and your parents had valid visas when you first arrived, and even if you have a travel document.

If you applied for DACA before turning 18 (or within 180 days of turning 18), you should be able to return to your country of origin and apply for a green card through the U.S. embassy or consulate, just as anyone would do if living abroad and applying for a green card based on marriage to a U.S. green card holder. The process takes approximately 18 months longer than for spouses of U.S. citizens, however, because you will have to wait for a visa to become available before the final processing of your green card application can be completed in your country of origin.

If you spent more than 180 days between turning 18 and getting DACA, you must leave the United States to apply for a green card at a U.S. embassy or consulate—but you will also be subject to a bar from re-entering the United States, for up to ten years. Just as if you were married to U.S. citizen (see above), you therefore must also apply for a “provisional unlawful presence waiver” in order to return to the United States without this years-long delay. The process takes approximately 18 months longer than for spouses of U.S. citizens, however, because you will have to wait for a visa to become available before applying for the waiver and then traveling back to your country of origin.

If you have illegally entered the country more than once, you may be subject to a permanent lifetime bar to re-entering the United States, with no possibility of a waiver.

Again, all of the scenarios under categories (2) and (3) above are especially complex, and likely require more extensive legal representation than the limited-scope independent attorney review that you would get through Boundless.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) can help find a licensed immigration attorney near you. Click here for details.

Alternatively, the U.S. Department of Justice accredits certain non-profit organizations that provide low-cost or free immigration legal services. You can find a directory of them here.

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Boundless provides you with an easy-to-use, step-by-step online tool so you can complete your marriage-based green card application process with confidence.

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