Can DACA Recipients Get a Green Card Through Marriage?

Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as DREAMers, are typically people who entered the United States without inspection as children or who entered the United States lawfully as children but remained in the US after their visa expired. While DACA provides opportunities for DREAMers to live a normal life, it does not grant legal status or offer a path to citizenship. 

DACA allows these individuals to apply for a driver’s license, a Social Security card, and temporary authorization to work lawfully in the U. S. As DACA recipients grow up in the U.S., it’s entirely likely for them to marry U.S. citizens. As a result, some DACA beneficiaries may be eligible for a green card through marriage.

couple holds hands at wedding in front of american flag
A couple holds hands at their wedding in front of an American flag. Many DACA recipients have obtained green cards through marriage.

Getting a Green Card Through Marriage

A U.S. citizen or permanent resident (also referred to as a green card holder) may sponsor a foreign spouse for permanent residency. The process involves three steps.

Establish the Marriage

The first step to applying for a green card is to establish your marriage and you must establish that the spouse petitioning for a green card is eligible. Submit Form I-130, Petition for Relative. This form and any supporting documents must be submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Be sure to include copies of the following:

  • Wedding photos 
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce documents for any previous marriages
  • The sponsor’s U.S. birth certificate or green card
  • Joint lease or joint bank account statements

There is a $535 government filing fee to submit Form I-130. USCIS will notify you by mail once they receive your application, typically within two weeks. If they need more information, they will send you a request for evidence (RFE).

Establish Eligibility

After the marriage is established, you must establish eligibility for the DACA recipient. Assuming both spouses currently reside in the United States, the next step is to submit Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) to USCIS. This submission requires copies of the following:

  • Proof of nationality, such as a foreign passport or birth certificate
  • Proof of lawful entry into the U.S.
  • Medical examination by a USCIS-approved doctor
  • Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s financial stability

There is a $1,225 government filing fee and an $85 fee for biometrics.  If the sponsoring spouse is a green card holder, these steps must be completed separately. U.S. citizens sponsoring a spouse may combine these steps. USCIS normally processes this step within 11 months (this time period can vary dramatically—consider deleting this sentence).

Green Card Interview

The final step for a marriage green card is the interview. For U.S. residents, both spouses attend the interview. An interviewing officer will ask you questions about your relationship to determine the authenticity of the marriage.

If the interview goes well, the interviewing officer may approve your application on the spot. A green card will be mailed to the petitioner within three weeks after approval.

Complications for DACA Recipients

Most DACA recipients have grown up in the United States, having been brought here by their parents at a young age. They may have come into the country legally and remained after their visa expired. Or they may have been brought into the country without inspection by their parents. To get a green card while in the United States (that is, to “adjust” status), you must have entered with an inspection.

DACA Recipients Who Entered the Country With Inspection

Establishing eligibility for a green card involves proving legal entry into the United States. DACA recipients who entered the country legally and became undocumented by overstaying a legal visa are eligible for a marriage green card and can follow the standard process. 

DACA Recipients Who Entered the Country Without Inspection

Beneficiaries of DACA who entered the country without inspection will face complications. They must meet the legal entry requirement with a legal visa or a visa waiver. The only way they may apply for a marriage green card is by leaving and then re-entering the U.S. with an inspection.

This entails traveling outside of the U.S. and returning by legal entry. DACA recipients can travel abroad and return to the United States legally with permission granted by advance parole or Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document). In addition to the advanced parole, the adjustment will require using the services of an immigration attorney.

It’s important to note that you must be a current DACA beneficiary and be approved to travel before leaving the country. If your DACA application or your travel permit is still pending, you will be barred from re-entering the United States. 

DACA Recipients Who Cannot Get a Marriage Green Card

U.S. immigration law forbids anyone convicted of an aggravated felony from receiving a green card. This includes crimes, such as:

  • Tax fraud
  • Drug trafficking
  • Sexual abuse of a minor
  • Murder

Additionally, anyone who illegally enters the United States more than once will not be eligible to apply for a green card. You may be permanently banned from entering the country without exception. 

DACA Recipients Married to Green Card Holders

DACA recipients may likewise be eligible to apply for a green card if they are married to current green card holders. While the process is easier if the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen, there are two paths to consider:

Apply for a Green Card While Living Abroad

Green card holders living in the United States can sponsor a spouse for a green card through marriage. However, the petitioning spouse must live outside of the United States unless the filing date for the F-2A category in the visa bulletin for the month of filing is current.

Living abroad may not be the best option for most recipients of DACA. Anyone considering this path must first be granted permission to travel (and use an immigration attorney services to adjust) or risk losing their U.S. benefits and having difficulty returning.

Become a U.S. Citizen Before Sponsoring a Spouse

DACA recipients residing in the U.S. may apply for a marriage green card if their spouse is a U.S. citizen. A Green card holder eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship can first apply for US Citizenship, become a citizen and then petition for a Green card for their spouse residing in the U.S. Depending on the USCIS waiting times it takes longer waiting times for spouses of Green card holders than spouses of U.S. citizens.

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