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DACA renewals soon, USCIS recommends 30-day filing window.

Many initial grants of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as "DACA", expire this year, and the renewal period will begin soon. Based on recent guidance, DACA beneficiaries will want to file their renewal applications within a 30 day window to keep their employment authorization current.

While some people will hopefully be able to file DACA renewals as soon as May 2014, there are many parts of the renewal process that are still to be determined. What guidance is available comes from a recent release by USCIS: http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-process. This announcement provides several key pieces of information.

First, not everyone will have the same filing window, but rather it will depend on the expiration of their current DACA grant. DACA grants are for two years, and USCIS began approving DACA applications and related work authorization in September 2012, with expiration dates in September 2014. Under the current guidance, USCIS will accept DACA renewal applications filed within 150 days of expiration.

It should be noted that while some early DACA grantees may be within 150 days of expiration now or very soon, it is important to note that it is not yet possible to file for a renewal. Renewals must be filed on a new form- which does not exist yet. In fact, USCIS is still soliciting comments on a draft of the new form. USCIS has indicated, however, that the renewal form will be available in May.

It is especially important for those with DACA expirations in September 2014 or shortly thereafter to be ready to file for renewals shortly after USCIS releases the form. Even those with later expiration dates should be prepared to file for renewals shortly after they are eligible.

This is because while USCIS will not accept an renewal application unless the DACA grant expires within 150 days, the agency also suggests filing no more than 120 days before the expiration to keep continuous employment authorization. This is not a requirement, but a USCIS recommended practice to make sure the new work permit is approved before the old one expires.

The 120-day processing window for an employment authorization document is fairly standard, but of course does not leave much time for DACA renewals to be filed. In some cases, USCIS takes more than 120 days to process a work permit, and the agency indicates it "may" automatically extend the initial grant of employment authorization while a renewal is being processed-- if the applicant filed with the 120-150 day window.

To be clear, it appears that a DACA renewal application filed at any time before the expiration of the original grant will be accepted and can protect the applicant from removal. The concern, however, is maintaining employment authorization. A DACA grantee will not be able to work with an expired employment authorization document until a new one is issued.

Therefore, someone who applies for DACA renewal right before their current period expires will likely have a gap in employment authorization. By law, businesses can only employ those with current employment authorization, meaning those who fail to renew their DACA early enough may have periods in which they are unable to work legally.

It is important to state again that USCIS appears to still be deciding exactly how to proceed with the DACA renewal process. They may ultimately grant short-term employment authorization extensions for anyone who timely files a DACA renewal, or may possibly not grant short term extensions at all. With the current guidance, however, those with DACA grants expiring later this year are well-advised to plan ahead and be ready to file within 120 to 150 days before expiration.

Finally, for those who are DACA eligible, but who have not applied yet- it is not too late! USCIS is still accepting new DACA applications.

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