Many initial grants of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as "DACA", expire this year, and the renewal period has just begun, with the release of the renewal application form this week. As anticipated, applications should be filed within a 30 day window to keep their employment authorization current. The earliest DACA beneficiaries will need to act fast, as that thirty-day window has already started, and for others it is coming soon.
First, it is important to understand not everyone has the same filing window, but rather it depends on the expiration of the current DACA grant. USCIS will only accept DACA renewal applications filed within 150 days of expiration of the current grant. Some people are therefore eligible to apply for DACA renewals right now, or will be eligible shortly. 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.
It is especially important for those with DACA expirations in September, 2014 or shortly thereafter to be ready to file for renewals promptly. 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 a 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. Filing no more than 120 days before expiration is not a requirement, but a USCIS-recommended practice to keep continuous employment authorization. This is because the agency estimates it will take about 120 days to process the renewal application and accompanying employment authorization.
Therefore, while USCIS will still accept renewal applications filed within 120 days of expiration, late filers will likely face a gap in employment authorization. They are still eligible for renewal, but after the current DACA grant expires they will not be employment authorized until the renewal application is approved. 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.
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 processes- if the applicant filed with the 120-150 day window.
It is important to state again that USCIS is still 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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