In August of 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications for deferred action for childhood arrivals – a program commonly referred to as DACA. DACA applicants must meet very specific eligibility criteria, one of which is the requirement that you are either in school or have graduated from school (or are a veteran).
Given the complexity of the “in school” requirement, it is important to determine whether your school or program actually qualifies. Also, you may be able to make yourself DACA-eligible by enrolling in a qualified school or program (before applying for DACA).
To review all of the eligibility requirements for DACA, see "Who Qualifies for Deferred Action as an Immigrant Student or Graduate (DACA)."
To meet the “in school” requirement, DACA applicants must either:
- be “currently in school”
- have graduated from high school or obtained a certificate of completion from high school (i.e. a diploma)
- have earned a general education development certificate (GED), or
- be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces.
Not every type of school program will be recognized by USCIS, however. Below we discuss what types of school programs do qualify, and how to prove that you are enrolled in one of them.
How to Determine Whether Your Current School Programs Is DACA-Eligible
If you are currently in school, or have graduated from school, you will need to make sure your school or program qualifies for DACA. USCIS has set forth narrow guidelines for those schools or programs that qualify.
You are “currently in school” if you are enrolled in one of the following programs.
1. Elementary, junior high, or high school. Applicants enrolled in a public or private elementary school, junior high school, or high school meet the “currently in school” requirement.
2. ESL program. An English as a second language (ESL) program can qualify you for DACA, but only if the program is a prerequisite for postsecondary education, job training, or employment and you are working toward such postsecondary education, job training, or employment after completing the ESL program.
3. Educational program – preparation for diploma or GED. Other educational programs qualify if they are designed to help obtain a high school diploma or GED. This type of educational program must be funded by state or federal grants or, if privately operated, be of demonstrated effectiveness. Demonstrated effectiveness is measured by the success and quality of the program, including its length of operation and track record of success in placing participants in the workplace or in higher education. In other words, if you choose a privately run GED program, you will need to be selective and steer clear of ones that are recently opened or do not have a solid reputation. Programs run by local universities, adult schools, or community colleges are probably the best options.
4. Education, Literacy, Vocational, or Career Training Program. Lastly, an education, literacy, vocational, or career training program meets the “currently in school” requirement if:
- the program is funded by state or federal grants or the applicant can prove that the program is of demonstrated effectiveness (as described above)
- the program is intended to place the applicant into postsecondary education, job training, or employment, and
- the applicant is preparing for post-program placement.
If you are not in school, you can still become DACA eligible if you enroll in one of the school programs described above. USCIS will look at whether you are enrolled in school at the time you submit your DACA application.
How to Prepare Evidence That You Are “Currently in School” for DACA
DACA applicants have the responsibility of proving that they meet the “currently in school” requirement. Although your family and friends may be willing to write statements on your behalf, not even “affidavits,” which are written statements made under oath, will be considered sufficient as proof.
Evidence from official sources, such as school transcripts, are far more convincing than evidence from less direct sources. Your best evidence to show that you are currently in school may include copies of official:
- report cards
- progress reports
- acceptance letters
- letters or other evidence from the school describing:
- your current course of study, including current grade level
- dates of attendance
- the name of the school
- whether the program is designed to prepare students for future education, training, or employment
- the success rate of the program, such as statistics related to exam passage rates, post-program employment, or further education
- how long the program has been running
- how the program is funded
- whether the program is community-based, and
- the quality of the program, and
- other relevant school records.
The educational and other programs that USCIS has approved for the “currently in school” requirement are very specific. It is your responsibility to submit documentary evidence proving that your school or program qualifies. For example, if you’re currently enrolled in an ESL program, you must submit evidence that the program is funded in whole or part by federal, state, county or municipal grants, is administered by a nonprofit organization, or is of demonstrated effectiveness.
If You’re on Break Between Classes
If the school you’re attending has a summer break or other break before classes start again, you can apply for DACA during the break as long as you’re working toward completion of a degree, certificate, or other completion of a program, and the school expects you back (because it has admitted you, or you’ve paid in advance, for example). If you can’t wait to apply for DACA until classes start again, you should submit evidence from the school showing the completion of your latest courseload, that you are enrolled for the upcoming period of classes, and what classes you will be taking in the upcoming period, if those have been determined.
If you are taking a break from classes apart from the school’s schedule, even for a few months, it will become more difficult to prove that you are “currently in school.” You will need to submit a statement of the reasons for the break and evidence of your intention to re-enroll and the school’s willingness to re-admit you
If you have any doubts about your ability to present the evidence needed for a DACA application, it would be wise to hire an immigration attorney to assist you with your application.