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Driver's licenses and ID's for immigrants

One of the most important documents you will have to obtain as an immigrant is a driver’s license, Social Security number, or an ID card. Because these types of identification make it possible to drive, work, use city services and even libraries, they are often critical to living and working in the United States.

Here is a guide to understanding how to get identification in the United States.

Types of valid ID

The three most common forms of identification in the US are driver’s licenses, state IDs, and social security numbers. You will find that some organizations, employers, and financial institutions will require one or all. They each provide their own opportunities depending on the type of ID you need:

  • Social Security number. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will grant a Social Security number to noncitizens authorized to work in the US. Typically, you won’t need a Social Security number for a driver’s license, school lunch program, or subsidized housing. According to the Social Security Administration, you can apply for a Social Security number and card in your home country while filing an application for an immigrant visa with the US Department of State. You can also visit a Social Security office in the United States.

  • State-issued ID. In most cases, you can acquire a state-issued ID that does not include driver’s privileges. In New York, any non-citizen can get a state ID if they can provide proof of identity, immigration papers, and proof of residency in the state. Libraries and other institutions require at least a state ID for use of their services.

  • Driver’s License. If your job requires a long commute, or driving on US highways, you will need to obtain a driver’s license. There are no set laws regarding the issuance of a license, so you would need to determine what requirements and restrictions are common in the state you reside in.

Driver Licenses for Immigrants

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 11 states which allow authorized immigrants to obtain a driver’s license: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

California. Even if you are ineligible for a Social Security number, you may be eligible for a driver’s license, provided you have the required documentation.

Colorado. You can qualify for a driver’s license, a state ID, or learner’s permit if you can provide state tax returns. Other options may also be available.

Connecticut. Proof of residency, a valid foreign passport or consular identification are acceptable for a driver’s license application. However, they do suggest you file to legalize as soon as possible.

Illinois. If you cannot provide a Social Security number, you still may be eligible for temporary visitor’s driver’s license, which would be issued by the Secretary of State. Acceptable forms of identification include an unexpired passport or consular identification document from your country of origin.

Maryland. You must show that you have filed income taxes for at least two years. You should have two years proof of residency or be a dependent of someone who has filed Maryland income taxes. If these documents satisfy the state of Maryland you may be issued a driver’s license.

New Mexico. A tax ID number can be used as a substitute for a Social Security number when applying for a license.

Nevada. Regardless of your legal status, you may apply for a driver’s authorization card license if you have a birth certificate or valid passport from your country of origin.

Oregon. Proof of legal residency is not required. However, you may have to provide other requested documentation.

Utah. If you don’t have a Social Security number, you must provide a tax ID number and proof of at least six months residency in the state of Utah before a license may be issued.

Vermont. There are no overt restrictions to apply for driving privileges. You may have to provide alternative documentation if you do not have a Social Security card.

Washington. You may apply for a driver’s license even if you don’t have a Social Security number. Also, utility bills and a tax ID number may be used for documentation.

Limited driving privileges

Some states provide limited driving privileges for immigrants.

Alaska. If you are authorized to stay in the United States for less than five years, you may be eligible for a driver’s license. With an indefinite visa you may be able to obtain a one-year license with a five-year renewal.

Georgia. You may be eligible for a temporary driving permit.

Maine. The state of Maine may waive legal documentation requirements if you are renewing a driver’s license or state ID. However, you must be born before Dec. 1, 1964 or have held a valid license since 1989.

Your resources

Be sure to check with your state’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and your local Secretary of State office for information regarding driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs. You will find a variety of resources to help.

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