Driving Privileges for Immigrants

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Do Immigrants Have Driving Privileges?

Driving privileges refer to the authorization or permission a person receives to drive within a state or specific location. Those who have earned such privileges are issued a driver’s license as evidence in accordance with state law.

As a non-citizen in the U.S., driving can help ease your movement to all the places you need to be, such as school or your job. But the question is, are you permitted to drive in the U.S.? The answer depends on your immigration status, the laws of the state where you are based, and, in some cases, your home country.

In this guide, we examine what driving privileges are available to different kinds of immigrants to help you understand your position. Keep reading to learn more.

Driving Privileges for Lawful Immigrants 

Immigrants with lawful status are generally eligible to obtain a driver’s license or identification document in the U.S. 

Those in this category include;

  • -Lawful permanent residents
  • – Asylees

  • -Non-immigrants, such as students

  • -Any other non-citizen whose presence in the U.S. is legal. 

They can apply for a license with the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state where they live or with the appropriate government agency whose role is to issue driver’s licenses if they meet the residency requirement. 

To meet this requirement, the applicant must have lived /worked in the state where they wish to apply for a specific length of time. The applicable length of residency varies with each state. For some states, it’s one year, while in states such as Texas, it’s only 30 days for driver licensing purposes.

You must confirm the residency requirement in your state before you begin the application process to be sure you qualify. Once you obtain a driver’s license in your state of residence, you can drive legally in every other U. S. state. 

Driver’s licenses issued in many states are also REAL ID compliant, as required by federal law. This means they can be used as identification documents to board federally regulated domestic flights, enter certain federal facilities, or used for other federal purposes. Having one is essential so your freedom of movement is not unduly restricted. 

What if You Do Not Meet the Residency Requirement?

If you just arrived in the U.S. and did not qualify for a state-issued license because of the residency requirement or for any other reason, you may still be able to drive if you have an unexpired foreign driver’s license issued in your home country or an international driving permit (IDP) or both, depending on the state you’re in and how long you intend to remain there. 

For example, in states like Texas, you can drive with your valid foreign license alone for up to 90 days after you arrive in the U.S. After 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a driver’s license under the state laws.

However, this only works if you are from a country with a driving privilege reciprocity agreement with the U.S. You can find out if your country has such an agreement from the licensing authority in the state where you (intend to) reside.

In some other states, like Vermont, you’ll need both your foreign license and an IDP to drive in the U.S. This only applies for a limited time, which varies, after which you must apply for a license in the state.

If you intend to drive once you arrive in an IDP-required state, you must obtain the IDP in your home country before you arrive in the U.S. You cannot obtain an IDP in the U. S. without a domestic driver’s license. 

Driving Privileges for Unlawful or Undocumented Immigrants

In many states, including Texas, immigrants who wish to obtain a driver’s license must prove legal presence in the U.S., among other conditions. Undocumented immigrants and immigrants without legal status in the country do not meet this requirement. They cannot obtain driver’s licenses in such states.

However, in other states, such as New York, undocumented residents may obtain driving authorization without proving legal status if they can provide certain documents, such as;

  • -A foreign birth certificate

  • -A valid foreign passport

  • -Proof of residency. 

Those in this category may also need to pass a vision test, a written test on traffic laws, and a driving test.

However, there is one limitation that you need to be aware of. The type of license you’ll receive as an undocumented immigrant is known as a “standard ” driver’s license. These licenses are not Real ID compliant because the requirements for obtaining them do not meet federal standards. So, if you are wondering, “Can Undocumented Immigrants Get a Real ID“? The answer is no.

This is one of the many restrictions undocumented immigrants face in the U.S. If you’re in this category, there may be lawful ways to legalize your stay and eliminate these restrictions. You can consult an immigration lawyer to learn more about your options and chances. 

Contact Immigration Lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law Today

As an immigrant, your ability to drive largely depends on the rules set by the state where you reside or intend to reside for people in your category. You must understand the rules that apply to you to ensure you obtain the appropriate permit and remain on the right side of the law.

Driving without authorization could lead to criminal charges. The stakes are higher, especially if you’re undocumented, because when the police apprehend you in such circumstances, they may begin to investigate and ask questions about your immigration status, which could lead to deportation. Hence, you must abide by the rules and obtain a license if your state allows it or avoid driving if they don’t.

At Andrew T. Thomas, we understand the complex driving requirements for all kinds of immigrants, especially those in Texas. We can inform you of any changes in immigration law or state policy that may affect your driving privileges.

We cater to clients all over and outside the U.S. You can contact us immediately if you need to clarify your eligibility for a driver’s license, even if you have yet to arrive in the U.S.

We also have a detailed guide that could help you as an undocumented immigrant if the police ask about your immigration status. Feel free to review the guide and contact our Immigration Lawyer in Dallas for further information.