Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants in New Jersey

Undocumented immigrants will be able to qualify for New Jersey driver’s licenses under updated laws that loosen federal identification requirements, a significant barrier that has kept many from becoming legal drivers. Starting May 1, 2021, standard driver’s licenses and state identification cards for non-drivers will be available for residents who have proof of residency but don’t have legal papers.

How can vulnerable populations like undocumented immigrants become licensed and trained drivers who can obtain insurance, purchase a car, access work, medical care, and other essentials?

How Does the Licensing Process Work?

Image via Flickr by CLender

Traditionally, getting a license requires you to have a Social Security number, which you prove with a Social Security card. Under the new law, applicants will be permitted to use a certified affidavit that states they aren’t eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This affidavit allows applicants to bypass federal scrutiny since they don’t have to seek this document from the Social Security Administration. Undocumented immigrants and other populations may be hesitant to seek federal documentation or lack the resources to obtain this documentation.

This change opens driver’s license applications to as many as 300,000 undocumented residents who don’t have SSNs or ITINs. Social Security numbers aren’t available to unauthorized immigrants — they are only available for citizens, permanent legal residents, and non-citizen immigrants authorized to work in the United States.

Proponents of the change believe that opening driver’s license eligibility to undocumented residents will improve their ability to get to work safely and legally. The law change will also help vulnerable populations like senior citizens, formerly incarcerated citizens, transgender people, the homeless, domestic violence survivors, and low-income residents. Licenses obtained under this rule will be standard licenses that don’t indicate citizenship status; they won’t be compliant with the federal Real ID Act for driver’s licenses used for boarding domestic flights. The licenses will, however, increase the number of tested, trained, and insured drivers.

How Do You Apply for a Standard Driver’s License?

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission employees are trained to handle alternative documentation and translated documents that are allowed for applicants who don’t have an SSN or ITIN. Applicants seeking a driver’s license using this provision will follow the other traditional steps to secure a standard New Jersey driver’s license. They may have to log a certain number of practice driving hours and pass a road test, depending on past driving history and licensing in other states or countries.

Applicants must follow the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s required steps, including obtaining a driver’s permit, probationary license, and then a basic driver’s license. These steps require a combination of requirements, including a knowledge test, a vision test, a road test, and practice driving. Requirements vary for those aged 16, 17-21, and over 21. Applicants aren’t required to surrender their foreign license, if they have one, in order to obtain a New Jersey license.

The first step is to obtain an examination permit. Review the New Jersey Driver’s Manual before the knowledge test. Applicants must fill out an application form and provide proof of identity, which requires gathering several documents noted later in this article. Applicants pay a fee and schedule a knowledge test appointment to pass a vision test. New drivers must practice three to six months of supervised driving in preparation for the road test. Requirements may vary for those who have held driver’s licenses in other states or countries.

The second step is to take the road test and get a probationary license. The road test requirement may vary for those who have been licensed drivers in other states or countries. Once applicants finish supervised driving for at least three to six months, they can take the road test. They must be accompanied by a licensed driver, have a suitable car for the road test, and provide proof of identity. Upon passing the road test, applicants will receive a probationary license at the road test location.

The third and final step is to earn a basic driver’s license. This step happens after one year of unsupervised driving. Unsupervised driver restrictions vary for those under and over age 21. Provisional driver’s licenses may be upgraded to basic driver’s licenses online.

What Points of Identification Do You Need?

New Jersey requires at least six points of identification verification using primary and secondary documentation plus an SSN or ITIN and proof of address. Those who cannot obtain a Social Security number can use a certified affidavit of ineligibility. Primary and secondary documents must be valid or expired by no more than three years. Non-English documents must have an accredited translation.

At least one primary document is needed, such as a birth certificate, a report of birth abroad, U.S. adoption papers, a certificate of naturalization or citizenship, a U.S. passport, a permanent resident card, or a passport from the applicant’s country.

At least one secondary document is also needed. Secondary documents include a learner’s permit, a driver’s license from another state, a marriage or divorce decree, a court order for a name change, bank records, a public assistance card, a high school diploma, college identification with transcript, or a wide variety of other documents.

Proof of address may include a variety of documents like a credit card statement, a rental agreement, recent mail from local, state, or federal agencies, a bank statement, or other documents.

SSNs may be shown on a Social Security card, W-2 tax form, SSA-1099 form, Non-SSA-1099 form, or pay stub with the complete number on it. ITINs may be shown on an official IRS or New Jersey document, an ITIN card, or a New Jersey income tax refund displaying the ITIN. Affidavits of ineligibility must be certified.

A valid driver’s license opens many doors, including access to essentials like work, health care, and groceries. It also allows people to purchase and insure vehicles from dealerships such as New Jersey State Auto. While the actual purchase doesn’t require a license, obtaining insurance requires a valid driver’s license and is a prerequisite to registering a vehicle. Renewing license plate tags also requires a valid driver’s license. Safety should increase with expanded driver’s license eligibility, since fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers will be on the road and more families will have access to essential needs.