We frequently receive reports from clients about difficulty renewing driver’s licenses while their timely filed visa extension petitions are pending. Previously, foreign nationals successfully renewed driver’s licenses based on the 240-day rule, which provides continued work authorization to a foreign national whose status has expired but has a timely filed a visa extension petition pending (for certain nonimmigrant visa categories only). Unfortunately, the California DMV no longer honors the 240-day rule, claiming that to do so would prevent compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005. According to the REAL ID Act of 2005, a temporary driver’s license or temporary identification may be renewed only upon presentation of valid documentary evidence that the status by which the applicant qualified for the temporary driver’s license or temporary identification card has been extended by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In other words, an approval notice issued by DHS with current dates of validity in the mm/dd/yyyy to mm/dd/yyyy format is a regulatory requirement needed in order to qualify for a license to drive a motor vehicle in the state of California.
The California DMV’s website further provides that the State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP) as a valid driver license. It does, however, recognize a valid driver license that is issued by a foreign jurisdiction (country, state, territory) of which the license holder is a resident.
Recently approved by Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Bill No. 60 (AB60) will allow the California DMV to issue a driver’s license to a person who is unable to submit satisfactory proof of authorized presence in the United States, provided that he or she meets all other qualifications for licensure and provides satisfactory proof of his or her identity and California residency. To ensure that all motorists are trained, tested and insured, this license would be issued for the sole purpose of operating a motor vehicle and cannot be used for identification or federal purposes (such as entering a federal building or boarding an airplane.)
Although AB60 does not address the instant problem, hopefully once it is implemented in January 2015, the DMV will be forced to concurrently change its policy. For now, we are bound by the current requirements and must advise clients to start filing extension petitions as early as six months in advance or be prepared to pay the $1,225 premium processing fee to have the approval not for work authorization, but to renew the driver’s license.
If you’re reading this too late and you have a driver’s license with an upcoming expiration date (or worse, an already expired license) and a visa extension petition currently pending with USCIS without an extra $1,225 to burn, your best bet is to go to your local DMV office and ask for a manager or supervisor. This is not a guaranteed solution, but clients have reported being issued a paper 90-day temporary driver’s license and submitting it to the document verification unit in Sacramento. Otherwise, you run the risk of being charged with a violation of California Vehicular Code 12500(a) for an Unlicensed Driver, a misdemeanor charge requiring a court appearance and disclosure on future applications.