By Richard Yemm, Esq.
- Check your State’s Covid-19 Guidelines, which may request that you renew your driver’s license online. Some states may also grant automatic extensions due to Covid-19 related shutdowns.
- Bring the correct documents. Make sure you bring an acceptable, original (or certified copy) “birth date/legal presence” document. (For a list of acceptable documents in CA see: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/uploads/2020/06/federal_noncompliant_dl_docslist.pdf).
- Wait 10 days. I know that waiting is synonymous with visits to the DMV but waiting 10 days before going to the DMV could allow you to avoid repeat visits, particularly if you are on an F, M or J visa. The DMV will electronically verify your information with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using the SAVE system and if your information has not yet been updated in their systems, the DMV may be unable to process your application. Recent guidance issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suggests that F, M or J nonimmigrants should wait 10 days after arriving in the United States and/or two working days from their activation date in SEVIS before applying for a driver’s license or social security number to allow time for all the government databases to be updated with your arrival information. (See www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/bm1112-05-dmv-timing.pdf).
- (Maybe) get your Social Security Number first. If you are authorized to work in the United States – you will need to obtain your social security number before you can apply for your driver’s license. If you are not authorized to work in the United States but are legally present – you can apply for your driver’s license without a social security number. (For further information regarding obtaining a social security number, see: http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students/resources/obtaining-a-social-security-number/).
- Be aware of State specific issues. In California, if your status has expired and you have an extension of status application pending with the USCIS, you will likely be stuck without a driver license until your application has been approved. Additionally, the California DMV does not recognize the 30-day (for J-1) or 60-day (for F-1) grace period after the program end date so make sure that you keep track of your driver’s license expiration date.
- Support your dependents! The DMV often has problems verifying dependents (spouses/children) in their systems. If such problems occur – ICE suggests that dependents go to the DMV office with the primary status holder, bringing documentation for both the primary and the dependent and proof of the relationship. (See http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/dmv_factsheet.pdf for more information and helpful hints).