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Can Undocumented Immigrants Get a Driver’s License in NYC

June 23, 2023 | Jany Martinez Ward
Can Undocumented Immigrants Get a Driver’s License in NYC

Tons of immigrant people from all over the world come to New York City seeking a better life for themselves and their families, and with their skills, they contribute to society with a great impulse.

It was a limitation for an undocumented person not to be able to drive a car, and since most U.S. cities are not designed for arriving at places by walking, there is a huge need to drive, whether to send their kids to school, go to work, visit hospitals, or other places.

The need was there, and it was not until June 2019 that the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, signed a law known as the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, commonly referred to as the Green Light Law.

Before the enactment of this law, undocumented immigrants were not eligible to apply for driver's licenses in New York. This was a dangerous thing because the need to drive made people do it without any license or insurance. Since New York is a no-fault state where people get compensation from their insurance policies, it made potential car accidents even more prone to the economic burden for people involved in traffic accidents.

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What is Green Light?

The Green Light legislation, or the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, allows immigrant people to obtain driver's licenses in the state of New York. If these people who are in the process of getting their residence are allowed to obtain driver’s licenses in a legal form, it will improve road safety and facilitate their integration into the community.

Of course, immigrant people who want to benefit from this law need to meet certain requirements, which we will discuss later in this article.

Another benefit for beneficiaries is that federal immigration enforcement agencies would not be able to access all the information they provide to get their driver’s licenses without a court order.

Who can apply for a license?

Any person native from outside the United States is eligible to get a driver’s license based on their immigration status. People who don’t have a Social Security number (SSN) can apply for a “standard” driver’s license by signing an affidavit saying they have not been issued an SSN.

The DMV now also accepts consular identification cards and other foreign documents as proof of identity, allowing more foreign-born New Yorkers to get a license. To apply for a driver's license, applicants must provide one form of proof demonstrating their residency in the state of New York.

If an applicant for a driver’s license has never had one before, they must pass a knowledge test to get a learner's permit. Then, you must practice driving, take a pre-licensing course, and finally pass a road test before you can get a driver's license.

Are there different types of driver’s licenses immigrants can get?

Yes, as there are different types of driver's license for undocumented immigrants that the DMV provides it is valid to mention that people that do not have a social security number (SSN), can apply just for a standard license.

Therefore, they are not eligible for:

Enhanced driver’s licenses

An Enhanced Driver's License (EDL) is a type of driver's license that goes beyond the standard driver's license and incorporates additional features to serve as both a driver's license and a travel document for specific purposes.

The primary purpose of an EDL is to enable residents of designated states or provinces to travel between the United States, Canada, Mexico, and certain Caribbean countries by land or sea without needing a separate passport.

It provides a convenient alternative for those who frequently cross the border and require reliable identification.


REAL ID is a set of federal standards for identification documents that were established by the U.S. Congress in response to increased security concerns after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The purpose of REAL ID is to establish a more secure and reliable form of identification that can be used for various purposes, including boarding domestic flights and accessing federal facilities. It aims to enhance the integrity and authentication of identification documents and reduce the risk of identity theft and fraud.

To comply with the REAL ID Act, states must issue driver's licenses and identification cards that meet specific requirements. These requirements include:

  • Proof of Identity
  • Proof of Social Security Number
  • Proof of Residency
  • Proof of Legal Status

DACA and TPS recipients and other immigrant New Yorkers with work authorization or legal status can apply for a “REAL ID” compliant license. However, that license will expire when the work authorization or legal status expires.

I'm an immigrant; what do I need to get a license?

The basic requirements for an immigrant person to apply for a driver’s license are the following:

  1. Must be at least 16 years old
  2. Documents to prove identity (6 points worth of documents)
  3. Get an appointment online.
  4. You can download and print the driver’s manual online to prepare for the test.
  5. Visit and present your documents
  6. Pass the test. You must get more than 14 correct answers out of 20 multi-choice questions in the test.
  7. Wait. After the test, you must wait up to 2 weeks to receive a permit.
  8. Prepare yourself for the driving test.
  9. Take a road test before the permit expires.
  10. You get your driver’s license

Keep in mind that if you don’t pass the tests, you can schedule another one following the same steps; just make sure to be better prepared if that happens.

Documents that provide 1 point each are:

  • IDNYC (Also counts as proof of residency)
  • Foreign School Report Card or School record (if it has a photo, then provides 2 points)
  • Tax Documents

Documents that provide 4 points each are:

  • Valid Consular ID
  • Valid Foreign Passport
  • Foreign Driver’s License

(Valid or Expired up to 24 months) Also counts as proof of age

Only when it is explicitly noticed will they not receive expired documents. You can set up an appointment to get your license. This is easier and more convenient than visiting the DMV office of your choice without that, as they may prioritize online appointments.

Does the Green Light law protect driver’s license holders’ privacy?

Yes, as mentioned above, immigrant people are allowed to drive in the city's roadway system, and federal immigration enforcement agencies would not be able to access all the information without a court order.

They can not provide information about immigration status, place of employment, social security number, or whether a driver’s license is REAL ID-compliant.

That can give peace of mind to all of these people trying to make a living honestly while waiting for their residency to end, and they can get legal documents for living in the United States.

Car Accident Lawyers at The Ward Law Group

Coming to a different country with new rules and culture is complex and sometimes overwhelming. Getting your driver’s license is the first step; now, you are one step closer to your goals. However, remember that there are road dangers, and you must follow the law.

Fortunately, you are also protected. As a no-fault state, New York requires all drivers to have an insurance policy for traffic accidents. The Ward Law Group counts on experienced car accident lawyers who can assist you in any accident in which you may be involved.

Contact us if you or a loved one got injured, we can represent you to get a fair compensation for your losses, call at 855-DOLOR-55 and a lawyer will answer you right away answering your questions in your preferred language.

*Please note that the content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. While we specialize in accident cases, including car, pedestrian, and slip-and-fall accidents, we do not handle immigration law or assist with obtaining licenses. We recommend seeking advice from a specialized professional if you need legal assistance. Thank you for understanding.

Jany Martinez Ward Author Image
Jany Martinez Ward

Jany Martínez-Ward is a Founding and Managing Partner of The Ward Law Group, PL, a Florida law firm representing victims of car accidents. She focuses her practice on providing legal representation to Hispanic clients that have become injured in a car accident as a result of the negligence of others. In 2018, The National Trial Lawyers Association recognized Jany as one of the top attorneys in the state and among the top 40 under 40 attorneys.


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