New York’s Green Light Law (The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act), which took effect on December 14, 2019, makes New York the thirteenth state to allow undocumented foreign nationals to obtain driver’s licenses. Under the law, all New Yorkers age 16 and older may apply for a standard, not for federal purpose, non-commercial driver license or learner permit regardless of their citizenship or lawful status in the United States. A Social Security Number is not required for issuance of the license; however an Affidavit (sworn statement) of never having been issued a Social Security Number must be signed when applying for a standard driver license.  Driver Licenses under the new law will look identical to the licenses issued to all other applicants, and no distinction will be made based on immigration status.

All applicants for a standard driver license must show a combination of documents that prove name, date of birth, and New York State residency. The standard list of supporting documents required by DMV has been amended to also include the following combination of documentary evidence:

  • Valid, unexpired foreign passport issued by applicants country of citizenship
  • Valid, unexpired consular identification document issued by a consulate
  • Valid foreign driver license that includes photo, and which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months
  • Permanent Resident Card, which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months
  • Employment Authorization Card, which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months
  • Border Crossing Card
  • S. Municipal ID Card (e.g. NYC ID) with photo
  • Foreign marriage or divorce record or court issued name change decree
  • Foreign birth certificate

All applicants under the law will need to first pass a “Knowledge Test” of New York’s rules of the road to obtain a driver permit, followed by a “Road Test” in order to be issued the actual license.

The impact of this new law on New York’s undocumented population is clear and was the driving force behind the legislation at the outset.  However, another large segment of New York’s foreign national population enjoys much needed relief under the new law. Under DMV’s long-standing (former) policy, foreign national applicants that were legally present in the U.S. needed to present a document issued by U.S. Department of Homeland Security that confirmed at least one full year of immigration status.  Driver licenses issued to foreign nationals were only valid for the term of their approved visas.  Unfortunately, this policy did not align with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) regulations, and created significant and detrimental consequences for both employers who rely on foreign labor, as well as the foreign nationals themselves.  For example, USCIS regulations provide for automatic extensions of visa status for certain classifications, such as the most common work visa classification –H-1B status.  As long as an application to extend one’s status is filed prior to the current expiration, the foreign national receives an automatic 240-day extension of their H-1B employment authorization based on the timely filed extension request.  USCIS only issues a receipt notice for these extension petitions, and there is no official document that reflects the 240-day extension. This is the where the problem arises. Despite clear authorization of the automatic extension in the immigration regulations, DMV has not recognized this automatic extension and has required that the extension petition be approved prior to issuance of a new license.  This not only affects those on work visas, but also any foreign national that is lawfully present in the U.S. based on pending applications to change to another immigration status, or to apply for permanent residency within the U.S.

Not only did the former policy impact the foreign national directly, but also employers who rely on these employees to drive to work each day.  By removing the consideration of immigration status from the process of obtaining a driver’s license, the unintended detrimental effects and inconsistencies between DMV and USCIS policy have been greatly reduced.

For more information about how New York’s Green Light Law affects you, your business or employees, please contact the Immigration Practice Group at Harris beach, PLLC.

Our Immigration Law Practice Group includes immigration attorneys that work across New York state in our Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Long Island, New York City, Rochester and Syracuse offices. Our immigration lawyers focus on strategies – including immigrant visas for permanent U.S. resident status and temporary visas for foreign nationals – to ensure that employers are able to hire, transfer, and retain the brightest and best non-U.S. talent.