May 19, 2009


New Driver’s License Rules for Non-Citizens:

Irresponsible and Reckless

What are the new driver’s license rules?

Recently the Public Safety Commission passed a new rule about the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards for non-citizens, which went into effect on October 1, 2008. Rule 15.171 puts forth the following provisions:


Individuals with visas that are valid for more than 6 months but less than the term of a driver’s license (6 years) will receive driver’s licenses that expire on the same date as the visa;

Individuals with visas that are valid for less than 6 months will not be issued a driver’s license; and

Individuals with indefinite visas (such as applicants for political asylum or refugees) will receive driver’s licenses that are valid for one year.

Non-citizens are now issued vertically oriented licenses that say “Temporary Visitor” in red block letters, and state both the license and visa expiration dates. This change was not enacted in the Administrative Code, but in a directive to employees.

Flawed implementation indicates that DPS does not have the capacity to carry out the requirements of this new rule.


Even though the new rule states that it does not apply to citizens or Legally Permanent Residents (LPR), both citizen and LPR alike have been required to prove their status in order to renew their driver’s licenses. In fact, recently a lawful permanent resident was issued a vertically-oriented driver’s license.
It is clear that the new rule is being applied inconsistently and creating new burdens where none previously existed.

This new rule places driver’s license division employees in the role of immigration agents. The field of immigration law is complex, and many visa-holders are able to frequently renew visas and adjust their immigration status. Expecting driver’s license division employees to make sense of these complicated documents will result in complaints, confusion and ultimately unintended errors

The new rule creates barriers to obtaining licenses and identification with no public safety benefit. Creating more obstacles to obtaining a driver’s license increases the chance that people will drive without a license. More unlicensed drivers mean more uninsured drivers, which have negative public safety and financial consequences for all Texans. Furthermore, identification documents are the first tool for law enforcement to track suspects, yet the rules result in pushing many people further into the shadows.

It is appropriate to be concerned about the integrity of driver’s licenses and identification documents in Texas. However, public safety concerns will be best addressed by rescinding the rule.

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