NJ MVC Set To Begin Rolling Out Access To Driver’s Licenses To Undocumented Immigrant New Jerseyans On May 1st
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice convener of the Let’s Drive NJ Coalition issues the following educational briefing document to prepare our media partners for the weekend launch of New Jersey’s expanded driver’s licenses program.
On May 1, 2021, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) will begin to accept applications for standard driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards from immigrants without federal status. This expanded license program is expected to benefit nearly 750,000 residents, including more than 400,000 undocumented New Jerseyans.
Improved and expanded access to driver’s licenses will allow immigrant New Jerseyans to drive to work, school, and go about their daily lives with better mobility and less fear of being stopped and reported to ICE, or ticketed with fees and fines for driving without a license. It will also allow immigrants to have an official state identification document that will identify them as New Jerseyans.
However, implementation was delayed by 6 months during a pandemic which has slowed down and put a strain on many government services including the MVC. The delayed roll-out and impact of pandemic slowdown is expected to affect public awareness about the program and access to initial license appointments made available at local MVC agencies.
Who is now eligible for a driver’s license?
More than 400,000 immigrants without status are newly eligible to apply for a standard driver’s license. Starting on May 1st, immigrants with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) can begin to apply for a driver’s license. Beginning on June 1st, those without an ITIN number will have the option to submit a signed affidavit indicating their ineligibility for an SSN in order to begin the process of applying for a driver’s license.
What are the requirements?
All individuals regardless of their status must meet the MVC’s requirements in order to earn a standard driver’s license. The NJ MVC’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program requires all applicants to meet the 6-points-of-ID, proof of NJ residency, and pass the knowledge, vision, and road test in order to qualify for a standard driver’s license in New Jersey. Drivers under the age of 17 must also complete an approved behind-the-wheel driver training.
Resources to help individuals navigate the requirements are available in English and Spanish on the MVC’s website linked here.
When will the affidavit go into effect?
On April 22, 2021, the MVC board voted to approve the amendment to allow for individuals an affidavit indicating their ineligibility for a Social Security Number (SSN). The MVC will provide the affidavit that individuals can sign and submit and has stated that the affidavit option will be available on or around June 1st (MVC has yet to confirm the exact date).
New Jersey residents without an SSN or an ITIN number will be required to submit a signed affidavit indicating their ineligibility for an SSN, meet the 6-points-of-ID, and prove New Jersey residency before they can receive their initial permit for the standard driver’s license application.
Should immigrant communities be concerned about data privacy or the sharing of personal information with immigration enforcement?
With the option of a signed affidavit, immigrants without status will no longer be required to go to a federal agency before they can begin to access a driver’s license in New Jersey.
The new law also prohibits the NJ MVC from sharing personal information or photos for the purposes of immigration enforcement, except in the following circumstances: informed consent of the applicant, there is a warrant signed by a State or federal judge, or a lawful court order or subpoena.
Additionally, under the Immigrant Trust Directive, New Jersey law enforcement is prohibited from voluntary collaboration with ICE unless an individual has a specific criminal offense charge or a final removal order, and specific procedures are followed. Further, CAIR regulations also prohibit the use of the MVC database for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
What are the main challenges?
Three main areas of concern remain for newly eligible immigrant community members when applying for a driver’s license.
MVC Staff Training: In order for a safe and successful rollout, all MVC agency staff across the state must be trained on the updated documentation requirements and procedures so that all eligible drivers can know they will not be discriminated against when going to an agency to start their driver’s license application. A few incidents have been reported in which immigrant community members were turned away without any helpful information, including, a local MVC agency staff member saying they don’t know anything about the new policy when immigrant community members asked for information a few weeks before the rollout was to begin.
Before the May 1st and June 1st implementation dates, immigrant community advocates have urged the MVC to ensure all agency staff members are trained to process applications and share information about applying for a driver’s license with newly eligible community members.
Language Access: The MVC website itself is currently only available in English. We urge the MVC to update their website to include a widget that will allow front-end users to choose which language they prefer as they navigate through the website.
The MVC has provided public education resources in English and Spanish and updated its website to make it easier to find helpful resources for newly eligible drivers. However, the MVC’s homepage and the application available on the website currently is only available in English. By law, the MVC is required to translate its most commonly used application forms as determined by the chief administrator into each of the three languages, other than English, most commonly spoken in the state.
Many State agencies use Google Translate as a short-term solution for language access. We encourage the MVC to do the same while they work to more carefully translate all their application forms and public education materials in the top ten languages spoken in New Jersey other than English including Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Tagalog, Italian, Korean, Gujarati, Polish, Hindi, and Arabic.
Digital access, limited appointments, and expected delays: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MVC has moved many of its services online on its digital platform and many services, including the initial permit for a driver’s license, require an appointment before going into an agency. This transition to web-first services will mean a lack of access for many in the immigrant community for whom language access and digital access equity gaps remain unaddressed. Local community organizations are assisting those who need help to navigate the website in order to understand the requirements and to make an appointment at a local MVC agency, but this ad hoc effort will eventually require the State to step in with more comprehensive and accessible solutions.
Further, the limited number of appointments available is expected to cause delays for many who are seeking to start a process that requires a minimum of three sequential appointments to go into a local MVC agency. The first appointment for the approval of the initial permit, then to take the Knowledge and Vision tests, and then to take the Road test and purchase appropriate tags when driving with a probationary license. It is estimated that this process should take an individual 15 months to complete in order to get their final driver’s license. However, due to the limited appointment slots and unexpected cancelation of appointments with the closing of agencies due to COVID-19 cases, the process will be delayed for many new driver’s license applicants.
Where can I learn more?
Resources in different digital mediums are available to help individuals navigate the new requirements in English and Spanish on the MVC’s website linked here.
Additionally, community members can also access information on the Let’s Drive NJ website and Facebook page. We encourage all community members to connect with a local community organization for support and concerns about applying for a driver’s license. Information on these portals is updated when possible, but applicants are encouraged to check the MVC site for the most up-to-date information.
Where can the public report problems?
The MVC has requested the public report general questions in English or Spanish by emailing MVC.Correspondence@mvc.nj.gov.
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice is a statewide coalition of 43 labor, advocacy, faith, community-based, and grassroots organizations fighting for policies that empower and protect immigrants. NJAIJ convenes the “Let’s Drive NJ” coalition which brings together over eighty community, faith, labor, social service, and advocacy organizations who successfully pushed to expand access to driver’s licenses in the Garden State.