Contributor: Brett Reichert, Georgia State University
Dear GAIE Colleagues who work with international students and scholars,
Update (08/23/2017): Good news. I have an update from the legal counsel for DDS regarding the DL’s renewal issue for individuals with lawful presence and expired visas. We had a positive conversation last week about some of the various federal regulatory, statutory, political and state level issues around this dilemma.
"8/21/17: Thank you for following up. We are still waiting on something official from DHS. However, until we receive the official response from Homeland Security we have authorized our DDS locations to issue to customers who present an unexpired foreign passport with a valid I-94 and document with a period of authorized duration of stay (F1, J1, I-20...) The customers still have to clear SAVE and present other required documents for residence, SSN denial, etc."
It seems like those who have been denied a DL for expired visas can now try again with the expectation of issuance. I would be interested to know if you hear of continued denials.
I wanted to send an update to my July 20th post asking for input on denials of GA driver license renewals for Georgia international students and scholars. I’ve now heard from campuses across the state, so the issue is no longer just in metro Atlanta.
- July 21: DDS at many metro Atlanta locations denied DL renewals based on lack of a “valid U.S. Visa,” and I began hearing from our students. They were told they had to return home and get a new visa in order to renew a routine state benefit (GA DL). As everyone knows, an expired visa doesn’t negate lawful presence if status is maintained and is no basis to deny a state benefit. Naturally, denials of this kind are growing daily as more and more visas expire despite the presentation of documents to show lawful presence and valid ID by the DDS customer.
- July 22: I emailed several examples to an internal DDS central issuance contact, who elevated it to the DDS Legal Counsel (contact below). I shared my interpretation of the problem and solution. DDS did not indicate a willingness to look further into the issue or seek out any guidance on the possibility for change.
- August 8: I summarized the issue in an email to Holly Williams, SEVP Field Rep. She kindly acknowledged the email and indicated she would reach out to the SEVP point of contact for DMV issues. The USG has also been made aware of feedback I received from system schools.
- August 9: I learned that AILA (Am. Immigration Lawyers Assn.) is also well-aware of the issue as many of their members are working on responses for their clients (primarily H1-Bs and other visa holders).
What I learned from DDS:
- DDS service centers use an internal document called “Secure Driver’s License & ID” (see below). It is based on the 2005 Real ID Act https://www.dhs.gov/real-id, which is optional for states.
- This act “does not apply to being licensed by a state to drive” as indicated on the DHS FAQ at: https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs .
- The actual wording of the act at Sec. 202.c (2)(B)(v) states that evidence of lawful status is required to issue a DL by way of a “valid, unexpired nonimmigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa status for entry into the United States.” This seems to be the point of confusion since GA DDS interprets this, for whatever reason, to mean “a valid visa.” Note that the Act says “or” not “with” as on the GA DDS checklist (attached). Said requirement of the Real ID act is obviously satisfied at the port of entry, regardless of when the visa expires later. Here is the PDF of the full Real ID Act: https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/real-id-act-text.pdf
DDS replied that “they had not been contacted by DHS or USCIS to tell them to disregard federal regulations.”
How can international advisors help?
- Be empathetic and redirect international student and scholar frustrations to DDS.
- Assure them they are not alone and that this is a known, issue beyond our control but complaints are growing.
- Remind them they can drive with an unexpired foreign DL or use alternate transportation when possible.
- Suggest trying to renew the DL at a more remote or rural location. It seems those are more likely to be approved since practice seems to be inconsistent.
- Inevitably, there are situations when the individual may have to drive with an expired DL if DDS refuses to renew it. In that case, be sure to remind them you don’t recommend that choice, but that if they must make that choice, they must be prepared to take responsibility if they come into contact with law enforcement via a speeding ticket or accident, for example.
- The internal DDS central issuance is powerless over this particular situation, but you are welcome to make him aware so he can forward your message: Adnan Dadovic: ADadovic@dds.ga.gov
- File a complaint directly to DDS through their website. Reassure the int’l customer they should have no fear in using this tool and that it won’t affect their status. The form is here at the bottom: https://dds.georgia.gov/contact-us
- File a duplicate complaint to the office of the Attorney General for the State of Georgia, Christopher Carr. The AG is ultimately in charge of legal policies and complaints for state agencies. The eform is here: http://consumer.georgia.gov/form/consumer-complaint/step1
- File a complaint via email to DDS Legal Counsel:
Georgia Department of Driver Services
- Inform your campus legal office of this issue in case DDS customers on your campus complaint to that level.
- If you have DDS customers who want to take stronger action and have the means to do so, they could hire an immigration attorney at their expense.
- If they are planning to visit home over the winter break anyway, they would have to renew their visa then to re-enter, and that would circumvent the problem.
Regarding DDS’s refusal to issue DL’s through the grace period of an initial I-20 or DS-2019, and their refusal to renew DL’s during a pending OPT application that is receipted within the grace period, those are separate issue. DDS doesn’t seem to recognize or be concerned with unnecessarily stranding those customers either despite lawful presence. One way to advise on this is to recommend that OPT applicants select an employment start date the day after their program end date. That may help reduce driving woes for this population until DDS is authorized to address this harmful issue.