California Immigration Lawyer Blog
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How to apply for a California State Driver’s License or Identification card as a nonimmigrant

It has become quite a hassle to obtain a California state driver’s license or state identification card (“ID”) when you are a non-immigrant such as in F, M, or J status (students, students in vocational schools, cultural exchange students). Recently Immigration Customs and Enforcement issued a fact sheet on applying for a driver’s license or ID card for non immigrants in F, M or J status.. The fact sheet is helpful as it provides basic information on how to apply for a driver’s license or ID card. It is not state specific but it does list all of the websites for all of the Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the United States.

The steps in applying for a driver’s license or ID card in California are listed on the California Department of Motor Vehicles website. You must do the following in this order:

  • Obtain a Social Security number
  • Complete a Driver License or Identification Card Application
  • Present an acceptable birth date/legal presence document
  • Pay the application fee

In order to obtain a Social Security number, you must go to a local Social Security office. You may find out more about the process on the Social Security Administration’s website. For those in F, M, and J status, you will find additional guidance by reviewing Social Security’s electronic fact sheet, “Social Security numbers for non-citizens.
The fact sheet issued by ICE is useful because it provides an email address to use in case the DMV does not issue the driver’s license or identification card. It has been difficult in the past to get the immigration authorities to communicate with the DMV about a person’s immigration status. In the fact sheet, ICE promises a one-to-two day turn around once they receive a request for information as to why a student’s ID or driver’s license was not issued. This is great news as students have suffered a great deal of frustration in the past waiting for the agencies to communicate with one another.