Representing Clients All Over the U.S.
Common Issues on CA Drivers Licenses for Immigrants
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Posted On: October 27, 2011
It is difficult to obtain a driver’s license in CA if you are in CA illegally or can’t prove legal status. It may be advantageous for immigrants who are undocumented to keep their foreign driver’s licenses valid so they have i.d. and are less likely to get fined or arrested for driving without a license if ever pulled over by California Highway Patrol. California CHP officers typically ask for a valid CA driver’s license for anyone who has been in CA for at least 30 days. This can create a dual intent problem for those even in the US legally but on visitor’s visas. Visitors who are granted 6 month stays on their I-94s should not be obtaining a CA driver’s license if they want to show that they are not actually living in the US but are just visiting. If the Customs and Border Protection agent finds a CA driver’s license on a Boarder Crosser or a B-2 visa holder, CBP may deny entry because of this document which may prove the immigrant is living in California. It’s a big catch 22.

Another common problem for those legally in the US but who are here on temporary visas or green cards is changing their name, reflecting the correct birth date on the driver’s license, a marriage change of name, or proving their identity if the passport biographical page doesn’t match the birth certificate. The CA DMV will not accept copies of birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, change of name certificates, and other such documents. You must prove the change with an original document. Further, those with conditional green cards who have filed to remove the condition and have an I-751 receipt that extends their permanent residency status, may not be able to obtain extended driver’s licenses at some offices because CA DMV only extends green cards based on approved documents, not receipt notices. Ask for a supervisor if this happens to you; there is a big difference between I-751 receipts and receipts for Nonimmigrant visa extensions.

Further, in CA, if your driver’s license is expiring in the next 30 days, you can’t get an extension unless you have an approved immigrant visa or temporary nonimmigrant visa petition proving you have valid immigration status for an additional period of time. If this new period of time is less than 5 years, your driver’s license will only be extended for the term of your visa. Always consult a competent immigration attorney about your situation to determine what options you may have and to determine if any of these requirements have changed.
Attorney Heather L. Poole practices exclusively in the area of U.S. family-based immigration law and citizenship law. Heather is a nationally-published immigration author, frequent lecturer on immigration issues, and member & officer of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Southern California Chapter. For more information about Heather and the services offered, visit


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