The Texas Department of Public Safety implemented a new administrative rule on October 1, 2008 requiring proof of legal status for more than six months after the date of application before an original, renewal or duplicate Texas driver license or identification card will be issued. This creates a significant obstacle to renewing a driver license for persons who are neither a U.S. citizen nor a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

The new rule is designed to enhance the security of Texas driver licenses and identification cards. One side effect, however, is that many lawful residents of Texas are negatively impacted, including persons present in a nonimmigrant visa status (such as H-1B and L-1) and their dependents, and those persons in the process of obtaining a green card. In the case of persons in a valid nonimmigrant work status such as H-1B, a driver license only will be issued to the date of their status (I-94) expiration. To demonstrate the nature of the dilemma, let us consider the example where an individual’s H-1B status and driver license are set to simultaneously expire. According to regulations issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), H-1B extension requests only can be made six months in advance of the current expiration date. USCIS processing of an H-1B extension request commonly takes at least four months. With such a tight timeline, there is a high probability the extension may not be granted before the expiration of the current period of stay. Securing a renewal of the driver license then becomes problematic. USCIS premium processing, which requires an additional filing fee of $1,000 to expedite processing of the H-1B extension request, may be necessary to avoid a lapse in one’s ability to lawfully drive.

Temporary workers (H-1B, L-1, TN, etc.), their dependents, their employers, and persons either in the green card process or holding lawful time-limited immigration status must be aware of this new policy. Foreign nationals are encouraged to monitor the driver license renewal laws of their respective states and plan well in advance of the need to both extend their status and their state-issued driver license. For more information on the Texas rule, visit the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website.