Immigration @ Work

What Does Massachusetts REAL ID Mean for Non-Immigrant Workers?

by Marylou V. Fabbo

To heighten security measures after 9/11, Congress passed federal legislation known as REAL ID, and Massachusetts adopted the REAL ID standard in 2016.  On March 26, 2018, that standard became effective.  Massachusetts residents now have two choices when it comes to drivers’ licenses or and identification cards.  They can get a REAL-ID complaint license/card or the standard one.  What’s the difference?

Evidence of “Lawful Presence” Required for Driver’s License 

Beginning March 26, 2018, individuals will need documentation showing US citizenship or “lawful presence” to obtain or renew any Massachusetts driver’s license, ID card, or learner’s permit.  Lawful presence means that an individual is legally living in the US and includes non-immigrant individuals who are studying, working or living temporarily in the US in a legal status, such as on an H1B visa.

For US citizens, a valid, unexpired US passport or a certified copy of a US birth certificate is adequate.   Lawful presence documentation for a permanent resident is the individual’s permanent resident card also known as a “green card.”  For those who are in the US legally, but in a non-immigrant status, demonstration of lawful presence requires valid, verifiable immigration documents as well as proof that the individual has been granted a legal stay in the US for at least 12 months.

Everyone will have to have documentation of MA residency. For those who go with the standard license or id, one document is needed, but for those who elect to get the REAL ID, two documents must be produced. Some examples of acceptable residency documents include a current license, a government-issued document (such as firearms card, property tax, etc.), utility or credit card bills, current lease, mortgage or rental contract, school-issued documents such as a tuition bill, as well as many more.

REAL Changes After October 2020

People will not need a REAL ID until October 2020 or, if they are willing to carry around an active passport, they won’t ever need it.  After October of 2020, citizens will need either a passport or REAL ID Massachusetts Driver’s License to fly in the United States and to enter restricted areas of federal buildings.  The Standard Massachusetts License or ID card will not be valid as federal identification after October 2020.

Non-Immigrant Workers and REAL ID

What if your foreign worker’s job involves driving?  With the drop dead date of October 2020 about 18 months away, it’s not critical to rush out and do anything immediately.  But, to the extent a foreign citizen is looking to obtain or renew a license, there’s no harm in taking steps to get a REAL ID now that they are available as they are good for up to 5 years.  Taking early steps might be in an individual’s best interest, as immigration documents that are to be used to demonstrate lawful presence must be validated through the federal SAVE  program. A REAL ID costs the same as a standard license and identification card, but it can’t be processed online. So, to renew credentials with immigration documents, individuals should begin their applications at least 30 days prior to expiration to make sure the process is completed on time.

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