How am I Supposed to Get Around if I Can’t Get a Driver’s License?

Unfortunately, under Michigan law, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to apply for and receive a Michigan driver’s license, as Michigan law requires proof of U.S. citizenship or “legal presence” in the United States in order to obtain one. The immigration process is a long one which, more often than not, can take years to conclude, leaving undocumented immigrants without a valid means to get around for the duration of the process. In some situations, these individuals can apply for work authorization (and later for a driver’s license) while their application is pending. But for many people, especially those in removal proceedings who have applied for withholding of removal, work authorization is unavailable if, for example, they waive an expedited hearing. So, many clients ask me how they’re expected to get around while the immigration process runs its course. The short answer is simple: you don’t actually need a Michigan driver’s license to legally drive in Michigan.

Photo by Bailey Hall

Senate Bill 501, which was signed into law on May 26, 2016, allows drivers from certain “treaty” countries to legally drive in Michigan with a foreign driver’s license. That is, a driver from a treaty country would not need a Michigan driver’s license to drive in this state. Rather, the driver’s license from their home country would suffice. If you are undocumented and you have a valid driver’s license from a “treaty country”, you are driving legally in Michigan. The list of treaty countries is quite extensive, and can be found here. Some of the most common countries included on the list are Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Jordan, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nigeria & Russia. Keep in mind that if you are from a treaty country with an official language other than English, you will need to carry around an English translation of your driver’s license as well. Unfortunately, if you have a valid driver’s license from a “non-treaty country”, such as Iraq, Iran, Yemen or China, you cannot drive legally in the State of Michigan on a foreign driver’s license unless you can show proof of legal presence. A full list of non-treaty countries can be located at the link above as well.

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