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REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions for the Public

REAL IDThe following are frequently asked questions about the REAL ID program that would be useful to the public.

Q: What is REAL ID?

Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards. States have made considerable progress in meeting this key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and every state has a more secure driver's license today than before the passage of the Act.

 

Q: Will a federal agency accept my Enhanced Driver's License?

Yes. State Enhanced Driver's Licenses (EDLs) designated as acceptable border-crossing documents by DHS under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are acceptable for official federal purposes such as accessing a Federal facility or boarding a commercial aircraft. Individual agency policies may still apply.

Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington are the only states that currently issue EDLs. For more information on EDLs, please go to www.dhs.gov/enhanced-drivers-licenses-what-are-they.

Q: Why is DHS implementing air travel in stages?

Starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver's license issued by a state that is still not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board their flight.  To check whether your state is compliant or has an extension, click here.  Passengers with driver's licenses issued by a state that is compliant with REAL ID (or a state that has been issued an extension) will still be able to use their driver's licenses or identification cards.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft.  This is what we call “card-based” enforcement.  The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport. The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).

Q: When will I need to change how I travel domestically?

Starting January 22, 2018, passengers who have driver's licenses issued by a state that is not yet compliant with REAL ID and that has not received an extension will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel. Please see TSA's website for a list of acceptable forms of identification. Passengers who have licenses issued by a state that is compliant or that has an extension to become compliant with REAL ID requirements may continue to use their licenses as usual. For a list of states already in compliance or with an extension visit DHS's REAL ID webpage. DHS continually updates this list as more states come into compliance or obtain extensions.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft.  This is what we call “card-based” enforcement.  The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport. The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).

Q: Will minors need to have driver's licenses to fly domestically?

TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will need acceptable identification.

Q: Is a passport my only other option if my state is not compliant?

No. TSA currently accepts several other forms of identity documents and will continue to do so. For more information on acceptable forms of identification for boarding aircraft, please see TSA's website.

Q: Is DHS trying to build a national database with all of our information?

No. REAL ID is a national set of standards, not a national identification card.  REAL ID does not create a federal database of driver license information. Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.

Q: What happens to travelers who show up without a compliant license? Will TSA turn them away?

DHS has been working with states for years around REAL ID compliance and have provided technical assistance, grants and other support to them.  We are also providing more than two years advance notice of implementation with respect to domestic air travel to allow ample time for all states to achieve compliance, or for potential air travelers to acquire an alternate form of ID if their state does not comply with REAL ID.

Starting January 22, 2018, travelers who do not have a license from a compliant state or a state that has been granted an extension (a complete list of non-compliant states/ territories can be found here) will be asked to provide alternate acceptable identification. If the traveler cannot provide an acceptable form of identification, they will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.

Starting October 1, 2020, every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft.  This is what we call “card-based” enforcement.  The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport. The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).

Q: Why are some states still not compliant? Isn't this law?

REAL ID is a mandate on Federal agencies, restricting the circumstances under which they may accept state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards for official purposes.  Participation by states is voluntary, although Federal agencies are prohibited from accepting driver's licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states for official purposes (e.g., boarding aircraft, accessing federal facilities, and entering nuclear power plants).

Q: How does REAL ID implementation impact states that provide driver's licenses and IDs to certain non-citizens/undocumented immigrants?

REAL ID allows compliant states to issue driver's licenses and identification cards where the identity of the applicant cannot be assured or for whom lawful presence is not determined.  In fact, some states currently issue such noncompliant cards to undocumented individuals. These cards must clearly state on their face (and in the machine readable zone) that it is not acceptable for official purposes and must use a unique design or color to differentiate them from compliant cards.  DHS cautions against assuming that possession of a noncompliant card indicates the holder is an undocumented individual, given that several states issue noncompliant licenses for reasons unrelated to lawful presence.

Q: How will the phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program affect state issuance of driver's licenses and IDs to DACA beneficiaries?

The REAL ID Act allows states to issue temporary (i.e., limited-term), REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses and ID cards to applicants who provide valid, documentary evidence that they have “approved deferred action status.”  [Sec. 202(c)(2)(B)(viii)]  Under the REAL ID regulation, applicants with approved deferred action who hold valid Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) and Social Security Numbers (SSNs) may qualify to receive temporary REAL ID driver's licenses and ID cards.  The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) Program standardized and expedited the process for obtaining these supporting identification documents for individuals with Deferred Action seeking REAL IDs.  Individuals with approved Deferred Action, valid EADs and valid SSNs may continue to hold temporary (limited-term) REAL IDs until their expiration.  In any case, REAL ID compliant states may continue to issue noncompliant licenses and IDs to individuals with or without lawful status, including deferred action, as defined under the REAL ID Act.

Issuance of REAL ID Compliant Documents to Citizens of the Freely Associated States

On December 17, 2018, President Trump signed the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act, Public Law 115-323. This Act amends the REAL ID Act of 2005 to authorize states to issue full-term REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (collectively known as the Freely Associated States) who have been admitted to the United States as nonimmigrants pursuant to a Compact of Free Association and who meet the identification requirements of the REAL ID Act.

Q: What does the legislation do? Citizens of these countries are nonimmigrants and have only been issued temporary/limited term licenses in the past.

A: The REAL ID Modification for Freely Associated States Act amends the REAL ID Act to separate citizens of the Freely Associated States from the categories of non-U.S. citizens who are only eligible to receive a temporary (limited term) REAL ID- compliant driver’s license or identification card with a validity period no longer than the period of authorized stay in the United States, or if there is no definite end to the period of authorized stay, one year. With this amendment, citizens of the Freely Associated States who present acceptable evidence of identity and lawful status under the REAL ID Act and its implementing regulations should now receive a full-term driver’s license or identification card, rather than a temporary one. As further discussed below, the new Act did not change the requirements for acceptable evidence of identity and lawful status.

Q: Since citizens of the Freely Associated States are still nonimmigrants what documents will they need to possess to show they have lawful status in the United States?

A: The REAL ID Act and regulations require nonimmigrant applicants to present a valid unexpired passport, valid unexpired visa, and I-94; or an EAD as evidence of identity and lawful status (note that a previously issued REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card is also acceptable evidence of identity; in that case, a valid passport and I-94 is acceptable evidence of lawful status). In all cases, the documentation presented for proof of identity and lawful status must be verified through Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

DHS recognizes that citizens of the Freely Associated States may not have a valid visa or EAD at the time of application but still be in this country lawfully under the terms of the Compacts. In these cases, a state may issue a noncompliant driver’s license or identification card until such time as the applicant can present the required identity and lawful status documents.

Q: What if an applicant states he or she has been in the United States for a number of years and does not have a valid passport or EAD?

A: Citizens from these countries who entered the United States lawfully years ago may have passports that have expired and have not applied for an EAD. Regardless of whether or not the applicant has a valid passport, he or she will need to obtain an EAD from USCIS in order to be issued a REAL ID-compliant document.

Q: What if an applicant states he or she has a valid passport but not an EAD?

A: According to the REAL ID regulation, applicants for a compliant driver’s license or identification card who present a foreign passport must also have a valid visa attached to the passport along with an I-94, as evidence of identity. A passport with just an I-94 is not acceptable evidence of identity under the regulation. Therefore, for purposes of establishing identity, an applicant from the Freely Associated States (other than one with a previously issued REAL ID compliant driver’s license or identification card) will need to obtain an EAD from USCIS in order to be issued a REAL ID-compliant document. Nothing will prohibit a state from issuing a noncompliant driver’s license or identification card until they can obtain an EAD.

Q: What will the validity period be for REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification cards issued to citizens of the Freely Associated States who present the necessary identity and lawful status documents? Will these documents look any different from documents issued to a U.S. citizen?

A: The appropriate validity period of the driver’s license or identification card will be consistent with the state’s regular expiration period for full-term REAL ID compliant documents and carry the same compliant markings without any additional language.

Q. What type of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards does the Department of Homeland Security currently accept as identification to access its buildings and facilities and at TSA airport security checkpoints?

Until full enforcement of REAL ID begins on October 1, 2020, DHS and its component agencies, including TSA at its airport security checkpoints, will continue to accept for identification purposes all state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by both compliant states as well as noncompliant states with a valid extension.

Q. What about non-DHS federal entities?  What types of licenses and identification cards will they accept for access purposes?

Federal agencies have the authority to set their own minimum security access requirements and, if desired, decide not to accept noncompliant marked cards before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

For example, The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recently finalized an update to its DoD-wide installation security policy and is in the process of no longer accepting noncompliant marked cards across all of its facilities and installations.  However, DoD will continue to accept state-issued noncompliant unmarked "legacy" cards until the October 1, 2020 deadline.

To ensure you have the proper identification, DHS recommends that you contact the federal agency you plan to visit in advance, to obtain information regarding identification requirements.

As a reminder, the REAL ID Act applies when an individual presents a state-issued driver’s license or identification card to a federal agency for an “official purpose” as defined in the Act and regulations, such as boarding a federally regulated commercial aircraft.  Although a REAL ID card may not be necessary for other purposes such as driving, voting, banking, or applying for benefits or employment, we recommend checking with the relevant state, local, or commercial entities regarding their specific identification requirements.

Q. What happens on October 1, 2020?

Beginning on October 1, 2020, federal agencies, including DHS and TSA, may only accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards as identification for purposes of accessing federal facilities - including TSA airport security checkpoints - if the license or card was issued by a REAL ID compliant state in accordance with the REAL ID security standards (meaning the license or card must include the REAL ID compliant marking).  Please check with your state driver’s license agency on the process for obtaining a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.

Additional Questions?

Additional questions may be sent to the Department of Homeland Security at REALID@hq.dhs.gov.

Last Published Date: April 25, 2019

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