The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a final rule establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification documents. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in response to the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that the U.S. improve its system for issuing identification documents. The new final rule addresses document fraud by establishing specific requirements that states must adopt in order to comply with the act. 

The act requires that states verify an applicant's lawful status in the U.S. before issuing a REAL ID license or card, as well as verify the Social Security Number (SSN) of all applicants through the Social Security Administration. It also requires that specific security features be incorporated into each card and that background checks be conducted on all motor vehicle employees, among other features.       

Beginning May 11, 2008, citizens residing in states that are not REAL ID-compliant may not use a driver's license or state ID card for official federal purposes, including the boarding of regulated commercial aircraft. These citizens will be required to present an alternate form of ID such as a U.S. passport. States may request an extension until December 31, 2009, from DHS if more time is needed to comply with the REAL ID standards, and federal agencies will continue to accept licenses for official purposes from those states that have been granted extensions. An additional extension can be granted until May 10, 2011, so long as the state has at least met certain DHS benchmarks by the December 31, 2009, deadline. The final rule is not a federal mandate, and states can choose to issue other, non-compliant forms of driver's licenses or state ID. However, non-compliant IDs cannot be used to access a federal facility, board a commercial aircraft, or be accepted by federal agencies for official purposes. 

By May 11, 2011, all newly issued driver's licenses and ID cards intended for federal purposes must comply with REAL ID. Persons born on or after December 1, 1964, will have until December 1, 2014, to obtain a REAL ID. Those born before December 1, 1964, will have until December 1, 2017. By 2017, all existing driver's licenses and ID cards must be replaced by documents that meet the act's requirements in order to be deemed REAL ID-compliant.

DHS has released a list of frequently asked questions that provides more information on the final rule. We continue to monitor the implementation of the REAL ID Act and will update you as new information becomes available. In the interim, we urge all U.S. citizens to obtain a passport as soon as possible to ensure possession of a federally accepted identification document. Please call any of our Immigration attorneys if you would like to discuss the REAL ID act and how it might affect you or your business.