Immigrants make important contributions to the Massachusetts
They spend income as consumers and contribute to state and local
Yet, they often face barriers to full inclusion and
economic stability. For instance, many immigrants with specific
training and credentials from their home country have a difficult time
finding jobs in their field because these foreign credentials often
aren’t recognized here. And due to recent budget cuts, many
immigrants seeking to improve their skills are left on waiting lists
for high-demand programs like adult basic education and English
language learner classes.2
Additionally, many residents in
Massachusetts are unable to drive because of their immigration status,
further impeding their integration into our communities and our economy.

While immigration policy is largely a federal issue, states can develop
local policies that address the reality that many immigrants do live in
our communities. For instance, a growing number of states (11 to date)
offer access to driver’s licenses to all residents,
regardless of immigration status. Providing access can help ensure that
all drivers have the necessary qualifications and insurance to be on
the road, something that affects all drivers, immigrant or not. Access
to driver’s licenses also supports participation in the local
economy and allows people to complete basic day-to-day tasks like
taking their kids to school or going to medical appointments.

Setting up a system that can reliably verify the identification of
people coming from a wide range of different countries does come with
some practical implementation challenges. For instance, determining
standards for acceptable documentation–such as passports, birth
certificates, and other foreign documents—can be complicated
since countries issue these documents in different ways. States should
weigh these challenges against the practical considerations of
increasing driver competence, family well-being, and highway safety.


Our state’s driver’s license system helps provide
an important public safety function. To be licensed, drivers must
demonstrate basic knowledge of traffic laws, have good vision, and pass
a driving test. In addition, drivers must keep their licenses
up-to-date through periodic renewals and carry automobile insurance,
protecting oneself and others in the case of an accident. The AAA
Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that unlicensed drivers are
almost 5 times more likely to be in a fatal accident than licensed

Expanding access to driver’s licenses can help improve
roadway responsibility and accountability. Police can do their jobs
more effectively when all drivers have a driver’s license, as
it would allow them to identify drivers and access accurate traffic
records. Local law enforcement officials have stated that
driver’s licenses can help avoid time that not only police
would have to use to identify someone without a license but also first
responders’ ability to identify individuals they are helping
in medical emergencies.4

In general, increasing access to driver’s licenses can help
facilitate a more trusting relationship between law enforcement and
immigrant communities. These communities would be more likely to come
forward as victims and witnesses of crimes because they have licenses
to identify themselves.5


In Massachusetts, more than 80 percent of residents rely on a vehicle
to get to work.6
In fact, the average commute time for
foreign-born immigrants living in Massachusetts is about half an hour,
higher than the national average.7
Having a license can help
immigrants find better job matches by opening up options to work
overtime, change work schedules and gain additional responsibilities,
all of which can improve the local economy.8
In addition, it
can help businesses with higher concentrations of foreign-born workers,
such as farming, landscaping and construction, which require workers to
travel to various locations and transport tools and

Expanding access to driver’s licenses can impact the
well-being of immigrant parents and their children, many of whom are
U.S. citizens.10
Parents need to be able to drive their kids to
school, take them to doctor’s appointments, and go to the
grocery store. Residents are particularly dependent on cars in less
populated areas, such as in Central and Western Massachusetts, where
public transportation is not easily accessible. For many families in
Massachusetts, driving is a critical component of daily life.

Driver’s licenses are the most common form of identification.
They are often used to open bank accounts, cash checks, and apply for
credit cards.11
Without proper documentation, immigrants have a
harder time participating in the financial systems, which can impair
the economic security of immigrants and their citizen family members.
While there is debate about whether states should support the ability
of all immigrants to participate in our local economies, providing
access to the formal financial system can improve the well-being and
productivity of immigrants and their citizen family members.12


The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) license and registration fees
support the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)
services and overall investments in Massachusetts’
transportation system, such as our roads and bridges.13 If 60
percent of eligible immigrants apply for licenses, we estimate this
could generate an additional 90,000 new drivers and about $7.2 million
in additional one-time revenue from permit and license fees.14

Graphic: equation showing new revenue

Participation rates average about 60 percent in states that
access to driver’s licenses to all residents.15 Also,
the state can expect additional on-going revenue from license renewal

Some of this revenue would have to cover costs associated with issuing
licenses, such as staffing, outreach and other administrative costs.
The total costs and revenue projections depend on various factors, such
as how many immigrants will apply and renew, and frequency of
But because of how current RMV fees are structured,
we can be relatively certain that these fees are well above the actual
cost of issuing licenses – as RMV’s operating budget is only
about 12 percent of total RMV fees.17

Graphic: Potential State Revenue from License Fees


Eleven states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico have laws that offer
access to driver’s licenses to all
At least 12 other states, including
Massachusetts, are considering extending this eligibility.

As states continue to discuss whether to expand access to
driver’s licenses to all immigrants, they will have to
consider some implementation challenges. Most pressing of these
challenges is how to establish documentation requirements for proving
identity and residency of applicants coming from a wide range of
countries. Since many immigrants do not hold the same types of
documentation as do U.S. citizens, states are creating new eligibility
standards, including the following:

  • To prove identity, Social
    Security numbers (SSN) are commonly used, but many noncitizens
    won’t have this. States have dealt with this in several ways.
    For instance, some states allow applicants to indicate that they are
    ineligible for a SSN and others, like Vermont, require a letter from
    the Social Security Administration indicating their
    Maryland requires proof that they filed taxes
    for the two years prior.20
    However, requiring tax filing can
    exclude otherwise eligible immigrants who earned too little to file

  • To prove residency, many
    states accept utility bills and bank or credit card statements. Some
    states impose stringent requirements such as requiring immigrants to
    have lived in the state for a longer period than applicants for a
    standard license.21
    Other states like California, Connecticut
    and Vermont work with foreign consulates, community organizations, and
    experts to help figure out which documents immigrants commonly hold and
    how to verify their authenticity.22


All states do currently offer driver’s licenses to qualifying
immigrant youth under President Obama’s 2012 executive
action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA allows
immigrant youth to stay here legally if they arrived in the U.S. before
the age of 16 and meet other age, education, and continuous presence

Additional executive actions announced in 2014 would have expanded the
length of the DACA program and created a new Deferred Action for
Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program for
parents of DACA youth. The 2014 actions would have further expanded
access to driver’s licenses to these parents of DACA youth,
but a federal district court in Texas has issued an order that
temporarily blocks DAPA and expanded DACA. These ongoing legal
proceedings have not affected the original DACA program.


1Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. (2015).
Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax

2National Skills Coalition. (2015). Adult Basic Education;
MassBudget. (2015). Adult Basic Education.

3High-Risk Drivers Fact Sheet (AAA Foundation for Traffic

4Police Executive Research Forum. (2012). Voices From Across
the Country: Local Law Enforcement Officials Discuss the Challenges of
Immigration Enforcement
. Pg. 15;

Tupper, M. et al. (2014). Safe Roads in Iowa: Why a Temporary
Driver’s Card for Eligible Immigrants Protects the Public

(letter signed by numerous law enforcement officials in Iowa).

5City of New York. (2004). Mayor de Blasio, Police
Commissioner Bratton, Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Agarwal Announce
Acceptance of IDNYC as Valid Identification by NYPD.

6U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2013 3-Year American Community
Survey, S0201 Selected Population Profile in the United States.

7U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2013 3-Year American Community
Survey, S0501 Selected Characteristics of the Native Foreign-Born

8Hendricks, S. (2014). Living in Car Culture Without a
The Ripple Effects of Withholding Driver’s Licenses
from Unauthorized Immigrants.

9Hendricks, S. (2014). Living in Car Culture Without a
The Ripple Effects of Withholding Driver’s Licenses
from Unauthorized Immigrants. Pg. 5

10Pew Hispanic Center. (2010). Unauthorized Immigrants and
Their U.S. Born Children
. Pg.4

11Wong, T.S. (2014). “Branded to Drive: Obstacle Preemption of
North Carolina Driver’s Licenses for DACA Grantees,”
Law Review: Vol. 37: Iss. 1, Article 3, pg. 87

12Lopez, M. P. (2008). More Than a License to Drive: State
Restrictions on the Use of Driver’s Licenses by Noncitizens
. Southern
Illinois University Law Journal, 29, 2004-2005. Pg. 111

13Transportation for Massachusetts. (2011) Maxed Out:
Massachusetts Transportation at a Financing Crossroad, A Primer from
Transportation for Massachusetts. Pg. 5- 6

14Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s
analysis of the Migration Policy Institute undocumented immigrants
population data (2015)


17Transportation for Massachusetts. (2011) Maxed Out:
Massachusetts Transportation at a Financing Crossroad,
A Primer from
Transportation for Massachusetts. Pg. 6;

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Office of the
Chief Financial Officer. (2010) Fiscal Year 2011Transportation Budget
in Plain Language Explanation of MassDOT Funding Sources. Pg 14

18National Immigration Law Center. (2015). State Laws for
Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants.

19Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Undocumented Immigrants in the United States,”

21Ibid. Pg 17

22Ibid. Pg 18

23US Department of Homeland Security. (2013) Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals

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