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Can an illegal immigrant get a CDL?

September 21, 2021
  By Saman Movassaghi

You will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if you intend on driving large trucks in the U.S. CDLs are typically required for taxi drivers, limo drivers & chauffeurs, as well as semi-truck big rig 18-wheeler drivers. Many states allow undocumented immigrants to get their regular driver’s license but not their CDL. 

If you’re undocumented but looking to get your CDL, speak with an immigration attorney. These attorneys can use their knowledge of visa and immigration law to help you uncover all the options available to you and assist you in deciding which option best suits your needs.   

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CDL Availability

If you don’t have a green card it’ll be hard to get a CDL because they’re currently available for U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents. However, there is an exception to the rule.  You could be eligible for a non-domiciled CDL, which is a CDL for individuals who are legally authorized to work in the U.S. Eligible individuals must have a valid employment authorization document (EAD) or work permit. 

You may be able to get a CDL in certain states if your visa authorizes you to legally work in the U.S. but some states require that you have an EAD before you can get a CDL. Each state has different requirements, and that’s why it can be beneficial to speak with the immigration professionals at Florida Immigration Law Counsel. 

Although getting a non-domiciled CDL can open up undocumented immigrants up to more opportunities, there are some restrictions. For example, if you are only eligible for a non-domiciled CDL, you cannot transport hazardous materials.

If you already have a CDL under the Canadian National Safety Code or Licencia Federal de Conductor issued by the federal government of Mexico, you don’t need a U.S. CDL. If the U.S. government recognizes CDLs from your home country, you don’t need a U.S. CDL. This law affects Canadian and Mexican natives only. 

You may be ineligible for a CDL in certain states if you meet the following requirements:

  • Have a revoked or suspended NCDL (Non-Commercial Driver’s License)
  • Have certain medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes
  • Have a certain criminal felony conviction within the last three years (if you would like to work as a school bus driver)
  • Have a scheduled hearing on moving violation ticket(s)
  • Have an unresolved citation (such as tickets or judgment) in another jurisdiction
  • Are a non-US citizen who does not possess a valid Permanent Resident Card  

The Florida Immigration Law Counsel is dedicated to protecting the interests of immigrants. We do this by helping to protect those facing deportation for their immigration status. We will use our knowledge of the immigration laws, build the strongest case possible, and advocate before the U.S. government on your behalf. Contact us today to set up your initial consultation and discover what services we can offer to you and your family.

Can I get a CDL in my state?

The 10th amendment of the constitution gives states the right to issue driver’s licenses. Thus, each state’s legislative branch has the right to decide whether or not they will authorize licenses for undocumented immigrants.  

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. These states include but may not be limited to: 

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Each state allows an applicant to get a license if they provide certain documentation, such as a foreign birth certificate, foreign passport, or consular card, and evidence of current residency in the state. In 2020, Virginia became the most recent state to enact legislation extending driver’s licenses and identification cards to those without proof of lawful presence. 

CDL Licensing

If you want to drive a commercial motor vehicle legally, the following conditions may apply: 

  • You need a CDL to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the U.S. 
  • You may obtain a CDL if you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the U.S. 
  • If you are not an LPR and live in Canada or Mexico, you can use your Canada or Mexico CDL to drive a CMV in the U.S.
  • If you are not an LPR, and you don’t live in Canada or Mexico, you may have a “non-domiciled CDL” in the U.S., under certain conditions. 

You may also need the following to obtain your CDL or non-domiciled CDL in many states:

Documentation

To obtain a DC DMV CDL, or first a CDL learner permit, you will have to bring the following documents when you take the CDL knowledge test(s):

  • Valid, unexpired US passport or certified birth certificate filed with a State Office of Vital Statistics, OR a Certificate of Naturalization or a Certificate of Citizenship—for US citizens
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card—for non-US citizens
  • Completed US Department of Transportation Medical Examination Report and Medical Examiner’s Certificate Card

Federal law requires CDL holders to submit a medical certification every two years. You must be examined by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The list of certified medical examiners includes physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and chiropractors available on the US Department of Transportation National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

Some states offer intra-state CDLs that allow you to operate your commercial vehicle within the state but not elsewhere. It’s important to be aware of the particular laws at play in your location and consult with someone who understands those laws and can guide the CDL process in your state for undocumented individuals. 

Not a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident 

If you are not a citizen, LPR, or a resident of Canada or Mexico, then you could obtain a “non-domiciled CDL” in the U.S. if you meet certain requirements. However, obtaining your non-domiciled CDL is perplexing because you have to follow federal and state requirements. Skillful immigration attorneys can help navigate you through this process when you’re unsure. 

Federal law regulates CDLs, but each state issues its CDLs. The federal law also mandates minimal guidelines and standards for CDLs that each state has to comply with. Federal law also allows states to set their own stricter standards in addition to the federal ones. Many states have stricter CDL laws than federal laws. 

Federal laws mandate that applicants “provide an unexpired employment authorization document (EAD) issued by USCIS or an unexpired foreign passport accompanied by an approved I-94 form documenting the applicant’s most recent admittance into the United States.” before they can issue a non-domiciled CDL.

Some states take the laws further. Suppose you are qualified to have a non-domiciled CDL under federal law but not qualified for a non-domiciled CDL in your particular state. In that case, you may be eligible for a non-domiciled CDL issued in another state. 

Speak with an immigration law pro to learn all of the requirements for a non-domiciled CDL in another state. They can also check with that state’s driver’s license issuing agency and provide vital information on obtaining your non-domiciled CDL. 

Commercial Learner’s Permit Law

The laws for obtaining a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) as an undocumented immigrant are the same as the laws for non-citizens obtaining a commercial driver’s license. Both federal law and state laws provide for issuing CDLs to non-citizens.  

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may obtain a commercial driver’s license if you are a legal permanent resident. If you’re not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, you may obtain a CDL under certain conditions.  The legal landscape for non-citizens obtaining CDLs can be complex, and that’s why speaking with someone who understands the intricacies of immigration law can be vital. 

Steps To Getting A License as an Undocumented Immigrant

Getting your license and driving a vehicle gives you much more access and freedom. If you’re currently undocumented but want to secure your U.S. driver’s license, then follow these steps:

  • Prepare your application by locating your state’s licensing requirements. 
  • Gather your proof of residency and identity. This could include a valid passport or consular identification. You may need a letter from the Social Security Administration stating that you do not qualify for an SSN and proof of insurance because some states require proof of insurance before you can get a license.
  • Study the driver handbook and take the necessary examinations in your state.
  • Speak with an experienced immigration attorney to protect yourself from ICE or from incriminating yourself during the application process. 
  • Get a learner’s permit if required in your state.
  • Visit the DMV and submit your application; do a vision screening, written exam, and road test depending on what’s required for your state.
  • Pay the necessary fees.
  • Have your license photo taken.
  • Get your license.

If you have any questions about obtaining your license, what’s required of you, and if you’re even allowed to drive in the state you live in, consider speaking with an experienced immigration professional. 

Florida Immigration Law Counsel represents the immigration matters of individuals and businesses throughout the United States. We deal with the government so you don’t have to. Contact us today for an initial consultation and begin the process of obtaining your commercial driver’s license as an immigrant. 

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