RMV seeing big spike in learner’s permits

By SAM DRYSDALE

State House News Service

Published: 07-11-2023 9:12 AM

BOSTON — The state has issued more than double the number of learner’s permits in the last 10 days than this time last year, after a law went into effect July 1 allowing undocumented immigrants who live in Massachusetts to apply for driver’s licenses.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has issued 2,800 learner’s permits so far in July, Gov. Maura Healey said during a press conference at the RMV’s Haymarket location in Boston.

The registry is expecting even more demand in the upcoming week, as residents get back into the swing of things after a popular vacation week for the Fourth of July, said RMV Registrar of Motor Vehicles Colleen Ogilvie.

Under the law, which the Legislature enacted over Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto last year and then was upheld in November with 54% of voters supporting it, all Massachusetts residents who are old enough will be eligible to apply for standard driver’s licenses, regardless of their immigration status.

Immigrants who do not have legal status in the United States will need to submit other documents — including either a valid, unexpired foreign passport or a valid, unexpired consular identification document — to prove their identity, date of birth and current residency.

Former Gov. Charlie Baker wrote in his veto of the law that the RMV “does not have the expertise or ability to verify the validity of many types of documents from other countries.” Healey on Monday gave no indications of any problems.

“I think we’ve gotten off to a strong start, wouldn’t you say? It’s been really, I think, great out of the gate,” Healey said.

In the buildup to the July 1 implementation date, the RMV staffed up and has been translating application materials and permits. The RMV also extended its hours, open now from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and with seven locations newly open on Saturdays for license-related matters.

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Ogilvie said there was not a major increase in the number of people using these extended hours, but that the registry anticipates more demand coming off the holiday week, and as more people know to begin applying for their learner’s permits.

She also said there is currently no end-date for these extended hours, and that the RMV would be open 8-6 and on Saturdays “for the foreseeable future.”

“We changed all our leases to be able to follow this model for the next one or two years,” she said.

Though the RMV has expanded its hours to accommodate the nearly 200,000 undocumented immigrants that all became eligible to apply for a driver’s license at once on July 1, anyone can make an appointment at the registry during these newly open times.

Ogilvie said she could not provide a breakdown of how many of the 2,800 learner’s permits issued over the last week and a half were newly eligible undocumented immigrants.

Asked for this breakdown, Ogilvie said “We will not be able to answer that because the law prohibits us from looking at the data that way. From our perspective, it is all people that have gotten a new permit, whether it’s a 16-year-old for the first time, or an adult that is suddenly now obtaining a license.”

On average, about 120,000 people in Massachusetts get a driver’s license for the first time each year, according to MassDOT. If all 200,000 newly eligible undocumented immigrants apply for a driver’s license, their applications would far exceed the typical number of first-time drivers.

A Department of Transportation official said on Thursday that the RMV had received over 42,000 total requests for permits — regardless of an applicant’s immigration status — since the law’s implementation five days earlier. The department did not provide data indicating how these requests compared to the number of people who requested permits during the same week last year.

As part of the RMV’s expansion in preparation of new drivers, license applications are now available in 15 different languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Vietnamese. The RMV is encouraging those who do not speak English to bring an interpreter for their road tests. If they do not have anyone who can interpret for them, the registry will provide an interpreter, Ogilvie said.

The registry and the Driving Families Forward Coalition, who lobbied for the new law, have set up tents outside of RMVs around the state with interpreters available to help people with the application process.

“On Monday the third, we had two Brazilian gentlemen that were the first to get their permits, and we were excited to be out there cheering them on,” said Chrystel Murrieta, co-chair of the coalition, with 32BJ SEIU.

The governor recommended $28 million in funding to the RMV for expenses related to registry expansions to accommodate the new law, but RMV fees from new applicants may counterbalance the spending, the Executive Office of Administration and Finance has said.

Healey told reporters on Monday that the licenses granted to undocumented immigrants would be valid and honored in other states.

“These are Massachusetts driver’s licenses,” she said.

The governor also warned that there are scams targeting people seeking driver’s licenses.

“You should only book your appointment and pay your fees through the RMV,” she said. “If something doesn’t feel right, in terms of what people are seeing out there, contact the Attorney General’s Office.”

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