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Citizenship Marking on Driver’s Licenses

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Written by Dr. Madeleine Roberts
Published on January 19, 2024
Research Highlights

Proof of lawful status is required in most states to be issued a driver's license.

19 states plus D.C. allow people to apply for driver’s licenses without requiring a Social Security Number or proof of lawful status, which are marked with "Not for Federal Purposes" on the license.

Enhanced driver’s licenses, that provide proof of identity and U.S. citizenship, are offered in 5 northern border states as identification for crossing a U.S. border.

31 states, including MO, require proof of lawful residence to obtain a driver’s license (NCSL 2023). To obtain an original MO driver’s license or non-driver ID, one of each of the following documents must be presented (MO DOR 2023).

  • Identity (e.g., U.S. birth certificate, U.S. Passport, Permanent Resident Card)
  • Lawful Status (e.g., U.S. birth certificate, U.S. Passport, Permanent Resident Card)
  • Social Security Number (e.g., Social Security card, W-2 form)
  • Proof of Missouri Residency (e.g., Utility bill, housing documents, letter from a homeless shelter)

19 states allow people who do not prove lawful status to apply for a driver’s license (NCSL 2023). These licenses are marked “Not for Federal Purposes” to indicate that acquiring the license did not require providing a Social Security number or proof of lawful status.

The Department of Homeland Security notes that people holding “Not for Federal Purposes” licenses are not necessarily undocumented immigrants or noncitizens. People may choose to hold these licenses over those that require providing a Social Security number for a variety of reasons, including personal preference or the inability or decision not to provide original documents needed to verify identity, citizenship, or lawful status (DHS 2023).

The 2005 REAL ID Act established security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses, permits, and ID cards. Starting in 2025, U.S. residents will be required to present REAL ID-compliant identification to fly domestically and to access federal facilities.

To obtain a REAL ID-compliant license, a person must provide documents showing:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Two proofs of address of principle residence
  • Lawful status

MO driver’s licenses and non-driver IDs can include a compliance status marking in the upper corner as part of the REAL ID rollout:

  • A yellow star for REAL ID-compliant IDs
  • “Not for REAL ID purposes” for Non-REAL ID compliant IDs

MI, MN, NY, VT, and WA, all northern border states, offer enhanced driver’s licenses to serve as proof of identity and U.S. citizenship. These licenses meet the security standards of the REAL ID Act, are marked by the word “Enhanced”, and can have a yellow REAL-ID star at the upper corner. They can be used in place of a U.S. passport to cross a U.S. border.

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