Noncitizens now eligible for R.I. driver’s licenses

Updated at 3:51

AS OF JULY 1, the state's noncitizens can now apply for a Rhode Island driver's license. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

PROVIDENCE – Under newly enacted legislation, residents who are not citizens can now obtain a driver’s license.

The legislation, which Gov. Daniel J. McKee signed into law just over a year ago, went into effect on July 1, allowing Rhode Islanders who can’t prove legal residency to apply for a “driver privilege” card or permit.

The ID differs from a typical driver’s license because it isn’t valid for state or federal identification, or voting purposes. But it gives permit holders a form of ID for driving and insurance access, said Rep. Karen Alzate, the Pawtucket Democrat who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Frank A. Ciccone, D-Providence.

“It’s going to allow (noncitizens) to have a form of ID with them, so they don’t have to be scared of driving, being stopped by the police and reported to ICE,” or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Alzate said.

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“Also, if they get into an accident they’ll be insured, and they’re driving already and can’t get insurance, so it’s really safe, and it’s going to have a positive impact on all Rhode Islanders,” she continued.

Eligible applicants must be able to verify that they have filed a personal income tax return as a Rhode Island resident in the most recent year; present two proof of identity documents; and meet insurance requirements.

The law also includes protective measures for the state’s noncitizens applying for the license, Alzate said.

The permits cannot be used as “evidence of the holder’s citizenship or immigration status, and shall not be used as a basis for a criminal investigation, arrest or detention in circumstances where a person with a regular driver’s license would not be criminally investigated, arrested or detained,” the legislation states.

The legislation gives around 29,000 Rhode Island residents access to a driver’s license, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos said at the bill’s signing last summer.

Rhode Island is one of 19 states to pass laws allowing noncitizens to obtain driver’s licenses.

(Update: Corrects undocumented citizens to noncitizens.)

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at

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