Before deciding to get my Driver’s License, I was already aware that it might be tricky for non-US citizens to get a Real ID (depending on the immigration status.) California DMV outlines these requirements for non-US citizens to get a Real ID:
One Proof of Identity (original or certified copy only)
If you are a lawfully present non-U.S. citizen, acceptable documents include:
- Unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form
- Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card
- Valid/expired Permanent Resident Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C) or Approval Notice (I-797)
- Valid, unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (I-766) or valid/expired EAD Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C)
- Unexpired foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
- Documents reflecting TPS benefit eligibility.
However, the actual execution seems to diverge from what their website says. For my prior learner’s permit that I applied for when I was still a full-time student, I just brought my passport (with visa stamp) and the identity documentation to DMV. They happily processed it without further questions. For some reason (mainly due to the pandemic), I didn’t complete the behind-the-wheel test during its validity. By the time I applied for the second permit, I was no longer a full-time student but rather an individual with work authorization, so the situation was slightly different. EAD card is usually used for identity verification in case of applying DL during OPT; however, DMV won’t accept applications until EAD starts.
I went to DMV a few months after my OPT start date. A few weeks later, I received a letter from the DMV stating they could not verify my identification with Federal agencies and requested further information. By the time I received the letter, I was in a transition period of STEM OPT Extension and H-1B status. So I decided to wait sometime to let my new status get approved and faxed them everything I had, including STEM OPT EAD, H-1B approval notice, and new I-94 form.
I finished my behind-the-wheel test earlier this month and just received my Driver’s License this week. They did stamp it with Real ID, with a validity identical to my OPT STEM EAD. I am not sure how they determined that validity since they were supposed to use the date of my new I-94 attached to the I-797A approval notice. I do see some people reporting they got Real ID DL with the validity of their I-94 on the I-797A approval notice, so I guess the DMV itself doesn’t have a well-established standard on this for non-US citizens. Maybe I will have a different experience renewing my DL a few years later.