Under narrow conditions, K-1 visa holders can qualify for a REAL ID compliant California State ID or Drivers License. If still not in the USA, it is important to read this entire article and plan accordingly. For example if you desire to get married in Los Angeles County and get REAL ID compliant state ID, you will be disappointed. For example, if you plan to wait a few months before getting married, you will probably be disappointed.
Difference between a state ID card and a drivers license
All state drivers licenses are state identification cards. Not all state identification cards are drivers licenses.
A drivers license is both your permit to operate a motor vehicle in California (and the rest of the USA) and an identification card.
Some state identification cards serve only as identification and have no motor vehicle operating permissions.
Difference between REAL ID and non-REAL ID
REAL ID is a federal initiative backed by laws that punishes residents of the USA who do not have REAL ID-compliant state ID. A REAL ID state ID is one that is issued with proof of the lawful right to be in the USA and proof of identity. Without REAL ID, a resident of the USA will have a difficult time boarding a domestic flight in the USA and entering some federal facilities.
California will issue a California resident one of three kinds of state ID
- The recipient is lawfully in the USA and can prove it. This will be a REAL ID.
- The recipient is lawfully in the USA and cannot or does not want to prove it. This will be a regular ID.
- The recipient is unlawfully in the USA. This will be an AB60 ID.
Qualifying for REAL ID
In general the state of California requires the following:
- Prove of identity. A K-1 visa holder would normally provide a passport.
- A Social Security Card
- Prove of the right to be in the USA. A K-1 visa holder would show a K-1 visa with 60 or more days of left in the authorized stay and an I-94.
- Prove of residency. This is two documents such as a bill, showing the K-1 visa holder's name and address. A fortunate exception is if the application for REAL ID is married to another resident of California who has these documents. If so, these two documents from the spouse plus the marriage certificate suffice to show that the K-1 visa holder is a California resident.
- Read these requirements carefully and understand their implications.
- Time is of the essence. You must get your social security card quickly. You must marry quickly. You must get your marriage certificate quickly. Note that if you apply for social security card after you are married, you should prepare to be disappointed. If you desire to change your name to that of your spouse, that will cost time. There is a lot to do to get ready in the 1-30 days you have after point of entry.
- You must marry in a county that produces a marriage certificate quickly. Los Angeles County needs up to 12 weeks. Santa Clara County (San Jose) needs just two working days.
- Your spouse needs to be an established California resident. If your plan is for both of you to settle in California at point of entry (i.e. your USA citizen spouse is moving from another state or country), the USA citizen will not have documents in time to prove California residency.
One positive experience: With 61 days of authorized stay left, a PG&E bill from the USA citizen spouse, a SS card, foreign passport, K-1 visa, and I-94 from the K-1 visa holder, and marriage certificate from Santa Clara County, REAL ID state ID was approved and the expiration date was 5 years from date of issue. The DMV office did ask for a second document from the USA citizen showing residency. The couple did not bring one (because the website said a marriage license with the same address was that second document) and it was no problem.
Qualifying for Regular ID / DL
Due to the ambiguous status of a K-1 visa holder with a visa that has 59 days or less of authorized stay, this is not an option.
Qualifying for AB60 ID / DL
If the K-1 visa has less than 60 days of authorized stay, a K-1 visa holder can qualify for this ID
REAL ID Compliant Drivers Licenses
If the K-1 visa holder holds a foreign drivers license, per https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/hdbk/adults#adut_lic_req,
- Behind-the-wheel driving tests are mandatory for out-of-country DL holders.
A road test requires an appointment, and as of 2019, the DMV offices are booked many months ahead. You will not get an appointment before 60 days are left on your visa's permitted stay.
Thus it appears this is not possible before the AOS NOA1 is received.
REAL ID Options After a K-1 Visa Expires
In theory, the NOA1 from an AOS application would allow one to get a REAL ID. Watch this space.
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NOTE: The above information does not address the specific requirements for any given case and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.