The Department of Homeland Security will allow states to accept documents for Real ID applications electronically, streamlining the process for millions of Americans to obtain the credential that come fall will be needed to pass through airport security checkpoints.
Allowing applicants to submit the necessary paperwork online will help expedite service at departments of motor vehicles across the country, officials said. Many state agencies are experiencing long lines and wait times as they scramble to issue new driver’s licenses and ID cards that conform with the federal law that tightens security requirements for state-issued identification.
Beginning Oct. 1, only driver’s licenses and state IDs that meet Real ID requirements will be accepted for boarding commercial flights. Travelers who don’t have a Real ID will need credentials such as a U.S. passport or military ID.
Officials fear that because most travelers today use state-issued identification to board domestic flights, it could be chaotic at U.S. airports come October, if no major progress is made on the issuance of Real IDs.
States have reported that 95 million – about 34 percent – of all driver’s license holders, have been issued Real IDs, according to DHS. Two-thirds of the 276 million Americans who have state-issued cards have yet to get their Real ID.
“While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead,” acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf said in a statement.
To obtain one of the new licenses, applicants must present two proofs of residency, such as an utility bill and a bank statement; proof of identity and legal residence in the United States; and a Social Security card. A W-2 form listing a Social Security number is an acceptable alternative to a Social Security card.
Residents who have changed their names from what is on their birth certificate need to provide documentation of the change – for example, a marriage certificate or a court order granting the name change.
The process requires an in-person visit to a DMV office.
DHS had announced plans to implement an online option to ease the process. Wolf said the agency is considering “other viable options to improve upon this process and continues doing everything it can to inform Americans on the requirement to obtain a REAL ID before the full enforcement deadline later this year.”
In a letter sent to states Wednesday, Wolf said that effective immediately states are permitted to use a secure electronic process to accept applicants’ documents. Even if states implement that pre-submission system, applicants will still be required to make an in-person DMV visit.
“Retaining the information in advance eliminates time-consuming activities associated with the physical scanning and retention of source documents that typically occurs during the applicant’s DMV visit,” Wolf said in the letter. “We understand that this has a direct impact on overall applicant wait times and customer satisfaction. DHS recommends that States consider implementing this option.”
It is unclear if and when individual states will implement the pre-submission option. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia are issuing Real IDs. Oklahoma and Oregon have not started issuing the credential, but are on track to being compliant, according to DHS.
Travel industry groups have been advocating for the option to allow people to submit applications online, saying it would speed the rate of Real ID compliance and mitigate challenges at overburdened DMVs. However, some said they had hoped DHS would also have eliminated the requirement for an in-person visit, which critics say is outdated and unnecessary.
“We applaud DHS for recognizing the need to modernize the REAL ID application process,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement. “However, the challenge remains that tens of millions of Americans do not yet possess REAL ID-compliant identification, and we won’t solve this issue by pushing people to the DMV.”
The U.S. Travel Association and other industry groups have been urging DHS to modernize the application process, saying that without upgrades tens of thousands of people could be unprepared to board a flight come October.
The Oct. 1 deadline will culminate the implementation of the 2005 domestic security program known as the Real ID Act, which was enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to tighten national standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards and overhaul how they are issued and produced. The Real ID was designed to combat forgery and fraud of state-issued documents.
Most states are in the early phases of issuing the credentials, which are generally identifiable by a star in the upper-right corner. As the deadline approaches, DMVs are likely to be overburdened with thousands of applicants.
Research by the travel association last fall found an estimated 99 million citizens do not have a Real ID license or passport. Even more troubling, the group said, a majority of Americans – 57 percent – were not aware that beginning Oct. 1, they would need a Real ID license to board a flight.
“Technology and security have advanced greatly in the nearly 15 years since REAL ID was introduced, and we encourage DHS and Congress to pursue additional policy changes to facilitate Americans’ REAL ID compliancy,” Emerson Barnes said.