Undocumented immigrants will get Colorado driver’s licenses much more quickly under new law

Courtesy Michael Fajardo/via Flickr
The Fort Collins driver’s license office, May 2019.

Undocumented immigrants arriving in Colorado won’t have to wait two years for a driver’s license anymore. Under a new law, they’ll soon be able to apply immediately for a license.

“They don't want handouts. They are trying desperately to get a job and work in order to feed their families and to be a part of this community,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat who sponsored the new measure.

The new law removes the two-year waiting requirement. But applicants will still have to pass a written test, vision screening and driving test to get a license. They also will have to provide official identification from their home country, with options including a voter identification card or other official documents, such as a driver’s license, permit or other identification card.

People could use expired versions of those documents, as long as they had expired sometime within the previous 10 years.

The bill also loosens some other requirements on the program. There’s no longer a requirement that the applicants have a Colorado income tax return or a social security number or individual taxpayer identification number, as those take time to obtain.

Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law on Wednesday, but the change won’t go into effect until March 31, 2025.

Opponents of the bill argued that it would make the state more attractive for undocumented immigrants. Supporters said that immigrants are already driving here without insurance or testing, arguing that licensing some of those drivers will improve public safety.

The bill passed the legislature along partisan lines, with all Republicans opposed and all but two Democrats supporting it, aside from a few lawmakers who were excused from the final votes.

Back in 2013, Colorado became one of the first states to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The idea has spread far and wide: As of 2023, 20 other states and Washington, D.C. had passed similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

More than 200,000 immigrants have gotten licenses through the existing program in Colorado, according to the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. The Colorado Fiscal Institute, a progressive nonprofit, claims that has resulted in $127 million of annual savings on Coloradans’ insurance premiums, since it has reduced the number of uninsured drivers.

An immigrant driver's license cannot be used to vote or obtain public benefits, Gonzales stressed.