Immigrants, teens push NJ to issue ‘historically high’ 100K new drivers’ permits
New Jersey has been issuing drivers’ permits at a "historically" rapid pace this summer, after pandemic issues including the delay of the state’s new expanded licenses regardless of immigration status.
From May through the last week of July, 100,000 new permits had been issued at MVC sites across the state, according to a state MVC spokesperson.
The agency is “aware and understanding of the issues that New Jerseyans are encountering with obtaining appointments for first-time permits,” the spokesperson continued.
It’s about 40,000 more than the average number of permits issued during the same nearly three-month span in years before the pandemic.
The uptick was first reported by NJ Spotlight on Wednesday.
New Jersey Policy Perspective previously estimated in 2019 that roughly 338,000 New Jersey residents would apply for a license during the first three years of the expanded access program, based on the experiences of other states with similar initiatives.
School delays cause backlog
Ranks of hopeful drivers who previously did not qualify to apply are only one factor in the appointment “crunch,” as school disruptions related to COVID-19 also have meant high demand for initial permits, the spokesperson continued.
When students turn 16, they typically get initial driving permits through their school and the MVC processes them in bulk.
With many schools still on hybrid schedules, many students didn’t get those permits by the end of the 2020-2021 year.
“These students, now 17, are applying individually to get their first permit at Licensing Centers across the state, adding to the increased demand,” according to the MVC spokesperson.
Fleeting online appointments
Many MVC services have shifted to an online appointment system — hailed by some as more convenient, while critics point out the lack of equity for those without internet access.
After the initial bumpy reopening of locations after the COVID shutdown in spring 2020, the MVC now has been processing 25% more transactions per week than before the pandemic.
As COVID restrictions are relaxed and in-person school re-starts in September, fewer employees will need to take leave and younger students will get their initial driving permits through their schools again. The MVC spokesperson noted.
“The NJMVC monitors appointment availability daily, adding appointment types based on demand.”
Expanded license delays
Legislation passed in late 2019 creates two classes of licenses in the state. One is compliant with federal REAL ID standards, and will ultimately be the only sort of license that can be used to fly on a plane or enter a federal facility.
Applicants for those licenses have to prove they have a legal right to live in the U.S. and New Jersey.
The other is a standard license — similar to the ones most NJ residents have now — and is available to all Garden State residents, regardless of immigration status.
Back in December, advocates slammed the announced delay of the law, which had been poised to take effect in January.
"More than 450,000 New Jersey residents and their family members are waiting to be able to apply for a standard driver’s license,” Hera Mir of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice previously said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.
Mir called the delay announcement this past winter "very frustrating and disappointing for immigrant community members."
In the same 2019 analysis, NJPP estimated just under 426,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally would benefit from the state’s expanded drivers’ licenses, while it also would impact about 288,000 people who earn less than $25,000 a year; as well as those reentering society from the criminal justice system.
New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice tweeted about the over-stressed MVC system, as appointments for licenses apparently continued to be challenging to find, as of Thursday.
“It is not okay to place blame on any marginalized community,” the organization tweeted, adding of the MVC, “Why didn’t the agency allocate more resources to support staff at licensing centers,” ahead of the May start to the expanded program.
“MVC had nearly 3 years of notice and more than enough time to engage advocates and the community to prepare,” NJAIJ added on Twitter.
“Expanding the opportunity to apply for a driver's license to residents regardless of status makes New Jersey a better place to live for all. We call on the NJ_MVC to own up to their agency's challenges and take responsibility for any delays,” another group, Let's Drive NJ, also tweeted on Tuesday.
When signed in December, New Jersey joined 13 other states and Washington D.C. in allowing residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.