A line of people snaked through the halls of Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s Sterling office and out the front door when a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles mobile unit opened for business at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 11.
While lines are not exactly atypical for the DMV, the turnout at the Virginia Congresswoman’s office was heartening to the operations team set up there for a day of processing applications for the REAL ID credentials that will be needed to fly in the U.S. and access secure federal facilities, such as military installations, starting on Oct. 1.
Because the process has to be conducted in-person, mobile visits like the one at Wexton’s office have been critical to helping residents who need or want a REAL ID get one at a place and time that might be more convenient to them than trekking to a full DMV customer service center.
The DMV mobile operations team completed about 50 transactions within the first hour of Wexton’s REAL ID application event, which was scheduled to last until 3:30 in the afternoon.
“We’re probably one of the more progressive states in bringing service to the customers instead of asking the customers to come to us,” Virginia DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb said. “…We’re doing everything we can to try to mediate that volume going into the full-service offices, so these are the type of events that help us do that.”
Like many other airport security measures, REAL ID emerged as a reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Based on a 9/11 Commission recommendation, Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 that established minimum security standards for the issuance and production of licenses that federal agencies would accept as identification for certain purposes.
Specifically, the act concerned identification that federal agencies use to grant access to federal facilities and nuclear power plants, and to permit boarding on federally regulated commercial aircraft.
Because most states did not initially have the infrastructure to issue new credentials in place, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been enforcing the implementation of the act in phases, with Oct. 1 as the final deadline for when all states must be issuing REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and other identification cards.
Virginia rolled out its REAL ID system in October 2018, according to Holcomb.
On the surface, REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses closely resemble standard-issue licenses except for the addition of a white star in a black circle to the upper right-hand corner, but the new cards also contain security features that law enforcement can use to determine their authenticity.
Holcomb says the REAL IDs create more uniformity across the U.S. in terms of how credentials like driver’s licenses look and how they are issued.
“DMVs are doing a better job of screening people to make sure that they are who they say they are,” Holcomb said. “Now, you’ve got all 50 states and the five territories are all using the same process. The cards look similar. The cards have the same security standards. So, we think that’s why it’s going to enhance security.”
The application process for a REAL ID largely follows the same steps and requirements as the process for obtaining a new driver’s license.
Applicants must provide original, physical documentation of their identity, legal presence, and full Social Security number. Two documents with proof of Virginia residency are also required.
Accepted documents include:
• For Social Security number: Social Security card, U.S. Internal Revenue Service W-2 tax reporting form, payroll check stub issued by employer
• Proof of identity and/or legal presence: official birth certificate, unexpired U.S. passport, U.S. certificates of naturalization or citizenship, unexpired permanent resident card
• Proof of residency: driver’s license or identification card that is current or has not expired more than a year ago; a deed, mortgage statement, or rental/lease agreement with current residential street address; voter registration card; certified copy of school records or transcript issued within the last year by a U.S.-accredited institution; utility bill from the past two months
A full list of documents that can be used to apply for a REAL ID can be found on the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website at dmv.virginia.gov/drivers.
Because the legal name on all submitted documents is supposed to be the same, an additional proof is needed for people who have had their name changed. A marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order granting the name change is acceptable for that purpose.
While an application for a REAL ID can be filled out and submitted online, the documentation proving identity, legal presence, residency, and Social Security has to be presented to the DMV in person, and it is accompanied by a one-time $10 fee on top of the standard fees for a driver’s license or identification card.
Though he says the DMV primarily hears complaints about wait times, Holcomb acknowledged that the REAL ID application process presents challenges for some people, such as couples who have bills in only one spouse’s name or residents who have a P.O. box instead of a street address.
The DMV recently sent a letter to Virginia universities explaining the importance of students obtaining REAL IDs, especially if they otherwise reside in a different state and expect to travel during breaks.
Given those potential difficulties, Virginia opted to make getting a REAL ID voluntary for residents, who can still use a standard driver’s license or identification card that will be stamped with the words “Federal Limits Apply” when next issued.
Other federally approved credentials, including U.S. passports, military ID, permanent resident cards, foreign government-issued passports, and federally recognized, tribal-issued photo IDs, can be used to board domestic flights starting Oct. 1.
However, Holcomb encourages people to get a REAL ID so they can carry just a driver’s license, rather than bringing additional documents, when flying.
Virginians appear to be getting the message.
The Virginia DMV marked the issuance of 1 million REAL IDs on Jan. 10. The Commonwealth is currently on track for more than 40 percent of its 6.2 million existing drivers to make the change by October, according to Holcomb.
“We recognize this significant milestone and continue to prepare for the deadline of October 1, 2020, enhancing service to meet growing demand,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine said. “The Commonwealth is committed to ensuring that Virginians are able to conduct their business, live their lives, and keep Virginia moving.”
Wexton says over 600 people indicated that they were interested in coming to get a REAL ID at the DMV mobile operations team’s event at her office.
Even the Congresswoman participated, handing her current driver’s license, passport, Social Security Card, and a paper application to DMV Connect team manager Lily Riehn in order to get her own REAL ID.
The Virginia DMV’s mobile team has several upcoming Fairfax County visits scheduled with stops at the Herndon Fortnightly Library on Jan. 21, Great Falls Library on Jan. 24, and Reston Town Center and the Hollin Hall Senior Center in Fort Hunt on Dec. 27.
A full calendar for the DMV mobile office can be found online at dmvNOW.com/DMV2GO.
“It was really efficient and easy,” Wexton said when asked about her experience applying for a REAL ID. “Making sure you do your homework on the front end really speeds it along on the back end.”