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Real ID Deadline Extended Again

The deadline for Virginians to obtain a Real ID driver’s license or identification card has been extended yet again – this time for two more years – according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Beginning May 3, 2023, U.S. air travelers will be required to present the Real ID credential (or a valid passport) to board an aircraft for a domestic flight.

The original Real ID deadline of Oct. 1, 2020 had been extended to Oct. 1, 2021 due to the global pandemic.  Postponing the enforcement of the last phase of the Real ID Act will give motor vehicle departments in Virginia and across the nation more time to process the new credentials after many were closed or reduced services because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At present, fewer than half of Americans with a driver’s license or state identification card have a Real ID-compliant document, which is typically identifiable by a star in the upper-right corner.

In announcing the new extension, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is our top priority.  As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.”

Many states have been scrambling to comply with the Real ID Act, a 2005 domestic security program designed to help prevent terrorist attacks and reduce the number of licenses granted to undocumented immigrants.  By law, states are mandated to issue IDs with counterfeit-resistant security features. Applicants must provide several documents proving their identity and legal U.S. residency.  All 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories are issuing Real IDs.  American Samoa is working toward that goal.

Motor vehicle departments across the country have issued 118 million Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards, according to DHS data. That is about 43 percent of all driver’s licenses and ID cards issued nationwide, according to DHS.

Approximately 1/3 of Virginia’s state-issued credentials are Real ID compliant, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The Commonwealth is not mandating the Real ID credential, so residents can continue to have only a standard license or identification card provided they won’t be flying commercially or needing access to federal buildings or military bases.  Effective May 3, 2023, however, every Virginian 18 and older will be required to present a Real ID compliant license or another acceptable form of identification, such as a U.S. passport or military ID to board a domestic flight.

The U.S. Travel Association, which had been advocating for a Real ID extension, said extending the deadline is “the right move” to prevent potentially chaotic scenes at U.S. airports in which many travelers would have been prevented from flying on the first day of implementation.

“Getting to REAL ID compliance on time was already going to be a challenge before COVID shut down DMVs for extended periods,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, USTA’s executive vice president for public affairs and policy.  “Significant travel disruption was likely if the deadline were allowed to hit, which the U.S. economy can’t afford after a $500 billion decline in travel spending last year and millions of travel jobs lost to the pandemic.”