Is Citizenship A Requirement For CDL?

A recent case in the state of Maryland has brought this question to the forefront for the trucking industry—do holders of commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) have to demonstrate they are U.S. citizens or, at least be able to prove they are legal permanent residents of the U.S. in order to obtain a CDL?

At issue is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirement that CDL holders provide either proof of citizenship or meet “federal legal presence” requirements.  This issue isn’t limited to Maryland, but covers all 50 states.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration issued more than 250 notices last month to holders of CDL’s across the state warning them that their licenses would be canceled unless they proved their citizenship or permanent residency within 30 days.

TPS Status Doesn’t Meet Requirement

The bulk of those letters went to Maryland residents who have work permits through a federal Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which shields immigrants of certain countries from deportation and allows them to work in the United States. Under the TPS program the secretary of Homeland Security can designate immigrants from specific countries as TPS-eligible if there is an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster or another extraordinary condition, such as violence.

The notices were triggered by an internal audit of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration that found the agency had erred in giving TPS permit holders — from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua — a license to drive commercial motor vehicles requiring a CDL.

The drivers had completed the training, exams and other requirements for the license. But their temporary protected status does not amount to permanent residency and therefore does not meet the federal requirements for receiving the type of CDL they had been awarded.

MVA spokesman Buel Young said the agency is seeking clarification from the federal government as to what it did wrong and whether there is a different commercial license that other states have used that could be issued to the immigrants in question.

Feds Taking Issue Seriously

Young said that at the same time the agency was conducting an audit of nearly 188,000 CDL and learner’s permits, the FMCSA told officials about a CDL holder who did not have the proper documentation.

After the audit, the MVA sent 263 letters to license holders notifying them that they were out of compliance with federal law, stating: “During the processing of your CDL we did not receive the required U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence documents.”

There are different classes of CDL’s for school bus, truck and heavy-vehicle drivers that are issued for five years, Young said. Nearly all of the letter recipients are immigrants who used employment authorization documents from the Department of Homeland Security to apply, pay for and obtain their licenses. The immigrants underwent criminal background checks, but the TPS program does not confer permanent legal status and as such those CDL applicants are not allowed to have that license.