Utah driver license policy shifts following Get Gephardt investigation

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The Utah DLD has re-considered the way it enforces driver's license policies for those in the country on approved visas following a Get Gephardt investigation. (Photo: KUTV FILE)

Matthew French is an Australian man who has lived in Utah for the past five years. He’s had a Utah driver license the entire time, but it recently expired.

When he turned to the Driver License Division to renew, he was turned away. French is here on an extended stay visitor’s visa, and DLD workers told him the feds wouldn’t allow the state to issue a license for that type of visa.

"I want to renew my driver license, that's all I want to do,” he said. "It's extremely frustrating."

The DLD did give French two options: He could return to Australia and get a license there, which he could use on Utah roads, or he could apply for a driving privilege card. Both options are significant hassles.

"The drivers privilege card is exclusively for people who are undocumented immigrants,” French said. “You have to go get finger-printed and all the other stuff to be able to qualify for that. I'm not an undocumented immigrant, I'm legally in this country."

According to the DLD’s website, anyone "in the U.S. legally" can apply for a license.

So why is French being turned away? Get Gephardt took that question to DLD Director Chris Caras.

Caras says the feds had previously advised the DLD that an extended stay visa wasn't one they even bothered putting through the verification system, so it couldn’t be used to get a driver license.

“It was our understanding that they wouldn't come back with a legal status," Caras said.

In French’s case, the DLD decided to double check the policy and learned there had been some sort of miscommunication. The feds would happily run the background check of a person in the U.S. on an extended stay visa.

"In the follow up, we found out that now we are running those visa types to ensure that we'll find those," Caras said.

Caras defended his employee's action in turning French away, saying it’s what he or she had been trained to do.

As for French, he gets a new driver license.