TRENTON — The state Motor Vehicle Commission plans to start issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who aren’t legal residents on May 1 and will let them qualify by signing an affidavit if they lack an IRS identification number or letter from the Social Security Administration.

The latter point is a proposed amendment to the rules adopted Friday and a concession after a barrage of complaints from immigrant rights groups after the initial plan for implementing the 2019 state law was unveiled last June.

“We do not wish to see large segments of our community excluded from the opportunity to drive legally,” said Sue Fulton, the MVC chair and chief administrator.

Applicants for the new licenses — called standard licenses, as opposed to those that are REAL ID-compliant — will be required to show identification worth six points in the MVC’s document list, as done for traditional licenses, plus an address.

There are additional options for people who are homeless, and Department of Corrections ID cards can be used as two points.

People can become eligible for the new licenses if they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, or a letter from the Social Security Administration explaining that a person is legally present in the United States but have no work authorization.

Fulton said other states that allow unauthorized immigrants to get driver’s licenses allow for them to submit affidavits saying they’re eligible despite not having the alternate paperwork.

The change is welcomed by activists who had protested the original proposal.

“The amendments to the proposed regulations to provide alternatives to direct exposure to federal agencies are essential, and they need to be adopted very quickly,” said Ted Fetter of Unitarian Universalist FaithAction New Jersey.

“The introduction of an affidavit is an incredible first step,” said Katy Sastre, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “It will significantly increase uptake among the immigrant community who are understandably incredibly worried interacting with the federal government.”

The licenses were supposed to become available Jan. 1, but they have been delayed due to the disruptions of MVC operations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The hopes of obtaining the driver license have been broken due to the delay,” said Gloria Blanco, a member of the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center. “It is causing even more stress to our community. Let’s not forget that for us a driver’s license is not a luxury, but it is a need.”

Fulton said the MVC wasn’t ready to start Jan. 1 because its workers need more training first.

“We agree with advocates that we should not require that applicants go to a consulate to verify their documents, that instead we should train our own MVC employees so they are prepared to recognize valid documents from around the world,” Fulton said.

“However, due to COVID-19 and the impact on our workforce, it’s very difficult for us to pull large numbers of people off the line to do this kind of detailed training. This training requires physical as well as visual inspection of documents. That means in-person, and social distancing is required,” she said.

“We will move as fast as we can without sacrificing the safety of our employees,” Fulton said.

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Gov. Phil Murphy said he’s “not shocked” by the May 1 target date, which amounts to a four-month delay.

“I with a heavy heart wish it were sooner, but Motor Vehicles has been clobbered and again with a heavy heart understand why it had to slip a little bit,” Murphy said. “I don’t want it to slip any more than it has to because it’s the right thing for all of us.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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