Catch-22 for Many Foreign Visitors Social Security Number Now Required to Get Illinois Driver's License

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Byline: Heath Hixson Daily Herald Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD - International students, families of foreign workers and others legally living in Illinois are now finding it impossible to get driver's licenses, a result of state and federal policy changes in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After the attacks, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White ordered Social Security numbers be a requirement for all state driver's licenses. Illinois was one of many states to tighten driver's license requirements in an attempt to prevent terrorists from fraudulently getting official identification.

Then, on March 1, the Social Security Administration stopped issuing Social Security numbers if the only reason was for someone to get a driver's license.

The two changes have created a catch-22 situation that has left dozens if not hundreds of foreigners legally in Illinois unable to get driver's licenses and car insurance.

Officials from suburban colleges, immigrant advocates and government laboratories and companies said the victims of the changes are spouses of foreign workers and students, and even visiting researchers.

"This problem exists, and this problem exists across the nation," said Kurt Riesselmann, a spokesman for Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. "The biggest problem seems to be with car insurance. We have about two dozen people who contacted our user (visiting researcher) and visa departments asking for help."

Previously, Illinois required proof of residency in the state, a valid signature and a date of birth for temporary licenses. Those without Social Security numbers often applied for this type of license.

"Security concerns and potential for fraud, we felt, made it necessary for that rule," said Randy Nehrt, White's spokesman. "In the past, somebody could take the temporary driver's license and take it to the Social Security Administration, who would then provide a not-for-work Social Security number, then go back to a driver's license facility and obtain a permanent driver's license."

Now, only those allowed to work in the United States and people who qualify for certain government services, such as welfare, will receive a Social Security number.

The result, immigrant advocates say, is a dependency on others and inadequate suburban public transportation to get around. Some people resort to illegally driving without insurance or scrounge for other transportation.

Riesselmann said at least one visiting foreign researcher resorted to renting a car during his stay. …