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A Better Partnership


Jan 2008
January 28, 2008

Driver's License Status Changes for Foreign Nationals

As of January 22, the Michigan Secretary of State's office ceased issuing driver's licenses to foreign nationals who do not have a current Permanent Resident Card (I-551) issued after December 1997. The effect of this change is that visitors to the U.S. on temporary assignments (such as the H, L or E visa status) cannot obtain a first-time Michigan license until the law is changed. We understand that, as of the date of this bulletin, renewals have not been affected by the change. Further information concerning renewals is anticipated.

The policy change arose from an opinion issued by the Attorney General of the state of Michigan. While there are pending actions that could reverse the effect of the opinion with respect to foreign nationals legally residing in the U.S., it is unclear how long this situation will persist. In the interim, foreign nationals from many countries may use a valid home-country driver's license as permitted by international treaties and state and federal laws. A list of such countries is published at reciprocity_chart_20508_7.pdf.

We recommend that you inform new hires from overseas or other jurisdictions who would be affected by this change that if they do not already have a valid Michigan driver's license, they should obtain an international license endorsement for their home country license before departing for the U.S. The same should also be done for dependents and other family members of driving age who will reside in Michigan.

With respect to Japanese nationals, we concur with the recommendation of the Consul-General of Japan that Japanese not having a Michigan driver's license should possess the following documents: (i) a Japanese driver's license, (ii) an international driver's license issued in Japan, (iii) a translation of the Japanese driver's license, (iv) a passport, and (v) a printout of the following documents:

Foreign nationals from other countries should review the Reciprocity Update and consult with their local consulate offices for further instructions. It is hoped that the situation will change in the near future. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is reported to have proposed changing the state law so that those here legally but temporarily, such as students and workers, will be able to get a license.

Since this law seriously inconveniences guests who are legally in this country, and is materially adverse to educational institutions, foreign investment and major corporations that depend on temporary workers in Michigan, the situation is drawing attention from economic development agencies, businesses and other interests.

If you operate a business or other institution and have questions regarding this situation or would like to speak to our attorneys regarding steps that your organization may take to deal with this problem, please contact any of the Warner Norcross attorneys below: 

Craig Meurlin, Lead Attorney China Business Practice 


James G. Cavanagh, Governmental Affairs 


Thomas J. Manganello, Automotive Industry Group Chair 


Kathleen M. Hanenburg, Immigration Group Chair 


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