The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will now allow states to accept documents for REAL ID applications electronically, in an effort to ensure the Oct. 1 deadline is met.
People without the enhanced license will now be able to submit documents through a secure electronic process before their in-person DMV visit for authentication and verification. The DHS says this will alleviate the long lines that motor vehicle offices across the country have been reporting.
It is, however, up to the individual states to implement the new option.
At the end of January, the DHS reported that the states have collectively issued more than 95 million REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards, just 34% of the total. Chad Wolf, the acting DHS secretary, said two-thirds of Americans still lack a compliant license.
"Ensuring every state is REAL ID-compliant by October is one of the department’s top priorities," Wolf said in a statement. "While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead."
A REAL ID, or other form of identification compliant with the 2005 REAL ID Act, will be required when flying domestically beginning Oct. 1, 2020. Congress passed the law after 9/11 to create a standard identification for all states and territories.
Wolf said the department will continue to examine other options for a faster, more streamlined process before the full enforcement deadline later this year.
The Airports Council International-North America, which represents the nation’s airports, warned recently that thousands of passengers could be denied boarding and left stranded when the REAL ID deadline hits. ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke told NBC News that “this is a crisis waiting to happen.”
Oregon authorities told NBC it will take until July before they are able to issue the first new IDs. Tom Fuller from the Oregon Department of Transportation said, "If we worked 24/7, we'd have to do seven a minute to get the number of licenses out by October. But there's no way that we could do seven a minute."
The U.S. Travel Association applauded the decision to modernize the application process.
“DHS' announcement — for which U.S. Travel has been a vocal advocate — is a step forward in streamlining the compliance process while upholding the security requirements of the REAL ID Act,” Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said in a statement. “However, the challenge remains that tens of millions of Americans do not yet possess REAL ID-compliant identification, and we won't solve this issue by pushing people to the DMV.”
The association testified before a Senate subcommittee last year that, without significant policy changes, thousands of Americans could be turned away from TSA checkpoints at airports on Oct. 1.
Other policy proposals suggested include accepting CLEAR and TSA Precheck membership as alternatives to REAL ID; accelerating the implementation of biometrics as a means to securely identify travelers; and developing procedures for screening passengers who show up at the airport without a REAL ID.