Although it's not true of most U.S. states, a few states will allow foreign-born people who are living here without lawful immigration status to obtain a driver's license. (The short term for such a person is "undocumented"; or you might hear the term "illegal alien.") New York is among hose states, having passed what it calls the "Green Light Law" in 2019. More formally, this is the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, found within New York's Vehicle & Traffic (VAT) code, Chapter 71, Title 5, "Licensing of Drivers."
If you are an undocumented person living in New York, you'll want to read this article explaining your state's rules on getting a so-called "standard" driver's license and outlining the steps toward applying.
Unfortunately, getting a New York State standard driver's license does NOT give you any sort of legal immigration status in the United States. Only the U.S. federal government has the power to legalize someone's U.S. immigration status—no individual state can do that.
What getting a New York driver's license does mean is that you are allowed to operate a vehicle within the state and to carry an identity card proving that fact. The so-called "standard" license you will receive is your only option; specifically, you will NOT be able to obtain an "Enhanced" or "REAL ID."
That also means you cannot use your New York driver's license for federal identification purposes such as boarding a commercial aircraft, showing to a U.S.-based employer, or voting in U.S. elections.
As an undocumented person seeking a New York driver's license, you will need to not only meet the same standards as other prospective drivers (for example, understand the state's traffic laws and have adequate vision to drive safely), but also be able to prove your:
You will need to document all these things as part of the application process, described next.
Before applying, you will need to prepare for the required road test and written exams by learning to drive a vehicle and studying the rules of the road; and also will need to gather documents proving your eligibility.
Even if you already know how to drive, it's best practice, and to do so legally. For that, you'll need to get a learner's permit from a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. You might also want to take a state-approved driver education course or pre-licensing course.
Another preparatory step will involve preparing for the written driver's exam, which you can do by reading the New York State Driver's Manual and taking practice tests.
The next step is to gather documents proving all three of the things on the list above: again, including your name, birthday, and residence in New York state. Fortunately, one document can serve more than one function in this situation. Also, you will need to account for whether or not you have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN).
Possible forms of documentation of your name and identity as well as birth date (in some cases) include:
The list of types of documents proving your residence in New York State is much longer (though some of the above items could potentially satisfy it, too). It includes things like utility bills, Social Security statements, postmarked mail, property deeds or lease agreements, and more. See this handy How to Apply pdf issued by the New York DMV for more ideas.
With regard to a Social Security Number, if you don't have a valid one, you can instead submit a Form NSS-1A (Affidavit Stating No Social Security Number). The form is available in various languages on New York's DMV website.
To submit your application, you can either try walking into a state Department of Motor Vehicles office or make an appointment. You'll also need to take the written test at a DMV office, and a vision exam. After that, you can schedule a road test with the DMV.
Your license will look like any other standard license in the state of New York, but will say "NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES" in the upper right-hand corner.
Obviously, applying for a New York State driver's license gives a local government your name and address. Nevertheless, the language of the Green Light Law prohibits using this type of license as evidence of their immigration status.
If there's suspicion that you committed a crime other than unlawful entry to the United States, however, the federal government could potentially obtain a court order, subpoena, or warrant from a judge to access your information. You should therefore consult with an attorney about applying for a standard license if you have a record of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (a DUI) or any other criminal record, have been ordered deported (removed) in the past, or have used false documents to obtain a past drivers' license.
If you are an undocumented person living in New York State and wish to obtain a standard driver's license, check out the Get a driver license page of the New York DMV's website.