The Georgia General Assembly passed during the 2013 session allowing the commissioner of the Department of Driver Services to form agreements with officials from foreign countries that have business interests in the state.
Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill into law May 1 last year at a Kia plant in West Point.
Officials say Georgia residents will be afforded the same privilege if they apply for driver's licenses in South Korea.
Among other things, the law requires applicants to be in either country legally, have valid licenses of an equal class, and to pass a vision screening.
House Bill 475 will start a reciprocal driver’s license program for legal international citizens, and Senate Bill 122 will allow noncitizens to apply for an extension of their Georgia driver’s licenses within a certain time frame.
“International companies bring in around 20 percent of all new jobs created in Georgia each year,” said Deal. “The reciprocal benefits outlined in HB 475 will benefit the state’s status as a global player and reinforce Georgia’s reputation as a welcoming state.”
The Department of Drivers' Services will oversee the reciprocity program, and the Department of Economic Development will verify that countries considered for the agreement will make, or are likely to make, a substantial economic investment in Georgia. Individuals will only qualify for the program if they have a lawful presence in the state and their home country offers similar opportunities for Georgians with a valid driver’s license.
Once a country qualifies and a program is established at DDS, a citizen of that nation can attain a Georgia driver's license without having to take the required written or driving test. No country can be considered for a reciprocal agreement if it is designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S State Department.
SB 122 will permit noncitizens whose Georgia driver’s license is facing expiration, or has already expired, to request a temporary driving permit or identification card valid for an additional 120 days, given they can remain lawfully within the United States.
“Economic development is based on good relationships, and having these arrangements in place acknowledges our understanding of the challenges that often face international businesses when they come to the United States,” said Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “These new laws will further encourage international businesses to consider Georgia when looking to expand in this country.”
State Rep. B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn, sponsor of the bill cited an example of a military spouse living in Germany who could have to pay a large fee or spend hours of supervised driving without the agreement.
Pak said the bill would not affect “illegal” immigrants, who cannot receive a driver's license without documentation.
He also doesn't expect to see an affect on safety, since foreigners can now drive legally here during a short-term vacation, if the license is in English or they have an international version.
"Traffic laws are uniform no matter where you go," he said of the countries that have sought reciprocity, which include Germany, Canada and South Korea. But he added some countries won't qualify, like the United Kingdom, where people drive on the opposite side of the road.
"There's nothing that shows people driving with an international driver's license are a bigger risk," he said, adding that international driver's licenses have been the law since the 1940s. "I think the fear is overblown."
The reciprocity would be helpful for businesses who send employees to Georgia for short-term assignments but that are longer than the 30-day threshold the state has for obtaining a driver's license.
Exert from a written statement by He-beom Kim, the Korean consul general in Atlanta:
“It is natural that Korea, the seventh-largest trading partner with the U.S., is keeping its eye on Georgia and metro Atlanta as it seeks business and investment opportunities. Korea is the third-largest market of U.S. services in Asia. Korea is also one of the top 10 trading partners for Georgia, with Georgia accounting for nearly 7 percent ($7 billion) of all U.S. trade with Korea.
Our communities working, building and winning together have become a transformative experience for a very sizable portion of the Korean community. As documented through the signing of the reciprocity agreement, if we work together towards our common goals, we will achieve continued growth and job creation. I believe that, as our interdependence grows, it is our obligation to capitalize on the opportunity and harness the potential brought by increased social and economic cooperation.
I believe there is huge potential created by the Reciprocal Driver’s License Agreement. By deepening our ties through continued economic cooperation, the exchange of ideas and cultural understanding, the benefits have the potential to increase exponentially for Georgia and the Republic of Korea.”
English-Only Driver License Bill: Unlawful, Costly and Harmful to Citizens
From the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, Inc. (AALAC)
Policies that seek to eliminate the ability of Georgia citizens and legal permanent residents to take the written portion of the permanent driver license test in a language other than English is unlawful, costly and harmful to citizens. Proponents claim these policies promote public safety on the roads because Limited English Proficient (LEP) people may not be able to read temporary road signs and will cause accidents on the road.
Currently, the Georgia written test is provided in approximately 14 different languages, with Korean, Japanese and Spanish being the top three languages. Approximately 5,000 Georgians take the written test in a non-English language per month. Even though the written test is provided in different languages, everyone that applies for a driver license in Georgia must still pass the road sign test in English, and must demonstrate an ability to read and understand simple English.
English-only driver license bills violate existing law and could rob the state of much needed federal funds. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and a related Executive Order require any agencies that receive federal funding to provide language assistance for significant populations that are Limited English Proficient (LEP). Limiting the permanent driving test to English-only could lead to the loss of critical federal funding needed to operate the Department of Driver Services. It would violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
English-only policies do not promote public safety. Previous English-only driver license bills have included an exception for illiterate persons that cannot read or write in any language, and also provided exceptions for temporary license holders. These persons are also unable or potentially unable to read temporary overhead signs, yet they are allowed to drive on the roads. Moreover, there is no evidence that Limited English Proficient drivers cause a disproportionately higher number of accidents or that they cause accidents because they cannot read overhead road signs. Simply claiming there is a ‘public safety’ problem doesn’t make it true.
Georgia may be the only state to not provide language assistance for permanent driver licenses. Nearly every State in the US provides some type of language assistance to Limited English Proficient persons seeking a driver license. New immigrant citizens aren’t asking for any favors when asking our legislators to follow laws that were established based on a history of discrimination and lack of equal access to government services. For new immigrants to integrate and become vibrant members of our society, we must provide an equal way to get there. Equality and freedom from government oppression was what our country was founded on, and what this policy would not provide.
Georgia can’t afford a reputation for being unfriendly to immigrants. Georgia has one of the fastest growing Asian American populations in the country, and these citizens attract other immigrants and foreign Asian business development to our state. Georgia can’t afford to appear inhospitable and unwelcoming to diverse communities and foreign businesses.
An English-only driver license policy would hurt tens of thousands of Georgia citizens. Approximately 60,000 citizens and residents take the written exam in a language other than English each year in Georgia. If this policy were to pass, it would impact tens of thousands of Georgia citizens from driving to work, driving their children to school, or driving to the hospital or to ESL courses. It would also rob many citizens from one of the most important and common state identification cards that people use to open bank accounts, utility services and other basic services.
To Be or Not To Be Anti-Immigrant
On March 18, 2009, Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), issued the following statement regarding building opposition from the immigrant community against SB67, the English Only for Driver's License Exams Bill:
"GALEO appreciates the Korean American Coalition's opposition to the anti-immigrant and anti-business SB67. Given their ties with the Korean culture and ties with the KIA manufacturing plant in West Georgia, I do believe our Georgia Legislature should move cautiously on initiatives that would hurt Georgia's economic development opportunities. SB67 would erect barriers for foreign nationals wanting to do business in Georgia and also sends a negative message about Georgia's hospitality.
With the recent announcement of Ireland opening a consular office in Atlanta, Georgia appears to be wanting to court foreign business on one hand while also making life in Georgia inhospitable by passing anti- immigrant initiatives. Georgia cannot have it both ways. Either Georgia is serious about attracting foreign investment into our state or Georgia is not.
Georgia's economic recovery will depend upon future investment in our state, both from within the United States and also from abroad. Anti- immigrant initiatives like SB67 would drive business elsewhere. We really do not want to be at a competitive disadvantage because of these anti-immigrant initiatives. For the sake of future economic development, I do hope our Georgia Legislature and Governor Perdue reign in the anti-immigrant sentiment."
Meanwhile, this year Senate Bill 404 would have blocked state driver’s licenses for immigrants who don’t have legal status in the U.S. but who have been granted “deferred action,” or permission (DACA) to legally remain and work here.
The measure did not make it on the Senate’s agenda for Monday, or Crossover day, the deadline for bills to pass in at least one chamber. So SB 404’s chief sponsor – Republican Sen. Bill Heath of Bremen – attempted to attach it to other legislation. But the bill could be introduced again in 2015.
It is believed – especially in counties like Gwinnett more than 30% of residents are Latino and Asian.
Groups seeking English-Only in Georgia are not happy with governor Deal, either.
The state law passed in 1996 makes English the official language in Georgia, according to statements posted in the Internet. “This law is now completely ignored because of the crony-capitalism occurring between elected officials, big businesses and big agriculture wanting cheap labor in Georgia. A mirror image of what is going in DC.
Governor Nathan Deal needs to make the Georgia legislature create a ballot initiative that amends the Georgia Constitution to have English as a second language. Polling shows that this ballot measure who be overwhelmingly popular in Georgia and would pass by a landslide. Georgia Republicans refuse to put such an initiative on the ballot because of their unholy alliances. Governor Nathan Deal is suppressing the will of the people.”
Will Not Include Motorcycle Licenses in South Carolina
In the same token the agreement will allow South Carolina residents with a Republic of Korea driver’s license to forgo written and driving tests to receive a Palmetto State driver’s license. South Carolina drivers also will be able to exchange their state licenses with those issued by the Republic of Korea.
The identification requirements will be the same as those required for anyone seeking a driver’s license in South Carolina. The reciprocity agreement applies only to noncommercial licenses and will not include motorcycle licenses.
The Republic of Korea joins France and Germany, which have reciprocity agreements with South Carolina.
Members of a Korean Church during an event in Augusta, Georgia.
—> Edited by Anibal Ibarra