Potential CDL drivers coming from U.S. territories have the legal right to apply for a commercial driver’s license and undergo training under federal state of domicile rules. Those rules have been somewhat relaxed for the time being, as a result of the federal government trying to help Puerto Rican drivers looking to relocate to the mainland, get their licenses and get to work.
Relaxation of state of domicile rules is only temporary. It is based on a waiver system that can fast-track relocating Puerto Rican drivers into the workforce. How long the program will last is unclear, but it is still available for now. It involves a 90-day waiver and the issuance of a limited CDL.
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The Normal CDL Process
C.R. England, a nationwide temperature-controlled trucking company that operates its own CDL training schools, says that the normal CDL process is pretty straightforward. U.S. citizens apply with their individual state agencies for CDL learner’s permit prior to beginning CDL training. Successfully completing training results in passing the final CDL test in the issuance of a state license.
Drivers from U.S. territories, because they are U.S. citizens, are eligible for state driving licenses and CDL training. However, they have to prove that the state in which they apply for a learner’s permit and license is the same state in which they reside. Obtaining a CDL under these rules means a permanent license is issued.
The Federal Waiver Program
Federal authorities have instituted a 90-day waiver program for the benefit of Puerto Ricans displaced by last year’s hurricanes Irma and Maria. Because the two hurricanes were so devastating to the island, there has been an influx of people moving to the mainland without the proper documentation to prove Puerto Rican residency. As such, they are also unable to immediately obtain proof of the state of domicile.
Under the federal waiver, a Puerto Rican transplant has 90 days from the time of approval to apply for a CDL learner’s permit and enroll in CDL training. Any driver who takes advantage of the program must undergo training in the same state where the waiver application was submitted. That means a driver applying for the waiver in California must attend CDL training in California.
If a driver does not get a learner’s permit and enroll in CDL training within the 90-day period, the waiver expires and a new application must be filed. Furthermore, any CDL obtained as a result of the waiver process is not permanent. It is only good for six months. In order to renew a CDL beyond that point, a driver is required to provide proper state of domicile documentation.
A Common-Sense Solution
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has enacted a common-sense solution to a very difficult problem for potential CDL drivers looking to relocate to the U.S. from Puerto Rico. As previously stated, there is no word yet as to how long the waiver program will last. But the agency is seeking comments for a possible extension of the program, or even expanding the 90-day limit further.
The waiver is good for both transplanted Puerto Ricans open to become professional drivers and the companies who desperately need to hire them. It may not make a huge dent in the ongoing driver shortage, but every little bit helps. We can only hope that those drivers who do take advantage of the program follow through to establish states of residence backed up by the proper state of domicile documentation. The trucking industry could really use as many of them as are willing to get their licenses.