New opportunities have opened for the estimated 80,000 immigrants in Minnesota who have been barred from obtaining driver's licenses for more than 20 years.

Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill into law at the Minnesota National Guard Armory in St. Paul on Tuesday that will allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

Now, advocates say, more people will be able to reliably commute to work and school with driver's licenses, which can translate to better pay to support families. They will legally be able to drive for errands and events, such as taking their child to a friend's birthday party, something many people take for granted that was out of reach for some families, Walz said.

"In this country and in Minnesota, possessing a driver's license is in many ways a necessity. Public transportation doesn't exist, especially in large parts of rural Minnesota," Walz said.

The law restores license requirements to pre-2003 rules, when access to a driver's license did not hinge on immigration status. It will go into effect Oct. 1.

Walz told the crowd gathered for the signing that the old law, which changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, did not improve public safety for Minnesotans but certainly caused harm.

"I feel incredibly proud of Minnesota," Walz said.

Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega was in high school when the law changed in 2003. She said she spent all morning on the phone with friends who can't believe they will be able to walk in and become licensed like anyone else.

Minnesota joins 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico where residents can access driver's licenses regardless of immigration status. In Minnesota licenses can be used for driving and identification purposes. The new law will allow previously unlicensed drivers to become insured, and studies have shown licenses improve road safety.

Like all drivers, unauthorized immigrants will need to pass written and road tests to get a driver's license. Applicants will be required to attest to their address in Minnesota and provide documents such as an unexpired foreign passport, a consular identification document with a photograph or a certified birth certificate issued by a foreign jurisdiction, among other documents.

Opponents argued the bill would open an avenue to voter fraud and illegal immigration to Minnesota. Under the law, licenses can be used for driving and identification purposes but not to vote or to obtain a REAL ID, authors have pointed out.

Senate bill chief sponsor Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, said in an interview that the passage of the law was encouraging but frustrating for those who believe the law should have been changed years ago.

For Linda Perez, an Apple Valley unauthorized driver who had to worry about getting her children to and from school and doctor's appointments, the news of the bill's passage was a relief.

"I feel excited," Perez said "And not just for me, but for my kids too."

The Driver and Vehicle Services Division of the Department of Public Safety wants new applicants to start preparing to pass their written test and practice their skills with a permit, said director Pong Xiong. The department is preparing information to build trust and inform the community about the process, he said.

"We recognize that as exciting as all this work is, we know that at DVS we are a part of government and sometimes that's a scary thing to interact with us," Xiong said. "We really want to break down those barriers and create a welcoming environment."

The passage of the bill approved funding for DVS to hire 18 additional employees to meet the anticipated demand, he said.