Immigration Act of 1990

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Immigration Act of 1990
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to change the level, and preference system for admission, of immigrants to the United States, and to provide for administrative naturalization, and for other purposes!
Enacted by the 101st United States Congress
Public law [USCIS Pub.L. 101–649]
Statutes at Large 104 Stat. 4978
Legislative history

The Immigration Act of 1990 (Pub.L. 101–649, 104 Stat. 4978, enacted November 29, 1990) was signed into law by George H. W. Bush on November 29, 1990.[1] It was first introduced by Ted Kennedy in 1989. It was a national reform of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It increased total, overall immigration to allow 700,000 immigrants to come to the U.S. per year for the fiscal years '92–'94, and 675,000 per year after that.[2] It provided family based immigration visa, created five distinct employment based visas, categorized by occupation, as well as the diversity visa program which created a lottery to admit immigrants from "low admittance" countries [3] or countries where their citizenry was underrepresented in the U.S.

Besides these immigrant visas there was also changes in nonimmigrant visas like the H-1B visa for highly skilled workers. There were also cutbacks in the allotment of visas available for extended relatives.[4] The Temporary protected status visa was also created where Congress established a procedure by which the Attorney General may provide TPS to immigrants in the United States who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary condition. It specifically benefited citizens of El Salvador.[2]

Other aspects of the act include lifting the English testing process for naturalization which was imposed in the Naturalization Act of 1906 [5] and eliminating the exclusion of homosexuals under the medically unsound classification of "sexual deviant" that was present in the passage of the 1965 Act.[6] George H. W. Bush is quoted in saying "I am also pleased to note that this Act facilitates immigration not just in numerical terms, but also in terms of basic entry rights of those beyond our borders."[7] The administration, therefore, saw the importance of this amendment in extending a welcoming to those previously excluded nations/individuals.

Family reunification

Family reunification remained a priority as it had been in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This act expanded the number of family-based immigration visas allotted per year to 480,000 but to do this it also made the definition of family more exclusive by limiting it to immediate family members.[4]

Job-based immigration

Job-based immigration was divided amongst five occupational categories in the 1990 Immigration act (in the 1965 act only two existed.[2] The act provided 140,000 visas per year for job based immigration.[4] These categories were:

All have an entry in wikipedia except for the EB 4 visa. This is because this category is a little vague but has to do with religious workers who wish to continue their career in the U.S. The reason for this distinct category is because the other visas require employer contact and labor certification through the U.S. Department of labor, while the religious worker visa applicant is not strictly limited to employer-sponsored entry.[2]

In addition to having to be employer-sponsored, in most cases, the foreigner had to be applying to work in an area of labor shortage in the U.S. and if this was not the case, the employer had to bargain on their behalf and proves that they had exhausted all other domestic recruiting efforts.[2]

Diversity Immigrant Visas

Diversity Immigrant Visa was a new, important facet of the amendment that had never been instituted in national immigration policy before. "Starting in 1991, every year the Attorney General, decides from information gathered over the most recent five year period the regions or country that are considered High Admission or Low Admission States"[8] from this analysis citizens of certain nations are deemed eligible or ineligible to apply for a diversity visa. "A High Admission region or country is one that has had 50,000 immigrants or more acquire a permanent residency visa. The High Admission regions are not given visas under this act in order to promote diversity."[3] Starting in fiscal year 1995, the cap of 55,000 visas were allotted as "diversity" visas. Today it is more around 50,000. Changes have been made to the diversity visa requirements almost every other year (if not more) since 1990 to assess which countries qualify (see Diversity Immigrant Visa). In 1990 the qualifying countries were as follows: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (including Guadeloupe and New Caledonia), Germany, Great Britain and Northern Ireland (including Bermuda and Gibraltar), Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia.[9] There are a number of qualifications to obtaining this visa besides being from one of the qualifying zones. You must:

  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have 2 years work experience and 2 years job training

In addition, the SOS keeps track of age, occupation, education, etc. of all immigrants obtaining this visa. The selection of qualifying applicants is random. Once you are approved and granted a visa, family unification does extend to these visa holders. Children and spouses are eligible for permanent residency. This policy, notably, positively effected displaced Tibetans from 1991–1994 who were given 1,000 visas per year.[3]

Comments from the Bush Administration

George Bush: "S. 358 accomplishes what this Administration sought from the outset of the immigration reform process: a complementary blending of our tradition of family reunification with increased immigration of skilled individuals to meet our economic needs."

"Today I am pleased to sign S. 358, the 'Immigration Act of 1990'—the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws in 66 years."

"Immigration reform began in 1986 with an effort to close the "back door" on illegal immigration through enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Now, as we open the "front door" to increased legal immigration, I am pleased that this Act also provides needed enforcement authority."

"I am also pleased to note that this Act facilitates immigration not just in numerical terms, but also in terms of basic entry rights of those beyond our borders. S. 358 revises the politically related "exclusion grounds" for the first time since their enactment in 1952."[7]

Non-immigrant visas

Controversy over the immigration act of 1990 stemmed mostly from the expansion of the green cards available for foreign laborers while limiting the access to temporary visas such as the H-1B visa for visiting scholars. A bulletin released by the Stanford University News Service in Sept. 1991 claims that "Stanford, and other universities, will have to do more paperwork to hire short-term visiting professors and researchers under the H-1 visa program."[9]

The bill also introduced a cap of 65,000 per year to H-1B and excluded nurses, entertainers, athletes, and artists from qualifying.[2] Another short term visa is "D" category nonimmigrants who work "aboard sea or air carriers or as longshore workers" there were more constraints added to their ability to obtain visas as well.[2]

However, it also created new categories of nonimmigrant visas. The O and P categories were for extraordinarily skilled foreigners in the realm of entertainment, athletics, science, etc. Their admittance depended upon "consultation with the appropriate unions," usually who are asking them to the U.S. and their time allowed here depended on how long the event/activity they were participating in lasted.[2]


After it became law, the United States would admit 700,000 new immigrants annually, up from 500,000 before the bill's passage. The new system continued to favor people with family members that already worked in the United States, but added 50,000 "diversity visas" for countries from which few were emigrating, as well as 40,000 permanent job-related workers and 65,000 temporary worker visas.[10] Additional provisions strengthened the U.S. Border Patrol and altered language regarding disease restrictions in a way that permitted the Secretary of Health and Human Services to remove AIDS from the list of illnesses making a prospective immigrant ineligible to enter the country.[11]

Following the passage of this act, there were more immigrants admitted to the U.S. in this decade than any prior decade in U.S. history with 10–11 million documented entries.[5]

This act also led to the creation of the Jordan Commission or the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. The Commission released 4 reports covering every aspect of U.S. Immigration policy and evaluated its quality and effectiveness, making recommendations based on their findings.[12]

The report concluded with the following statement of principles: "Properly-regulated immigration and immigrant policy serves the national interest by ensuring the entry of those who will contribute most to our society and helping lawful newcomers adjust to life in the United States. It must give due consideration to shifting economic realities. A well-regulated system sets priorities for admission; facilitates nuclear family reunification; gives employers access to a global labor market while protecting U.S. workers; helps to generate jobs and economic growth; and fulfills our commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection of the persecuted."[12]


  1. Stine, Stephen F. (December 7, 1990). "U.S. Companies in Hong Kong Hope Immigration Law Will Reduce Exodus". Wall Street Journal. p. B7D.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Leiden, Warren. "Highlights of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990". Fordham International Law Journal. Retrieved September 30, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Stone, Stephanie. "1190 Immigration and Nationality Act". U.S. Immigration Legislation Online. U.S. Immigration Legislation Online. Retrieved September 30, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "The Immigration Act of 1990". Retrieved September 30, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 "The Immigration Act of 1990". Boundless. Retrieved September 30, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Davis, Tracy. "Opening the Doors of Immigration: Sexual Orientation and Asylum in the United States". Washington College of Law. Retrieved September 29, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved September 29, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 "1990 Immigration law means good news, bad news for international scholars". Stanford University News Service. Retrieved September 30, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Title: Immigration Act of 1990". NumbersUSA. Archived from the original on 20 June 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Preston, Julia (30 October 2009). "Obama Lifts a Ban on Entry Into U.S. by H.I.V.-Positive People". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2015. It was enacted in 1987 at a time of widespread fear that H.I.V. could be transmitted by physical or respiratory contact. The ban was further strengthened by Congress in 1993 as an amendment offered by Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 "The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (1990-1997): "Jordan Commission"". Immigration Policy Center. American Immigration Council. Retrieved January 10, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>