The Immigration Act of 1990 marked a pivotal moment in U.S. immigration policy, ushering in significant changes that shaped the demographic landscape of the nation. In this article, you will know what the Immigration Act of 1990 is, its consequences, changes made for Family-Based Immigration Visas and Employment-Based Immigrants, as well as the provisions of the act.

What is the Immigration Act of 1990?

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the limit for legal immigration to the United States, overhauled criteria for exclusion and deportation, granted temporary protected status to nationals from specified countries, introduced new nonimmigrant admission categories, extended the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, and modified naturalization authority and prerequisites.

What are the results of the 1990 Immigration Act?

The Immigration Act of 1990 amended the regulations governing family immigration, business immigration, naturalization, and deportation. The following are the results of the act.

  • The Immigration Act of 1990 facilitated the immigration of 20 million immigrants over the next two decades, the most in any two-decade period since the nation’s founding. Asylum applicants might remain in the United States until their home countries’ situations improve.
  • The 1990 Act established a new cap on worldwide immigration (originally set at 700,000 visas) that for the first time included immediate family members of US citizens.
  • The act’s employment-based immigration changes established worker categories: “priority employees” comprised “aliens with outstanding abilities,” professors and researchers, and some multinational CEOs. A second tier was comprised of professionals with advanced degrees and individuals of “special talent,” while the lowest level was comprised of skilled laborers. Additionally, categories were formed for certain types of immigrants, such as religious workers and certain investors.
  • The act prioritized “diversity” immigration by allocating visas to workers from nations harmed by the 1965 Act’s quotas. A separate Diversity Immigrant Visa Program provides cards to nations with low volumes of immigration to the United States in the preceding five years.
  • To address the plight of immigrants who are unable to return to their countries of origin due to conflict or natural disaster, the 1990 Act also established the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, which first benefited natives of El Salvador. Additionally, the Act eliminated the English language requirement for citizenship for individuals over the age of 55 who had been lawful permanent residents of the United States for at least 15 years.
  • The Immigration Act of 1990 resulted in an increase in immigration – between 1990 and 2000, the foreign-born population proportion in the United States increased from 7.9 percent to 11.1 percent — the greatest rise in a single decade since 1860.

What are the changes made for Family-Based Immigration Visas under the 1990 Immigration Act?

The emphasis on family reunification persisted, consistent with the principles set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Under the 1990 Act, the allocation of family-based immigration visas increased to 480,000 annually. However, the definition of family was refined to include only immediate family members (spouses, minor children, and parents), making it more exclusive.

What are the changes made for Employment-Based Immigrants under the Immigration Act of 1990?

The Immigration Act of 1990 annually designates specific visa numbers for employment-based immigrants, distributed among various categories based on certain criteria. These categories include the following.

  • Priority workers (individuals with extraordinary ability, outstanding researchers and professors, or certain multinational managers and executives)
  • Members of professions holding advanced degrees or those with exceptional ability (both requiring labor certification)
  • Skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience, professionals with baccalaureate degrees, or a limited number of unskilled shortage workers (each requiring labor certification)
  • Certain special immigrants, with no more than half allotted for religious workers
  • Employment creation investors who invest specified minimum amounts (adjusted for rural areas, high unemployment areas, and high employment areas). These investors must create a minimum specified number of new jobs. Entrepreneurs and their spouses and children are admitted on a two-year conditional basis, with measures in place to prevent immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud.

How many occupational categories are there under Employment-based immigration in the 1990 Immigration Act?

The 1990 Immigration Act introduced a more nuanced structure for employment-based immigration, expanding to five distinct occupational categories. This legislation allocated 140,000 visas annually for job-based immigration, distributed across the following categories.

  • EB-1 visa – an employment-based visa available to non-US citizens with extraordinary ability, outstanding researchers and professors, and multinational executives or managers. It allows foreign nationals to live and work in the US permanently.
  • EB-2 visa – an employment-based visa available to non-US citizens who have an advanced degree or exceptional ability. EB-2 visa holders are considered lawful permanent residents of the United States.
  • EB-3 visa – this visa is intended for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers. These are prospective immigrants who do not qualify for EB-1 or EB-2 visas.
  • EB-4 visa – meant for immigrants who are members of non-profit religious denominations in the United States.
  • EB-5 visa – grants permanent resident status to investors who meet certain criteria. With this type of visa, an applicant’s spouse and unmarried children below 21 may receive a green card.

What is the Diversity Immigrant Visa?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, commonly referred to as the green card lottery, is a lottery initiative by the United States government offering a chance to obtain a United States Permanent Resident Card.

Administered by the Department of State under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the program allocates 55,000 immigrant visas each year with the goal of diversifying the U.S. immigrant population. It achieves this by selecting applicants from countries with lower numbers of immigrants in the preceding five years.

What are the provisions of the 1990 Immigration Act?

The Immigration Act of 1990 upheld the priority of family reunification in immigration while placing added emphasis on employment-related immigration and introducing a category for immigrants from countries underrepresented in the immigrant population. The following are the specific provisions of the Act.

  • Raised the annual immigration cap from 270,000 to 675,000, with a higher limit of 700,000 for the first three years post-enactment. The per-country immigrant visa cap was increased to 25,600 from 20,000.
  • Established an annual minimum of 226,000 and a maximum determined by a formula (typically ranging from 421,000 to 675,000) for family-sponsored visas.
  • Introduced the diversity immigrant category for immigrants from underrepresented countries (those with fewer than 50,000 immigrant admissions over the preceding five years). Since fiscal year 1995, this category, later named the Diversity Immigrant Visa category, has been allocated 55,000 visas annually.
  • Granted Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorians fleeing violence in the Salvadoran Civil War.
  • Provided for the recruitment of an additional 1,000 US Border Patrol agents, increased penalties for immigration law violations, and expedited deportation proceedings.
  • Amended the “medical exclusion” provisions of the Immigration and National Act, eliminating text that allowed agents to exclude “suspected homosexuals.” It also removed language related to psychopathic personality and mental defects that had been historically used to exclude suspected homosexuals.
  • Extended the visa waiver program, allowing immigrants without a visa to enter the country.
  • Upheld workers’ rights for aliens engaged in “longshore work,” prohibiting the coercion of immigrants into manual labor, such as loading and unloading cargo, in exchange for entry into the U.S.
  • Introduced new professions that immigrants could qualify for to acquire a work visa, including athletes, entertainers, and individuals with religious occupations. These provisions ultimately facilitated the legal entry of more immigrants into the U.S.

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