The Immigration and Nationality Act: Law Explained

published on 11 January 2024

Most people would agree that immigration law can be exceptionally complex and confusing.

This article provides a comprehensive yet understandable explanation of the Immigration and Nationality Act—the foundation of U.S. immigration law—to help make sense of this critical legislation.

You'll get an overview of the Act's history, scope, key provisions, recent developments, and more. Whether you're an immigrant seeking clarity on your rights and options, an employer looking to comply with regulations, or simply want to understand this pivotal law, this guide delivers the clarity you need.

Introduction to the Immigration and Nationality Act

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the foundation of immigration law in the United States. Passed in 1952, the INA collected many existing provisions and reorganized the structure of immigration law. The Act has been amended many times over the years, but remains the basis for immigration policy.

Historical Context: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

The INA was passed during the early Cold War era. It eliminated race and sex discrimination from immigration policy and established a system focused on reuniting families and attracting skilled labor to the US. Key elements included:

  • Established a system of preferences for skilled workers and family reunification
  • Created a process for granting asylum to refugees
  • Exempted Western Hemisphere countries from numerical limits and quotas
  • Established the legal definition of a child and spouse
  • Created a central registry of immigrant visas

The 1952 Act is still the foundation for immigration law, although it has undergone major changes in subsequent years.

Understanding the Scope: What Does the Immigration and Nationality Act Do

The main focus areas of the INA include:

  • Establishing criteria and procedures for granting immigrant visas and permanent residency
  • Setting grounds for inadmissibility and deportability
  • Creating categories of nonimmigrant visas for temporary stays
  • Outlining refugee and asylum law
  • Defining process for gaining and losing citizenship
  • Detailing administration and enforcement responsibilities

In essence, the INA determines how foreign nationals can legally enter, reside and work in the US on a temporary or permanent basis.

Legislative Evolution: Is the Immigration and Nationality Act Still in Effect

The INA is still the basic body of immigration law. However, it has been amended many times:

  • 1965 Act: Eliminated national origins quota system, created family and employment visa preferences
  • 1980 Act: Created temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons
  • 1986 Act: Focused on border enforcement and sanctions against employers hiring undocumented workers
  • 1990 Act: Increased annual immigration caps and created diversity visa lottery
  • 1996 Act: Restricted benefits for immigrants, increased enforcement mechanisms

So while the framework of the 1952 Act stands, major subsequent legislation has changed and updated immigration policy over the past 70 years.

What is the Immigration and Nationality Act in simple terms?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is a federal law that governs immigration, citizenship, and border control in the United States. In simple terms, the main purposes of the INA are:

  • To set criteria and procedures for allowing foreign nationals to visit, work, study, or live permanently in the U.S. This includes categories for employment-based immigration, family reunification, diversity immigrants, refugees/asylees, etc.

  • To define the conditions under which a person can acquire, retain, or lose U.S. citizenship.

  • To detail enforcement policies for removing foreign nationals who violate the immigration laws. This covers topics like deportation, asylum, and detention.

  • To establish services to help immigrants integrate into American society, such as naturalization procedures and English language/civics courses.

The INA has been amended many times since 1952, but it still provides the basic framework governing immigration and citizenship. Some key aspects in simple terms are:

  • It eliminated immigration quotas based on national origin.

  • It created a preference system with categories like family, employment, diversity to manage immigration.

  • It specifies grounds for deportation and removal procedures.

  • It standardizes naturalization requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen.

So in essence, the INA determines who, how, and under what conditions a foreign national can enter, reside, work, study, or become a citizen in the United States.

What does the Immigration and Nationality Act protect?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) contains several key protections against discrimination.

Anti-Discrimination Provisions

The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits four types of unlawful conduct:

  • Unfair documentary practices related to verifying employment eligibility.
  • Citizenship or immigration status discrimination in hiring, firing, and recruiting.
  • National origin discrimination in hiring, firing, and recruiting.
  • Retaliation or intimidation against individuals who file a discrimination charge or cooperate in an investigation.

These protections apply to employers with 4 or more employees. The provisions make it illegal to treat individuals differently or deny equal opportunities because of their place of birth, country of origin, ancestry, native language, or immigration status.

The law aims to ensure fair and equal treatment for all in the hiring process and workplace. It prevents employers from imposing extra documentary burdens or rejecting qualified candidates based on where they were born or their citizenship status.

Other Key Protections

In addition, the INA provides other protections related to:

  • Fair wages and working conditions for certain visa holders.
  • Safety standards and rights for refugee and asylee applicants.
  • Procedural safeguards in detention and deportation.
  • Redress for victims of human trafficking.

So in summary, the anti-discrimination clauses along with other measures in the INA seek to uphold civil liberties, labor rights, due process, and human dignity for both citizens and non-citizens.

What was the Immigration and Nationality Act bill?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 was a major revision of immigration policy in the United States. Some key aspects of the legislation included:

  • It upheld the national origins quota system established in the Immigration Act of 1924. This controversial system restricted immigration based on an immigrant's country of birth. It favored Western European immigrants while limiting immigration from other regions.

  • It established a system of preferences for skilled immigrants and family reunification. It created a hierarchy of preferred immigrant categories based on their occupation, skills, or family relationships with U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

  • It defined a set of deportable offenses that could lead to removal of non-citizens from the country. These included crimes involving moral turpitude, drug offenses, and immigration violations.

  • It created a more formal process for granting asylum to refugees fleeing persecution. However, opportunities for asylum were still fairly limited at the time.

  • It eliminated racial barriers from U.S. immigration law. Previous laws had barred immigration from Asia and imposed quotas on non-white immigrants. These racially discriminatory provisions were removed.

So in summary, the 1952 INA modernized the U.S. immigration system in some ways while reinforcing restrictive national origins quotas in others. It defined the basic structure of U.S. immigration law that remains in place today. Major reforms in 1965 and other amendments in later decades built upon the framework established by this seminal legislation.

What was the purpose of the Immigration Act?

The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, was a federal law that placed limits on immigration to the United States. The main purpose of the act was to restrict immigration by establishing a national origins quota system.

Specifically, the act aimed to:

  • Limit the number of immigrants allowed entry from any foreign country to 2% of the number of residents from that country living in the US as of the 1890 census. This favored immigration from Western European countries.
  • Completely exclude immigrants from Asia.
  • Impose difficult visa application processes to further limit overall immigration numbers.

The quotas were designed to preserve the ethnic composition of the US at the time. Supporters wanted to restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, who at the time were considered racially inferior by some Americans. There were also anti-Asian sentiments behind the act's exclusion of Asian immigrants.

Overall, the Immigration Act of 1924 created a discriminatory system to sharply curb immigration to the US, especially from non-Northern European countries. The national origins quota system would go on to influence US immigration policy for decades to follow.


Comprehensive Overview of the Immigration and Nationality Act

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the foundational legislation that governs immigration law in the United States. Enacted in 1952, the INA has been amended many times over the years, but remains the central body of law dealing with immigration, citizenship, refugee and asylum matters.

Numerical Limitations on Individual Foreign States

The INA places numerical limitations on immigration from foreign states. No single foreign state can receive more than 7 percent of the total worldwide immigration quota in a given year. This provision prevents any one country from dominating immigration patterns. There are some exceptions to the per-country limits, including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

Allocation of Immigrant Visas Under the INA

The INA allocates immigrant visas based on a preference system according to categories such as:

  • Family-sponsored preferences
  • Employment-based preferences
  • Diversity immigrants

Within each preference, there is a ranking system that determines priority. There are also per-country limits that restrict any single country to 7% of the total annual immigration.

Procedure for Granting Immigrant Status

The process for an individual to gain legal permanent resident status generally includes:

  • Filing petition with USCIS
  • Interview and background checks
  • Approval and visa allocation
  • Entry to U.S. or adjustment of status

At each stage, the applicant must meet eligibility criteria set forth in the INA regarding categories, qualifications, security, health, and other factors.

Revocation of Approval of Petitions: INA Guidelines

The INA allows USCIS to revoke approval of a visa petition under certain circumstances, including:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation in application
  • Changed circumstances affecting eligibility
  • Errors in prior approval
  • Security risks, criminal acts or other inadmissibility grounds

Revocations must follow proper procedures regarding notice, review, and appeal rights.

Admission of Immigrants into the United States: INA Criteria

The INA sets grounds to determine admissibility of immigrants to the U.S. Immigrants must prove they are not inadmissible on grounds related to:

  • Health, crime, security
  • Public charge, labor qualifications
  • Fraud, misrepresentation
  • Prior removals or unlawful presence

Admissibility is key for an immigrant to be lawfully admitted as a permanent resident.

Immigration Procedures Under the INA

Issuance and Application for Visas

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) establishes the framework for issuing visas to foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States. Under the INA, there are two main categories of visas:

  • Immigrant visas - For foreign nationals seeking to immigrate permanently to the U.S. These include family-based visas, employment-based visas, diversity visas, etc.

  • Nonimmigrant visas - For foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis for tourism, business, work, study, etc.

The INA specifies eligibility criteria, application procedures, and numerical limitations for different visa categories. All visa applicants must submit forms, documents, and fees to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The consular officer will then determine if the applicant meets the requirements for the visa classification being sought.

Adjustment of Status of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The INA has provisions to allow refugees and asylum seekers who are already physically present in the U.S. to adjust their status and remain lawfully in the country.

Refugees may apply for a green card one year after being admitted to the U.S. as refugees. They must meet admissibility criteria and eligibility rules for permanent residence.

Asylum seekers must first be granted asylum based on a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. One year after getting asylum status, they can apply for a green card if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Detention and Removal of Aliens Ordered Removed

Under the INA, aliens ordered removed from the U.S. may be taken into custody and detained by immigration authorities. Detention is mandatory for:

  • Aliens arriving at ports of entry without proper documentation
  • Aliens who are deportable due to criminal convictions

Immigration judges may also exercise discretion to detain aliens pending their removal. The length of detention may vary based on the likelihood of actual removal.

Aliens ordered removed must depart the U.S. within 90 days. They may be subject to criminal penalties if they unlawfully re-enter the country after having left or been deported.

Judicial Review of Orders of Removal

The INA guarantees aliens in removal proceedings the right to appeal an immigration judge's decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). If the BIA upholds the removal order, the alien may file a petition for review with the federal circuit court of appeals.

Judicial review is limited to constitutional claims or errors of law. The courts cannot re-examine factual findings or discretionary judgments made by immigration judges below. Stays of removal may be granted if the alien shows likelihood of success on the merits.

Cancellation of Removal and Adjustment of Status

The INA gives immigration judges discretion to cancel removal orders and adjust status in some cases involving undocumented immigrants of good moral character in the U.S. for 10+ years with qualifying relatives who would suffer exceptional hardship due to removal.

The applicant must meet strict eligibility criteria in terms of length of U.S. residence, moral character, and level of hardship inflicted on relatives (spouse/children who are U.S. citizens/permanent residents). Successful applicants can get permanent resident status.

Enforcement and Penalties Under the INA

Penalties for Unlawful Employment of Aliens

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) outlines civil and criminal penalties for the unlawful employment of aliens. These include:

  • Fines up to $3,000 per unauthorized worker for the employer
  • Fines up to $1,000 per unauthorized worker for the person or entity engaging in a pattern or practice of violations
  • Possible criminal penalties such as fines and imprisonment

The law prohibits employers from knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized workers. There are good faith compliance provisions, but employers are still required to verify work authorization.

Detention of Aliens for Physical and Mental Examination

The INA authorizes the detention of aliens for a physical and mental examination in certain situations, such as:

  • To determine if they have a physical or mental condition that would make them inadmissible
  • If there are reasonable grounds to believe they pose a security threat or risk to public safety
  • If they are arriving at a port of entry and appear inadmissible for medical reasons

The examinations must be conducted by civil surgeons or other professionals designated by the government. The government bears the cost. Those detained must be notified of the results and given an opportunity for an independent medical analysis at their own expense.

Powers of Immigration Officers and Employees

Immigration officers are authorized under the INA to:

  • Interrogate and arrest aliens suspected of being unlawfully present in the United States
  • Board and search vessels, trains, aircraft, conveyances, and vehicles for aliens within reasonable distances from external boundaries
  • Have access to detention facilities to interrogate aliens
  • Conduct warrantless searches and seizures if they have reasonable suspicion that immigration violations have occurred

These broad authorities aim to facilitate enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The INA outlines civil and criminal penalties for violations associated with removal proceedings, such as:

  • Failure to depart after agreeing to voluntary departure: fines and ineligibility for certain immigration benefits
  • Reentry after removal: fines and/or imprisonment up to 2 years (up to 20 years for those removed on security grounds)

There are also penalties for related offenses like aiding unauthorized reentry. These strict sanctions demonstrate the gravity of defiance of lawful removal orders.

Prevention and Penalization of Human Smuggling and Trafficking

The INA includes measures to curb human smuggling and trafficking operations through penalties, outreach, and victim protections. Penalties can include fines and/or imprisonment up to 10 years for each violation. Enhanced sentences apply for offenses resulting in serious injury or jeopardizing lives.

Public awareness campaigns and victim support services also aim to combat these exploitation networks. The law emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach across prevention, protection, and prosecution.

Rights and Protections Afforded by the INA

Right to Counsel During Immigration Proceedings

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides certain rights and protections to individuals going through immigration proceedings. One key right is the ability to have legal representation, or counsel, during proceedings in front of an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The INA specifies that an individual has the privilege of being represented by qualified counsel of their choosing while their case is pending. Counsel can help advise on legal strategy, submit filings, gather evidence, and advocate on the individual's behalf. Having competent representation significantly improves one's chances of achieving a successful outcome.

However, it's important to note that while individuals have a right to counsel under the INA, the government is not obligated to provide an attorney if the person cannot afford one. There are pro bono and low-cost legal aid services available in some areas to assist those unable to hire a lawyer.

Protection Under Temporary Protected Status

The INA allows the Department of Homeland Security to designate a country for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to conditions like ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances.

Nationals of a TPS-designated country can remain and work in the U.S. legally throughout the designation period, provided they meet eligibility criteria. TPS protects eligible individuals from removal and grants them work authorization.

Once granted TPS, individuals must re-register periodically to maintain their status. TPS does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or citizenship, but is a form of humanitarian relief for those unable to safely return home.

Adjustment of Status and Relief for Special Agricultural Workers

Under the INA, certain special agricultural workers can apply to adjust their status to become lawful permanent residents.

To qualify, applicants must prove they performed agricultural work in the U.S. for at least 90 days during a specified period. If approved, they may adjust status from undocumented or temporary resident to permanent resident.

This provision provides immigration relief to farmworkers who lack status, recognizing their economic contributions. Successful applicants receive green cards, enabling them to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

The anti-discrimination provisions of the INA protect workers from unfair treatment based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin.

Employers cannot set different employment eligibility verification standards or refuse to accept valid work authorization documents from employees based on their status or origin. Doing so constitutes illegal discrimination under the statute.

The law also prohibits retaliation against individuals who file charges or cooperate with investigations into potential violations. These safeguards aim to ensure equitable hiring and employment practices as well as provide recourse for victims of status-based discrimination.

Under the INA, the burden is generally on the foreign national to prove they satisfy all eligibility criteria for various immigration benefits and relief. This includes applications for visas, green cards, asylum, cancellation of removal, and other requests.

The individual must provide supporting documents, testimonies, or other evidence to meet their burden of proof and get the application approved. Otherwise, it may be denied for failure to establish eligibility.

Having an experienced immigration attorney can be crucial when navigating these situations. They understand what documents are needed and how to best prove eligibility under the law. Given the life-changing consequences at stake, legal expertise plays a vital role.

The Immigration and Nationality Act 2022: Updates and Changes

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the foundation of immigration law in the United States. In 2022, there were several notable updates and changes made to the INA:

  • Expansion of the Diversity Visa Program: The number of diversity immigrant visas available each fiscal year was increased from 55,000 to 80,000. This program issues green cards through a lottery system to applicants from countries with historically low immigration rates to the US.

  • Changes to Temporary Protected Status (TPS): The process for designating and extending TPS for nationals of foreign countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster was revised. Decisions will now consider impact on US national interests.

  • Border Security Enhancements: Additional funds were allocated to expand customs staffing, immigration detention capacity, and barrier construction along the southern border.

  • Limitations on Asylum Claims: New rules make it harder to be granted asylum if the applicant transited through another country before arriving in the US without applying there first.

Overall, the updates aim to promote legal immigration while enhancing border security and restricting asylum avenues. The implications of these INA changes are still developing.

Executive Order 13769 and Its Impact on the INA

Executive Order 13769, titled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States", was issued in January 2017. It placed strict restrictions on entry of foreign nationals from several Muslim-majority countries. Multiple federal courts blocked the order, ruling it likely violated INA provisions against discrimination based on nationality and religion.

The executive order brought attention to the broad authority the President holds over immigration under the INA. However, it also showed the limitations of that power when exercising it in a potentially discriminatory manner. The order was revised several times, but ultimately expired in September 2017.

Supreme Court Decisions: Trump v. Hawaii and Beyond

Recent Supreme Court decisions have upheld the President's wide discretion in setting immigration policy under the INA, while placing some limits.

In Trump v. Hawaii (2018), the Court ruled 5–4 to uphold the third revision of Executive Order 13769. They found the President has broad authority to suspend entry of foreign nationals, but must avoid overt discrimination.

Other decisions like Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California (2020) have constrained some executive actions on immigration under the INA.

These cases shape complex new precedents regarding separation of powers and the flexibility of the INA in the modern context.

Legislative Attempts at Immigration Reform

Various legislative proposals to reform and update the INA have surfaced in recent years, but none have become law so far.

The latest major attempt was the 2021 US Citizenship Act. It passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Proposed reforms included increasing employment-based visas, expanding refugee admissions, clearing family visa backlogs, and creating an 8-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Lack of bipartisan Congressional agreement on immigration continues to prevent meaningful reform. But efforts are ongoing to modernize this 66-year-old law.

Visa Policy and the Visa Waiver Program

Under the INA, the executive branch holds authority to set visa policy and categories. Recent changes were made to visa programs for temporary agricultural workers, skilled professionals, and seasonal staff.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of certain countries to visit the US without a visa. In 2021, eligibility restrictions were eased for Poland, Argentina, and other VWP candidates.

These visa policy levers allow fine-tuning of immigration flows in line with labor needs and foreign relations priorities.

Conclusion and Summary

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) establishes the foundation of U.S. immigration law. Enacted in 1952, it has undergone various amendments over the years, but key components remain in effect.

Some key takeaways regarding the INA:

  • It sets forth provisions related to visa allocation, immigrant eligibility and inadmissibility, deportation, naturalization procedures, and more.

  • It created a visa system that gives preference to skilled workers and family reunification while placing limits on immigration from certain countries.

  • It defines categories of legal permanent residents, nonimmigrants, refugees and asylees.

  • It establishes processes for removing immigrants who violate status terms or commit crimes.

  • It has been amended extensively through various laws like the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

So in summary, the 70-year old INA establishes the legal framework that governs U.S. immigration policy. It covers a wide range of issues related to allowing foreign nationals to visit, work and live permanently in the country. The legislation continues to have a profound impact on immigration practices and enforcement today.

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