Timeline of immigrant processing and visa policy in the United States

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This page provides a timeline of key events related to immigrant processing and visa policy of the United States. It focuses on laws, policies, and programs affecting pathways for authorized entry to the United States and long-term immigrant and non-immigrant statuses. It is complementary to the timeline of immigration enforcement in the United States.

The programs discussed here mostly come under the purview of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations, and the U.S. Department of State agencies such as the Bureau of Consular Affairs. For the most part, it does not deal with programs under the purview of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the United States Border Patrol. There are some exceptions (such as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, that is under the purview of ICE).

Full timeline

Year Month and date (if available) Event type Affected agencies (past, and present equivalents) Details
1790 Legislation Executive branch The Naturalization Act of 1790 is passed, specifying the rules for granting citizenship in the United States. Citizenship is limited to free white persons of good character.
1798 Legislation Executive branch The Alien and Sedition Acts (a total of four bills) are passed by the 5th United States Congress (that is Federalist-dominated) and signed into law by President John Adams.
1868 July 28 Treaty or trade agreement Terms for what would later be known as the Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China are finalized. The treaty would be ratified by China in 1869. The Treaty grants most-favored-nation status to China, and allows free movement of people between the countries, but withholding the privilege of naturalization.
1870 July 14 Legislation Executive branch The Naturalization Act of 1870 is signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant after passing both chambers of the 41st United States Congress. The Act extends the naturalization process to persons of African nativity and to persons of African descent (going beyond the Naturalization Act of 1790 that was limited to free white persons) while still excluding the Chinese and others.
1875 Legislation Executive branch The Page Act of 1875, the first United States federal restriction on immigration, passes.
1881 October 5 Treaty or trade agreement Executive branch The Angell Treaty of 1880 is ratified. This modifies the previous Burlingame Treaty of 1868 between the United States and China, by temporarily suspending the migration of laborers (skilled and unskilled) from China.
1882 May 6 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Chinese Exclusion Act is signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur after passing both chambers of the 47th United States Congress. This extends the suspension of Chinese migration started by the Angell treaty.
1882 August 3 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1882 is signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur after passing both chambers of the 47th United States Congress. The Act mostly focuses on immigration enforcement but also creates new policies around excludable classes of immigrants.
1888 Legislation Executive branch The Scott Act is passed, after the failure of negotiations for the Bayard-Zhang Treaty. The Act applies the same criteria to re-entry of Chinese into the United States as were applied to initial entry by the Chinese Exclusion Act.
1889 Court case Chae Chan Ping v. United States is decided by the United States Supreme Court against the petitioner. The case upholds the Scott Act and is one of the first of numerous court cases related to immigration policy and enforcement where the court rules in favor of the government.
1891 March 3 Legislation Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1891 is signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison, after being passed by the 51st United States Congress. The Act expands the categories of excludable migrants, provides for more enforcement at land and sea borders, and adds authority to deport and penalties for people aiding and abetting migration.[1][2][3][4] It also creates an Office of Superintendent of Immigration, and places it under the Department of the Treasury.[5]
1895 Organizational restructuring Bureau of Immigration; modern equivalents are USCIS and CBP The Office of Superintendent of Immigration is upgraded to the Bureau of Immigration.[5]
1903 March 3 Legislation Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1903, also known as the Anarchist Exclusion Act, is signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, after passing the 57th United States Congress. The Act codifies existing immigration law and also provides more grounds for excluding suspected anarchists. It has little practical effect.
1903 Organizational restructuring Bureau of Immigration; modern equivalents are USCIS and CBP The Bureau of Immigration is transferred to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.[5]
1906 Organizational restructuring Bureaur of Immigration and Naturalization; modern equivalents are USCIS and CBP The Federal Naturalization Service is created, as the setting of policies for naturalization as well as the act of naturalization is now a federal responsibility. The Bureau of Immigration becomes the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.[5]
1907 February 20 Legislation Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1907 is signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, after passing the 59th United States Congress. The Act provides more grounds for excluding immigrants.
1907 February Commission United States Congress The United States Congress Joint Immigration Commission is formed by the United States Congress, to study the origin and consequences of recent immigration to the United States. It is known as the Dillingham Commission after its chairman, Republican Senator William P. Dillingham. The Commission completes its work in 1911, producing a 41-volume report. It would be influential in shaping the Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924, and in particular, the National Origins Formula.[6]
1913 Organizational restructuring Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Naturalization; modern equivalents USCIS and CBP The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization is split into the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization, and both are placed under the United States Department of Labor.[5]
1918 Legislation Executive branch A wartime requirement that visas are required for foreigners to enter the United States is made permanent.[7] (not clear which legislation made this permanent?)
1918 October 16 Legislation Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1918, also known as the Alien Anarchists Exclusion Act of 1918, is signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson after passing the 65th United States Congress.
1921 May 19 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, the Per Centum Law, and the Johnson Quota Act, is signed into law by President Warren G. Harding after passing both chambers of the 67th United States Congress. It significantly reduces immigration quotas from countries around the world to 3% of the population of the country already present in the United States (this formula would later be called the National Origins Formula).
1924 May 24 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Immigration Act of 1924, also called the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act, is signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge after passing both chambers of the 68th United States Congress. This updates the National Origins Formula to reduce the percentage to 2%.
1924 Organizational restructuring United States Border Patrol The United States Border Patrol is created within the Bureau of Immigration.[5]
1933 Organizational restructuring Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); modern equivalents are USCIS and CBP (and also ICE, though most ICE functions do not exist at the time) The Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Naturalization merge into the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).[5]
1940 Organizational restructuring Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); modern equivalents are USCIS and CBP (and also ICE, though most ICE functions do not exist at the time) The Immigration and Naturalization Service is transferred from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice (DOJ), where it would stay for the rest of its life (till early 2003).[5]
1943 Legislation Executive branch The Magnuson Act becomes law. The Act repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act, but in practice immigration from China is still significantly restricted, as a quota of 105 annual Chinese immigrants is calculated through (flawed) use of the National Origins Formula of the Immigration Act of 1924.
1952 June 27 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 becomes law after both chambers of the 82nd United States Congress vote to override the veto of President Harry S. Truman. This is the first of two big overhauls of the immigration system (the second being in 1965). Subsequent legislations would often be framed in terms of modifications to this legislation.
1952 Organizational restructuring U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs; current equivalent: Bureau of Consular Affairs This also leads to the creation of the Bureau of Inspection, Security and Consular Affairs, which is responsible for issuing visas at foreign consulates to people who want to enter the United States. In 1954, the Bureau is renamed the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs.
1961 September 21 Legislation U.S. Department of State The Fulbright–Hays Act of 1961, also known as the Mutual Exchange and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (MECEA), is signed into law by President John F. Kennedy after passing both chambers of the United States Congress. The Act encourages mutual education and cultural exchange between the United States and other countries, and in particular, leads to the creation of the J visa category.[8]
1965 October 3 Legislation (landmark) Executive branch The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart–Celler Act for its co-sponsors, is signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson after passing both chambers of the 89th United States Congress. The Act would go into effect on June 30, 1968. As of 2017, it is the most recent radical overhaul of the immigration system in the United States.
1970 Legislation Immigration and Naturalization Services, U.S. Department of State The L visa is created by a 1970 Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act.[9][10]
1976 October 20 Legislation Immigration and Naturalization Services The Eilberg Amendment, sponsored by Joshua Eilberg after lobbying by the Association of American Universities, is signed into law.[11] The legislation allows nonprofit research institutions to sponsor unlimited numbers of foreign nationals without having to meet previously required standards regarding wages and working conditions.[12][9] It would later be cited as a precedent for the Immigration Act of 1990.[13]
1979 Organizational restructuring U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs The Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs is restructured: its security functions are moved to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the organization is renamed te Bureau of Consular Affairs.
1980 Legislation Executive branch The 96th United States Congress passes the Refugee Act of 1980, standardizing the process of refugee resettlement. This leads to the creation of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
1981 January 20 Leadership change Executive branch Republican politician Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States.
1982 February 22 Leadership change Immigration and Naturalization Services Alan C. Nelson becomes the Comissioner of the INS, working under President Ronald Reagan.[14]
1983 January 9 Organizational restructuring Executive Office for Immigration Review, Board of Immigration Appeals, Immigration and Naturalization Services The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is created as part of the U.S. Department of Justice. The EOIR combines two pre-existing functions: the Board of Immigration Appeals (also originally under the DOJ) and the Immigration Judge function (carried out previously by the INS, which was at the time under the DOJ).[15]
1985 February Leadership change U.S. Department of Justice Edwin Meese becomes United States Attorney General.[16][17] The Attorney General heads the U.S. Department of Justice, and prior to the September 11 attacks, the INS was under the Department of Justice.
1986 November 6 Legislation (landmark) Immigration and Naturalization Services; current equivalent: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, after passing both houses of the 99th United States Congress after three years of legislative back-and-forth. The key sponsores are Alan K. Simpson and Romano L. Mazzoli, so the act is also known as the Simpson–Mazzoli Act. This combines an amnesty for people who have been present in the United States for a while, a restructuring of the H-2 program splitting it into the H-2A (unlimited temporary agricultural workers) and H-2B (other temporary workers), and more resources into enforcement.[18] The Act also includes a provision for what would later become the Visa Waiver Program.[19]
1987 October 21 Deferred action Immigration and Naturalization Services Alan C. Nelson, INS Commissioner announces Family Fairness, a deferred action policy for children (and, in rare cases, spouses) of people eligible to legalie per the IRCA, to solve the problem of split-eligibility families.[20]
1988 July United Kingdom The United Kingdom becomes the first country to participate in the newly created Visa Waiver Program (VWP), a program for reciprocal visa-free travel between the United States and other countries.
1988 October 15 Leadership change U.S. Department of Justice Dick Thornburgh becomes Attorney General, succeeding scandal-engulfed Edwin Meese.
1988 November 18 Legislation (adjacent) Executive branch The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 is signed into law by President Ronald Reagan after passing both chambers of the 100th United States Congress. The Act, though not focused on migration, introduces the concept of aggravated felony to refer to murder, federal drug trafficking, and illicit trafficking of certain firearms and destructive devices. Aggravated felonies are grounds for removal and exclusion of aliens.[21][22]
1989 January 20 Leadership change Executive branch Republican politician and incumbent vice-president George H. W. Bush becomes President of the United States, succeeding Ronald Reagan.
1989 June 16 Leadership change Immigration and Naturalization Services INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson is fired, amidst clashes with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who wants to bring the INS more firmly under his own control, as well as accusations against Nelson of mismanagement.[14][23][24]
1990 February 5 Deferred action Immigration and Naturalization Services The Family Fairness policy is extended to spouses of IRCA-eligible people. The extension serves as a bridge to a legislation that is passed as part of the Immigration Act of 1990.[25][26]
1990  ? Landmark legislation Immigration and Naturalization Services The Immigration Act of 1990 is signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. While mostly focused on legal temporary and permanent immigration, some provisions of the Act are relevant to enforcement. In particular, the Family Unity Policy passed as part of the Act supersedes the Family Fairness executive action.[27][28]
1993 January 20 Leadership change Executive branch Democratic politician Bill Clinton becomes President of the United States, after defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in elections.
1993 March 11 Leadership change U.S. Department of Justice Janet Reno becomes Attorney General.
1993 October 18 Leadership change Immigration and Naturalization Services Doris Meissner becomes INS Commissioner.[29][30]
1994 January 1 Treaty or trade agreement Executive branch The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comes into force. The agreement is between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Though primarily pertaining to trade, the agreement also includes some provisions on facilitating easier movement across borders, and in particular leads to the TN visa.
1996 April 24 Legislation (adjacent) Executive branch The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 is signed into law by President Bill Clinton after passing both chambers of the 104th United States Congress. Though not focused on migration, the Act has provisions related to the removal and exclusion of alien terrorists and modification of asylum procedures.
1996 September 30 Legislation (landmark) Immigration and Naturalization Services Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 is signed into law by President Bill Clinton after passing both chambers of the 104th United States Congress. It includes a number of provisions facilitating various forms of immigration enforcement that would be rolled out over the next two decades.
1997 Legislation Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act
1998 Legislation American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA).
2000 Legislation American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21).
2000 December 21 Legislation Immigration and Naturalization Services; current equivalent United States Citizenship and Immigration Services The Legal Immigration Family Equity Act is passed. Among other things, the Act allows for the overlooking of unauthorized presence in the United States for people who have been in the queue for permanent residency for a long time. The Act primarily references immigrant processing functions now under USCIS rather than enforcement functions, but also contains some protection from removal proceedings. Specifically, protection from removal proceedings begins after the Form I-485 (green card application) is filed; people who are eligible for legalization in the future through this Act but are still in the queue may be subject to removal proceedings.[31][32][33]
2004 Treaty or trade agreement USCIS, U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs The Singapore–United States Free Trade Agreement and Chile–United States Free Trade Agreementbecomes active. While mostly focused on trade, the agreement gives rise to the H-1B1 visa (available to people from Singapore and Chile), providing another option for people from the two countries who want to work in the United States.
2004 Legislation USCIS, U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004 and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004.
2005 Treaty or trade agreement USCIS, U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs The Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement becomes active. While pertaining mostly to trade, the Agreement also leads to the creation of the E-3 visa category, making it easier for people from Australia to come to the United States temporarily for work.
2013 March 27 to May 21 Port of entry processing CBP Office of Field Operations Form I-94 is made electronic at air and sea ports. The announcement in the Federal Register occurs on March 27,[34] and the rollout happens from April 30 to May 21.[35][36]

See also

References

  1. "An act in amendment to the various acts relative to immigration and the imortation of aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor." (PDF). March 3, 1891. Retrieved March 9, 2016. 
  2. "Summary of Immigration Laws, 1875-1918". Retrieved March 9, 2016. 
  3. Hester, Torrie. "Immigration Act of 1891". Immigration to the United States. Retrieved March 9, 2016. 
  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 "Organizational Timeline". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved March 31, 2017. 
  5. "Dillingham Commission (1907–1910)". Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  6. "Brief of Amicus Curiae Law Professors in Support of Respondent (Kerry v. Din)" (PDF). American Bar Association. 
  7. "Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Program" (PDF). Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  8. 9.0 9.1 "A Legislative History of H-1B and Other Immigrant Work Visas". Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  9. "Implementation of L-1 Visa Regulations" (PDF). Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. August 9, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  10. "H.R.14535 - An Act to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, and for other purposes.". Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  11. Nelson, Gene. "Career Destruction Sites Is What U.S. Colleges Have Become". The Social Contract Press. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  12. "H-1B TEMPORARY PROFESSIONAL WORKER VISA PROGRAM AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY WORKFORCE ISSUES". August 5, 1999. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  13. 14.0 14.1 "Alan C. Nelson: Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, February 22, 1982 - June 16, 1989". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. February 4, 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2016. 
  14. "About the Office". Executive Office for Immigration Review. Retrieved March 18, 2017. 
  15. Leslie Maitland Wiener (February 24, 1985). "SENATE APPROVES MEESE TO BECOME ATTORNEY GENERAL". New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2017. 
  16. Jackson, Robert L.; John J. Goldman (1989-08-09). "Wallach Found Guilty of Racketeering, Fraud: Meese's Friend, Two Others Convicted in Wedtech Scandal". Los Angeles Times. 
  17. "Public Law 99-603" (PDF). United States Government Publishing Office. November 6, 1986. Retrieved March 15, 2017. 
  18. Bigo, Didier. Foreigners, Refugees Or Minorities?: Rethinking People in the Context of Border Controls and Visas. 
  19. "Reagan-Bush Family Fairness: A Chronological History". American Immigration Council. December 9, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  20. "Aggravated Felonies: An Overview" (PDF). American Immigration Council. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  21. "Aggravated Felonies and Deportation". TRAC Immigration. Retrieved April 7, 2017. 
  22. Berke, Richard (March 14, 1989). "WASHINGTON TALK: IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION; Service's Chief Tilts Against an 'Oblique' Attack on His Policies". New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2016. 
  23. "INS Chief Resigns; Under Fire in Justice Dept. Audit". Associated Press. June 26, 1989. Retrieved October 24, 2016. 
  24. "Interpreter releases: report and analysis of immigration and nationality law" (PDF). February 5, 1990. Retrieved February 22, 2017. 
  25. Howe, Marvine. "New Policy Aids Families of Aliens". New York Times. 
  26. Leiden, Warren. "Highlights of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990". Fordham International Law Journal. Retrieved September 30, 2014. 
  27. Stone, Stephanie. "1190 Immigration and Nationality Act". U.S. Immigration Legislation Online. U.S. Immigration Legislation Online. Retrieved September 30, 2014. 
  28. "Doris Meissner. Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, October 18, 1993 - November 18, 2000". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved July 5, 2016. 
  29. Ifill, Gwen (June 19, 1993). "President Chooses an Expert To Halt Smuggling of Aliens". New York Times. Retrieved July 5, 2016. 
  30. "Green Card Through the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved February 8, 2016. 
  31. "What Was the 2000 Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act?". ProCon.org. Retrieved February 8, 2016. 
  32. "Legal Immigration Family Equity Act" (PDF). United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. December 21, 2000. Retrieved February 9, 2016. 
  33. "Definition of Form I-94 To Include Electronic Format". Federal Register. March 27, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2016. 
  34. "Updates On DHS Plans To Automate Form I-94 Process". August 12, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2016. 
  35. "End of Paper I-94 / New I-94 Automation Guidelines". University of Chicago. April 30, 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2016.