America is a land of migrants. But immigration curbs started several years ago and still continue as H-1B visa quotas

US is the nation of immigrants. Even today people from all over the world prefer to migrate to US. History says that 20,000 years ago, it was geographically possible to travel from Siberia to Alaska and thus the first immigrants to the US were Asians. To avoid religious prosecution and for economic reasons, since the day America was discovered, people from England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal rushed to this New World. Convicts were sent to US, children kidnapped from English slums were sold for American labour and so also slaves from Africa. Very soon this New World started bubbling with people and as you see it today, in those days too, people who had already migrated and settled down in the US, started thinking ways and means to prevent new entrants to the US. This led to the first U.S. Legislation to be enacted in the year 1639 preventing paupers and criminals from entering the US. This embargo however had very little effect and within the next 136 years, population of the US grew to almost 25 lacs, hundred times more than what it was in the year 1640.

In the year 1789, US adopted its Constitution which gave power to the Congress to regulate foreign commerce and thereby indirectly immigration to US. The years 1789 to 1889 were however years of unrestricted immigration. Then in the year 1798, the Congress authorised the President to expel dangerous aliens by enacting The Alien Friends Act and The Alien Enemies Act. Introduction of Naturalization Act in the year 1802 provided for five year residency requirement for US citizenship. Yet, another Act of the year 1808 forbid the importation of slaves.

The first Statute restricting immigration was introduced in the year 1875. It barred convicts and prostitutes from migrating to the US. Then the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended immigration of Chinese labourer for 10 years and prohibited Chinese to US citizenship. In the year 1902, duration of this Act was extended and then the same was made permanent. However in the year 1943, the same was repealed. Today in Chicago, the American Immigration Lawyers Association are making preparations to honour on 16th June, 2000 Chinese Community in US who have contributed to wealth and well being of the US.

The First General Immigration Act was enacted in the year 1882. It provided for quality control and barred lunatics, idiots and likely to become public charges from immigrating to the US. By this Act, “Head Tax” of 50 cents on every arriving immigrants was introduced which was later on raised to US $ 2 and then to US $ 8. Today, this tax subsist in the form of different visa fees.

Arrival of nearly 5.2 million immigrant during the decade of 1890 to 1889 was viewed as a threat to the US economy, which led to enactment of the 1891 Act which added diseased, paupers and polygamists to the list of excludable persons for immigration to the U.S. and introduced medical examination for immigrants. This Act also formed a Bureau of Immigration and forbid advertising in foreign countries that encouraged immigration to the US. For a while, immigration to US reduced, but again there was a sharp increase in the year 1900. The 1903 law therefore, further excluded epileptics, insane, beggars and anarchists from migrating to US. This list was enhanced in the year 1907 by excluding feeble minded, tubercular, persons with mental and physical defect that “may affect” their ability to earn a living. In that year, by an Agreement between the US and Japan, Japanese Immigrants were restricted. Then in the year 1921, quota of a total 3,57,000 people per year for immigration to the U. S. was introduced. This quota was reduced to 1,64,667 people per year in the year 1924.

The year 1930 saw “Great Depression”, which decreased the number of immigrant to the US and in the year 1932 almost one lac people left US. However, World War II, in the year 1940, once again brought an economic upswing in the US and in that year, immigration to the US increased to one million. President Truman’s directive of the year 1945 admitted World War II refugees to the US and the War Brides Act of 1945, Fianc├ęs Act of 1946 and the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 further increased immigration. Once again the Internal Security Act enacted in the year 1950 excluded “Communists” from migrating to US.

The year 1952 is the most significant year in the Immigration Chronicle of US. The Immigration and the Nationality Act, 1952 (INA), which is the foundation of the Immigration Laws in force in US today was enacted in this year. The INA retained quota system, established 4 types of entrance preference, limited quota from eastern hemisphere, exempted Asia Pacific triangle from quota, added new grounds for exclusion and introduced detailed quality control for immigration. The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 however admitted 2,14,000 refugees from Eastern Europe. Then to assist Hungarians fleeing from communism and persons fleeing from Middle East, legislations were passed. The Refugee Fair Share Law granted temporary admission and assistance for World War II refugees. The post World War saw the increase of Spanish speaking immigrants to the US day by day. In order to deter the Marriage Frauds and Illegal Immigration, via marriage, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment was brought in the year 1986. In that year, the Immigration Reform and Control Act imposed sanctions on employers. However, it legalised the status of undocumented aliens who had arrived prior to January 1, 1982.

The year 1990 saw series of amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act which established annual limit for world wide immigration of seven lacs. In that year a Commission was also established to examine how immigration affects US society and how the Immigration Laws of US are functioning. From the year 1991, all family sponsored immigration was limited. The Immigration Technical Corrections Act of 1991 loosened the procedural requirement for prospective US employers for Specialty Workers i.e. people arriving in the US on H-1B visas. In the year 1994, President Bill Clinton established a Pilot Program that allowed employers to verify work authorization by telephoning a centralized computer database. That year, the President Bill Clinton also signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) by which an alien arriving without documents or with invalid or fraudulent documents can be removed without a hearing or review, unless the alien expresses a desire to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution.

This Chronicle of Immigration of US discloses that the laws concerning immigrants at times were relaxed and at times they were made uptight. The fact however remains that the US is a nation of immigrants and since last 508 years, the time when Columbus discovered US, people from every nook and corner of the world have been migrating to US and despite this there has been no adverse effect on the economy of the US. On the contrary, immigrants have made US industry and commerce competitive and increased its employment opportunities.

Once again US employers are facing a growing crisis. In US, today there is a lack of professionals to fill in the available positions. This on-going problems threatens to stop current economic boom in the US in its tracks. All industries and sectors of the economy are facing the same situation. Pharmaceutical firms have to delay clinical controls on a promising new anticancer drug because there are no key researchers. Manufacturing companies cannot open new products line because they do not have enough engineers. Hi-tech companies are forced to cancel new product as enough system designers to meet the deadlines are not available. Local Governments do not have enough math and science teachers for their schools. Universities have to cancel planned seminars as they are unable to find sufficient number of professors to make presentations. This is forcing many of the US employer to look abroad for employment and once again need is felt to relax the immigration controls. In the year 1998, the Congress acted and increased the cap on H-1B visas to 1,15,000 professionals annually. Soon it was realised that this increase in number of H-1 B Visas was chosen at random, without regard to actual usage and need. While the number of US jobs has been increasing exponentially, specially in the professional occupations that need H-1B visas to invite outside professionals, the cap is fixed. In each of the last three years, the cap has been reached months before the start of the new fiscal year, resulting in an untold number of projects being delayed or even cancelled, costing business and their employers millions of dollars. The solution is obvious. To remove or raise the cap on H-1B Visas and Bills have already been introduced in this behalf. The removal or raising of the cap on H-1B Visa would be another landmark legislation in the US Immigration Chronicle and will benefit Indians.

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Mr. Sudhir Shah is a Lawyer practicing in the firm name and style of Messrs. Sudhir Shah & Associates, Advocates & Notary at Karim Chambers, 3rd Floor, Hamam Street, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. He has contributed on the subject “Citizenship and Migration” in the Halsbury’s Laws of India, an encyclopedia published by Butterworths India. He is the Indian Member of the Global Chain of Immigration Attorneys. He visits USA regularly to advise his clients there. His firm’s web-site (www.sudhirlaw.com) has been rated as one of the Internet’s best web-sites and has bagged two prestigious Awards viz., “The Best of the Asia Pacific Award” and “Cyber Teddy Award”. He can be contacted at: rupa@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in