Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)


The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 marked a dramatic change in American immigration policy, abandoning the concept of national quotas and establishing the basis for extensive immigration from the developing world. Technically, the various parts of the measure were amendments to the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.
The provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act allotted 85 percent of immigrant visas to countries from northern and Western Europe. With President John F. Kennedy’s election in fall 1960, government immigration policy began to change. Kennedy believed that immigrants were valuable to the country, and members of his administration argued that both the cold war and the Civil Rights movement dictated a more open policy toward nonwhite immigrants. Furthermore, the McCarran-Walter Act had not proven to be as comprehensive as it had originally been intended, for it failed to deal directly with Refugees (see refugee status), which had led to passage of the Refugee Relief Act (1953), specifically granting asylum in the United States to those fleeing communist persecution. Before his assassination in 1963, Kennedy recommended that the quota system be phased out over a five-year period, that no country receive more than 10 percent of newly authorized allotments, that family reunification remain a priority, that the Asiatic Barred Zone be eliminated, and that residents of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago be granted nonquota status. After the landslide victory of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, his administration was in a position to remedy the “unworkability of the national origins quota system.”
The major provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act included
1. Replacing national origins quotas with hemispheric caps of 170,000 from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere
2. Establishing a new scale of preferences, including 1) unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens (20 percent); 2) spouses and unmarried adult children of permanent resident aliens (20 percent); 3) professionals, scientists, and artists of exceptional talent (10 percent); 4) married children of U.S. citizens (10 percent); 5) U.S. citizens’ siblings who were more than 21 years of age (24 percent); 6) skilled and unskilled workers in areas where labor was needed (10 percent); and 7) those who “because of persecution or fear of persecution . . . have fled from any Communist or Communist-dominated country or area, or from any country within the general area of the Middle East” (6 percent). Unlike the provisions of previous special legislation, these 10,200 visas were allotted annually to deal with refugee situations without further legislation
Although the new legislation was designed to diversify immigration, it did so in unexpected ways. Many of the Eastern Hemisphere slots expected to go to Europeans were filled by Asians, who tended to fill higher preference categories. Having become permanent residents and eventually citizens, a wide range of family members then became eligible for immigration in high-preference categories. The INA was successful in bringing highly skilled professional and medical people to the United States. Within 10 years, for instance, immigrants constituted 20 percent of the nation’s total number of physicians. At the same time, the INA was not effective in limiting the overall number of immigrants. Exemptions and refugees made overall immigration numbers larger than those permitted under the act.

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