Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

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 What is the Immigration and Nationality Act?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is also called the Hart-Cellar Act. It was created in 1952 and in 1965, it became law.

The INA was the first law which committed the United States to accept all nationalities of immigrants on roughly an equal basis. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the INA into law.

The INA repealed national origin quotas which were put in place in the 1920s. These quotas set aside the majority of immigration visas primarily for European immigrants.

National-origin visas were intended to limit the number of immigrants from African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Southern, and Eastern European countries while favoring immigrants from Northern and Western European countries. The INA was enacted immediately following other civil rights legislation which was passed in the 1960s.

In the context of employment law, the Immigration and Nationality Act requires an employer to only hire employees with proper work authorizations. The INA has an Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) which enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA as well as protects immigratn employees from discrimination. The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act is enforced by the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practice (OSC).

The Immmigration and Nationality Act also provides qualifications for individuals to become naturalized citizens of the United States. Among these requirements is that an individual demonstrates good moral character.

It is important to be aware that there is not a clear definition of good moral character for the purposes of immigration proceedings. Good moral character has been interpreted to mean that an individual’s behavior meets the moral standards of an average citizen in the community. Because of this, customs and expectations related to good moral character may differ by location.

The Immigration and Nationality Act also provides guidelines for who is a United States National. This includes individuals who are:

  • Citizens of the United States; or
  • Individuals who owe permanent allegiance to the United States, who are not necessarily citizens, such as individuals born in American Samoa or Swains Island to non-citizen parents.

Because of this, a United States national may or may not also be a United States citizen. A U.S. national largely refers to an individual’s allegiance and rights related to United States laws.

What are Immigration Visas?

Immigration visas give immigrants the right to enter into the United States for specific periods of time as well as for specific purposes. When an individual obtains a visa, they are a temporary permanent resident of the U.S. but their permanent residency is still outside of the United States.

An immigration visa should not be confused with a green card. Green cards permit individuals to become permanent residents of the United States.

Immigrant visas reflect the intent of the applicant to relocate permanently to the United States. A lawful permanent resident of the United States is often granted extensive rights, including the right to work in the U.S. and to obtain citizenship.

This is different from other types of non-immigrant visas. With non-immigrant visas, applicants only intend to remain in the United States on a temporary basis, such as with a student visa or temporary work visa.

There are three main categories of immigrant visas, including:

  • Family-based;
  • Employment-based; and
  • Special immigrants.

Family-based visas typically include:

  • Immediate relatives;
  • Close family members;
  • Fiancés; and
  • Other individuals who are petitioning the applicant.

Employment -based visas can be used by employers to petition an employee to relocate permanently to the United States for work. There are numerous types of employment-based visas which are available.

With employment-based immigration visas, a work certification may be required. This may place additional burdens upon an employer, who will be required to verify that the individual is filling a legitimate employment need.

There are also special immigrant categories which may be petitioned. These include:

  • Certain categories of employees;
  • Religious workers; and
  • Applicants from selected countries.

In general, an individual who is seeking to obtain an immigrant visa is required to find an individual or an organization to petition them to relocate to the United States. Because of this, immigrant visas are typically categorized according to the applicant’s relationship to the petitioner.

What is Immigration Law?

Immigration law is a large and complex body of law which refers to the rules which are established by the United States Federal Government. Immigration laws dictate which individuals are permitted to enter the U.S. and for how long.

Each nation around the world has its own immigration laws. Immigration laws in the U.S. regulate how individuals from other countries may qualify for visas as well as under what circumstances they may be deported.

There are numerous types of visas available depending upon the purpose for an individual’s entry into the U.S. It is also important to be aware that individuals who are already in the U.S. are required to abide by immigration laws. Numerous immigrants legally residing in the U.S. have green cards, or permanent visas.

Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law and may be difficult for many individuals to understand, especially if they are not from the United States. Because of this, it is always best to consult with an immigration attorney for any questions or concerns an individual may have.

How Does the Immigration and Nationality Act Impact Immigration Law?

From a practical standpoint, the Immigration and Nationality Act ensured that more immigrants from different countries were permitted to come to the United States. For example, 7 out of every 8 immigrants who came to the United States in 1960 were from Europe. By the year 2010, 9 out of 10 immigrants were coming to the United States from other areas of the world.

How is the Immigration and Nationality Act Codified?

The Immigration and Nationality Act is a stand-alone law. The INA is divided into titles, chapters, and sections.

The INA is codified in the United States Code (U.S.C.). The United States Code is a collection of laws in the United States.

What does the Act Cover?

The Immigration and Nationality Act covers almost every conceivable issue which is related to or involves the immigration of an alien to the United States. Some of the most commonly cited sections of the Immigration and Nationality act include, but are not limited to:

  • §203 Preference System, including:
    • skilled immigrants;
    • relatives of U.S. citizens;
    • quotas; and
    • other issues;
  • §208 Asylum;
  • §212 Admissibility;
  • §222 Visa Applications;
  • §234 Ports of Entry;
  • §241 Detention and Removal;
  • §245 Adjustment of Status;
  • §274C Penalties for Document Fraud;
  • §281 Nonimmigrant Visa Fees;
  • §311 Eligibility for Naturalization; and
  • §412 Refugee Assistance.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Immigration Law Issue?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an immigration lawyer for any immigration law issue you may have. In any case where an alien or an immigration encounters an immigration law issue, it typically involves one or more sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

If you or a loved one has an immigration issue of any kind, it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and options under the Act and other applicable immigration laws. Your attorney will also represent you during any hearings in front of immigration bodies or in immigration court.


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