Immigration law is defined as a law that refers to national government policies which control the phenomenon of immigration to their country.
Immigration law is also defined, regarding foreign citizens, to be related to nationality law, which governs the legal status of people, in matters such as citizenship. Federal immigration law determines whether a person is an alien, the rights, duties, and obligations associated with being an alien in the United States, and how aliens gain residence or citizenship within the United States. It also provides the means by which certain aliens can become legally naturalized citizens with full rights of citizenship. Immigration law serves as a gatekeeper for the nation's border, determining who may enter, how long they may stay, and when they must leave.
Immigration laws vary from country to country and they vary according to the political climate. Within the United States, Congress has complete authority over immigration. States by themselves typically have limited legislative authority when it comes to immigration. This means the federal government must create the policies and enforce them.
Federal government controls immigration through their visa policies. There are two types of visas: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. The government will primarily issue nonimmigrant visas to people who are just touring the United States or here visiting for temporary business. Nonimmigrant visas themselves are divided into eighteen different types. There are only a few nonimmigrant visas available that allow the holder to work in the United States.
Immigrant visas are different in that they do permit their holders to stay in the United States permanently and work toward applying for citizenship. Aliens with immigrant visas can also work in the United States. Congress will limit the quantity of immigrant visas and they typically have a cap.
The issue of illegal immigration came more to the forefront of Congress in 1986 when they enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This law toughened criminal sanctions for employers who hired illegal aliens, denied illegal aliens federally funded welfare benefits, and legitimized some aliens through an amnesty program.
Following, in 1990 came the Immigration Act which instituted the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. Starting in 1991, every year the Attorney General, decided from information gathered over a five year period the regions or country that were considered High Admission or Low Admission States. A High Admission region or country was one that has had 50,000 immigrants or more acquiring a permanent residency visa. The High Admission regions were not given visas under this act in order to promote diversity. There were 6 different regions: Africa; Asia; Europe; North America; Oceania; South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Visas were given to countries in these regions that did not meet the quota. To qualify for this visa the immigrants had to have a high school diploma or its equivalent. They also had to have at least 2 years of work experience along with 2 years of training at that job. The Secretary of State kept track of the immigrants' age, occupation, education, and what they considered important characteristics or information. The Secretary of State issued visas to the immigrants who met all these qualifications using random selection. The children and the spouses of the immigrants that were approved were also granted visas to obtain permanent residency.
This was followed in 1996 with The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). The IIRIRA eliminated the term "entry," replacing it with "admission." An application for admission occurs whenever an alien arrives in the U.S. regardless of whether the arrival occurs at a designated port-of-entry. Applicants at either designated ports or otherwise must submit to an inspection by U.S. customs, even if the applicant possesses an immigrant visa.
On March 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security opened, replacing the INS. Within the Department, three different agencies - U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement (CBE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - now handle the duties formerly held by the INS.
Immigration law is constantly being challenged and changes as needs and times change.