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Immigration Act of 1990

The Immigration Act of 1900 overhauled the legal immigration system by outlining three different paths for immigrating to the U.S.

The Immigration Act of 1990 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Passed by Congress and signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush, the act was meant to “change the level, and preference system for admission, of immigrants to the United States and to provide for administrative naturalization.” The act was the first major overhaul of the U.S. legal immigration system in a quarter century.

The act overhauled the legal immigration system by outlining three different paths by which people could immigrate to the U.S.: family sponsored, employment based and diversity based. The family-based route allows U.S. citizens to sponsor their spouses, children and parents, while legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouse and unmarried children. The employment-based immigration system allows petitioners most commonly sponsored by a U.S. employer to apply to one of five different visa categories ranging from “individuals with extraordinary ability” to investors creating employment opportunities. Finally, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 visas available on a lottery system for citizens of countries from which fewer than 50,000 immigrants came in the previous five years.

The new law also instituted an annual cap on immigration, limiting the number of available immigration-based visas. It largely did not affect asylum and refugee immigration pathways.

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