U.S. Invites Highly Skilled Migrants

November 29th, 1990

United States

Citizenship Gender & Sexuality Race & Ethnicity

The Immigration Act of 1990 can be viewed as a step away from isolationism towards a more open pre-1920s policy era. The driving force behind the act was to encourage skilled migration in order to sustain the diminishing skilled labor force in the U.S. The 1990 Act decreased barriers to entry and raised available visas by forty percent, increasing the overall number of immigration visas to around 700,000 during the policy’s first five years.

The 1990 Act succeeded in spurring a steady stream of skilled laborers into the U.S. and more than doubled employment-related immigration. For the first time, there was a formal distinction between skilled and unskilled workers, and workers were eligible for different visas depending upon qualifications. The largest of these new qualification-based visas was the H-1B visa for specialty occupations, capped at 65,000 visas per year and requiring a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the emphasis on skilled labor, the 1990 Act also raised the ceiling on family-based immigration. Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, it allotted visas to low-admission states to encourage more diverse migration. Moreover, the 1990 Act notably removed the discriminatory clause present in the 1965 Act (see also: Immigration & Nationality Act, 1965), which employed “sexual deviation” as medical grounds to deny lesbians and gays entry to the U.S.