ALIENS OR NONCITIZENS who reside or seek to reside temporarily or permanently within the borders of a country are generally termed as immigrants. The term immigrant refers to someone who enters a country, while the word emigrant refers to someone who leaves a country. In the early times, the tendency was to look upon the alien as an enemy and to treat him or her as a criminal and outlaw. Aristotle, probably reflecting the common view in the ancient world, saw non-Greeks as barbarous people who were slaves “by nature.” The jus gentium of the Roman law applied to both citizens and foreigners and tended to favor the idea that aliens had rights; humanity toward aliens was also fostered, in theory at least, by the Christian idea of the unity of all persons in the church. The legal and ideological expression of humanity toward the alien, however, is a relatively modern development.


As sovereign national states began to take shape, the founders of international law asserted that natural rights were vested in all persons, without regard of citizenship or alienage, rights of which they ought not to be deprived by civilized societies or their governments. There was no general agreement on the content or scope of these natural rights as they affected aliens, but the existence of some minimum standard of civilized treatment was asserted. The minimum standard, it was conceded, did not include the right of aliens to own property or to engage in gainful professions. To meet this situation , states entered into treaties which provided that each of the contracting states would treat the nationals of the other state on an equal footing with its own nationals in the admission into trades and professions, ownership or possession of property, access to courts, enjoyment of liberty of conscience, and freedom of worship. Some treaties do not claim to extend to aliens, however, rights that are by municipal law reserved exclusively to the nationals of the country; thus municipal law, rather than conventional international law, is actually controlling. In particular the desire of nations to protect citizens in their jobs, professions, and businesses against both unemployment and competition is a very strong force restricting the latitude of aliens.

With the discovery of new and unsettled continents, steps were taken by European countries to colonize and populate these lands. The UNITED STATES, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, ARGENTINA, and BRAZIL have been the principal immigrant-receiving countries. The common economic needs of nations, on the other hand, have had some liberalizing effects on the immigration process and the treatment offered to immigrants. The treaties constituting the EUROPEAN UNION, for instance, provide that citizens of member states should be free to reside in any signatory country. The United States has a long history of immigration, from the first Spanish and English settlers to arrive on the shores of the country to the waves of immigration from Europe in the 19th century to immigration in the present day. The history of immigration to the United States of America is, in some senses, the history of the United States itself, and the journey from beyond the sea is an essential element of the American myth. From early in the 19th century to 1930, at least 60 percent of the total world immigration was to the United States. Of a total immigration to the United States of 41 million persons admitted from 1820 to 1960, 34 million were from European origin.

The population of the colonies that later became the United States grew from zero Europeans in the mid-1500s to 3.2 million Europeans and 700,000 African slaves in 1790. At that time, it is estimated that three-quarters of the population were of British descent, with Germans forming the second-largest free
ethnic group and making up some 7 percent of the population. Between 1629 and 1640, some 20,000 Puritans emigrated from England, most settling in the New England area of North America. From 1609 to 1664, some 8,000 Dutch settlers peopled the New Netherlands, which became New York and New Jersey.

Between 1645 and 1670, some 45,000 Royalists and/or indentured servants left England to work in the Middle Colonies and VIRGINIA. From about 1675 to 1715, the Quakers made their move, leaving the Midlands and North England behind for PENNSYLVANIA, NEW JERSEY, and DELAWARE. The Quaker movement became one of the largest religious presences in early colonial America. Germans migrated early into several colonies but mostly to Pennsylvania, where they made up a third of the population by the time of the Revolution. Between about 1710 and 1775, about 250,000 Scotch-Irish, mostly Presbyterian Protestants of Scottish descent from Northern Ireland, immigrated to and generally settled in western Pennsylvania and in Appalachia and the western frontier, which later would become KENTUCKY and TENNESSEE.


Prior to World War I, the laws of the United States permitted immigration without numerical limitation and were concerned chiefly with barring undesirables. The initial limitations upon immigration prohibited the importation of oriental slave labor, prostitutes, and alien convicts, pursuant to laws enacted in 1862 and 1875. The mentally ill, epileptics, physical defectives, tubercular persons, anarchists, beggars, those likely to become public charges, Chinese laborers, contract laborers, those suffering from loathsome or dangerous diseases, polygamists, paupers, persons whose passages were paid by others, and aliens convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude were added by successive enactments in 1882, 1855, 1891, 1903, and 1907. In 1907 an agreement was concluded with JAPAN limiting the entry of labor from that country. In the same year an immigration commission was appointed; its report in 1911 led to the Immigration Act of 1917, which remained one of the basic immigration statutes until its repeal by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the McCarran-Walter Act). To the class of aliens previously inadmissible were added Hindus and other Asians, illiterates, persons of constitutional inferiority, those seeking entry for an immoral purpose, alcoholics, stowaways, and vagrants. The 1917 act was proposed as a restrictive measure to stem the tide of free immigration of the past.

A temporary quota law, restricting the number of admissible aliens, was enacted in 1921. This was followed by first permanent quota law in 1924. Under the 1924 immigration act and presidential proclamation issued thereunder, quotas were distributed on the basis of national origin of the population of the United States in 1920. Aliens seeking entry into the Unites States were divided into three categories: those racially ineligible for citizenship (Asians) were barred from permanent admission; those who were born in the Western Hemisphere countries came in without any quota limitation; all others were subject to a numerical limit assigned on the basis of their country of birth. Thus, immigration from northern and western Europe was encouraged and immigration from the southern and eastern parts discouraged. The 1924 act also initiated the visa requirement; that is, the procuring of a permit from a U.S. consular officer abroad as a condition to immigration to the United States. In 1940 Congress promulgated a law requiring the finger printing and registration of aliens.

In 1952, the U.S. Congress enacted the McCarran-Walter Act, known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which retained the nation-origin quota system, though it eliminated race as a complete bar to immigration. In addition to these permanent immigration laws, the United States has enacted temporary statutes authorizing the admission of refugees. Immigrants who are admitted legally to the United States may be certified and granted “green cards” that entitle them to rights that include employment. But they are still subject to limitations under local laws. The immigrant in the United States is afforded a large measure of economic opportunity; he may invoke the writ of habeas corpus; in criminal proceedings he is entitled to the guarantees of the Bill of Rights; and his property can not e taken without just compensation. But to remain in the country “is not his right” but is a matter of “permission and tolerance.” As long as an immigrant is in the United States, the Constitution is his protection; but Congress, not the Constitution, decides whether or not he is to remain.

The laws of the various nations of the world regulating the admission and exclusion of aliens seeking permanent residence differ considerably. Marked contrast also appears in the manner in which immigration laws are administered. In the United States, prior to 1940, the Department of Labor administered and enforced the exclusion and deportation laws, whereas in Australia, the minister of trade and customs is in charge of the issuance of landing permits and the admission of aliens. In New Zealand the immigration laws are administered by the customs department. In Brazil the minister of foreign relations supervises immigration.

Most countries impose no numerical restrictions or quotas on the entry of aliens but enacted preferential systems to maintain designated racial characteristics of the population of the countries employing such policies. The United States, through its quota system, favors immigration from countries of North and South America and northern and western Europe. Australia's preference is for the British stock; Canada leans to persons from the UNITED KINGDOM and FRANCE; Argentina prefers the nationalities of its early settlers, including the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Swiss. Brazil gives preferential treatment to Portuguese and to a lesser degree to Italians and Spanish. A number of countries have established educational qualifications for entry; however, England, Brazil, Argentina, and many other countries have no literacy limitations.

Many countries have set forth financial qualifications in their immigration laws. Under the laws of the United States an alien must establish to the satisfaction of U.S. consul abroad and to immigration authorities upon arrival that he will not become a public charge. This is done by proof of his financial resources or by affidavits demonstrating that he will have employment. England, Australia, and Canada have similar provisions excluding those who are likely to become a public charge. New Zealand authorities bar even British subjects by reason of economic conditions. Brazil can exclude immigrants who do not have sufficient funds. Furthermore, physical and in some cases mental conditions are grounds of inadmissibility under the laws of several nations. Also, persons with criminal records and immoral aliens, such as prostitutes and procurers, may be denied entrance to many countries. Very few countries require aliens to serve in their military forces. In the United States, every male alien admitted for permanent residence who is between the age of 18 and a half and 26 is subject to military service. Visitors of this age group who are in the country for more than a year are likewise required to serve but may be exempt from a claim of alienage, which forever debars them from citizenship and permanent residence.

Aliens admitted to the United States for permanent residence are authorized under the immigration laws to engage in any occupation. However, some states laws require U.S. citizenship as a prerequisite to practicing certain professions such as law, medicine, dentistry or engineering. Generally, U.S. citizenship is required for many positions in federal and state governments. Visitors are not permitted to engage in employment in the United States without the permission of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Aliens may own real estate and other property and are permitted access to the courts. They do not have the right to vote. In Canada, domiciled aliens are accorded all the civil rights of citizens except the right to vote or hold public office. In New Zealand aliens may acquire both real and personal property and may even vote in municipal elections. Foreigners generally enjoy the same civil rights as citizens in Argentina but are restricted in the practice of certain professions.


The world has come a long way from the mercantilist days when nations competed for immigrants. Throughout the 20th century, tight restrictions have been placed on entry. Population pressures, intensified nationalism, and increased ease of movement have all contributed to fears of uncontrolled immigration. One consequence of laws restricting the number and ethnicity of persons entering the United States is a phenomenon referred to as illegal immigration, in which persons enter a country and obtain work without legal sanction. In some cases, this is accomplished by entering the country legally with a visa, and then simply choosing not to leave upon expiration of the visa. In other cases, most notoriously Mexicans in the United States without legal sanction, people enter the country surreptitiously without ever obtaining a visa. Often, people entering in this fashion are economic refugees, a class of refugee not recognized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; these persons have left their home country in a desperate bid to provide financial support for themselves and/or their families. This is particularly true in cases where “minimum wage” in the United States is several times what the average laborer earns in a given country; such immigrants often send a substantial part of their income to their countries and families of origin.


Much of the controversy today with immigration to the United States involves anti-illegal immigration ideologies. Critics of these ideologies say that those who call for an end to “illegal immigration” really advocate an end to all immigration but do not realize it. This occurs for two reasons: 1) all the problems associated with illegal immigration (race to the bottom in wages, etc.) also apply almost equally to legal immigrants; and 2) anti-immigrant ideologues allegedly misunderstand the immigration process and do not realize that many immigrant workers—who they see as replacing American citizens in jobs they can do—have immigrated completely legally, albeit without citizenship (this number exceeds the number of illegal immigrants on a percountry basis).

At the dawn of the 21st century, the controversy revived when many high-tech and software-engineering workers started to arrive from INDIA on “H1” visas. Critics claimed that these people worked for less money and displaced American citizens. The companies who imported the workers usually argued that the United States lacked enough American citizens to do the work.

A few economists argued that, whatever the truth of that assertion, importing the workers provided more benefits to the United States, and otherwise the recruiting companies would simply offshore the entire operation to India itself. This would likely prove worse for the U.S. economy as a whole, because in the first scenario Indian workers living in the United States would at least spend money in the United States, while the supranational corporations that would purportedly export the jobs to India would probably not pass down as much of the savings to the U.S. consumer who purchased for them.

The industrialized nations of the world have adopted policies to defend themselves against influxes from the struggling reaches of the THIRD WORLD. The Federation of American Immigration Reform, which favors reduced immigration, estimates that just to keep pace with the population, the nations of Latin America must create more new jobs each year than the United States has ever succeeded in doing in a single year. Similarly, the International Labor Organization projected that the workforce of the third world countries grew by 600 to 700 million between 1980 and 2000, more than the current total jobs in all industrialized countries combined. Many people in the developed world fear that they are simply losing control. There are serious objections raised on economic grounds. Most visible is the taking of jobs by newcomers, but the prominent question, of course, is the balance between jobs taken and jobs created.


The whole debate about immigration led to tighter entry rules and regulations. Thus, when legal immigration from the Western Hemisphere was for the first time subjected to strict limits in 1968, illegal immigration predictably soared. The U.S.-Mexico border is notoriously porous, and there is a suspicion on both sides of the immigration debate that certain economic interests want in that way. Clearly more could be done to curb illegal immigration. Deportation laws contain wide variations. It has been estimated that there are 700 different grounds for deporting or expelling aliens from the United States. Aliens who enter illegally, overstay their visits, become public charges, commit crimes involving moral turpitude, engage in immoral conduct, or are considered subversive may be deported. Except for those who become public charges, an alien may be deported no matter how long he has been a resident of the United States. He secures a hearing and may appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals in the Department of Justice and to the courts.

In Canada, aliens who enter illegally or overstay a visit, become connected with prostitution; are convicted of criminal offenses; become public charges or inmates of an insane asylum or of a public charitable institution; or are considered subversive are subject to deportation. A hearing is held with an appeal to the minister of mines and resources. Aliens who enter legally as landed immigrants and remain in Canada for five years may not be deported except for subversive grounds. In England, when an alien is tried for a crime for which imprisonment may be imposed, the court can impose deportation in addition to or in lieu of the criminal sentence. In Australia, an alien may not be deported after he has maintained a residence of three years. In Brazil, aliens who are married to citizens and who are responsible for the support of citizen children may not be deported.