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Immigration and Naturalization Records for Genealogy

Our immigrant ancestors helped shape American history. Learn how to get the most out of your immigration and naturalization records research with tips and advice from Family Tree Magazine.

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Immigration Records Cheat Sheet

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US Immigration Policy Timeline

1875–1891

1875
excluded criminals and women “brought for lewd and immoral purposes”
1882
excluded lunatics, idiots, convicts, or those likely to become a public charge; Chinese Exclusion Act; 50-cent head tax paid by transportation company
1891
excluded those infected with a “loathsome” or contagious disease, paupers, offenders of “moral turpitude,” polygamists

1903–1921

1903
excluded anarchists, prostitutes and their procurers, epileptics, insane persons, professional beggars; head tax increased to $2
1907
excluded the “feeble-minded,” children under 16 traveling alone, anyone with a physical or mental handicap that might hinder ability to earn a living; Gentlemen’s Agreement excluding Japanese laborers; head tax increased to $4 (skilled workers and whole families exempted from this tax)
1917
literacy requirement; exclusion of persons coming from Asia and the Pacific Islands; head tax increased to $8; made it a misdemeanor to bring in or harbor aliens not duly admitted by immigration officers; Mexican workers effectively restricted by head tax, literacy test and limit of six-month stay for contracted employees
1921
first quota law (temporary), annual admission of certain ethnic groups based on a percentage of those nationalities in the 1910 census

1924–1946

1924
National Origins Act (second quota law), annual admission of certain ethnic groups based on 2 percent of those nationalities in the 1890 census (changing to ratio using the 1920 census in 1927); exempted Western Hemisphere countries from quotas; émigrés also needed a visa from US embassy in country of origin before leaving
1929
penalties and restrictions on the return of previously deported aliens
1943
Chinese Exclusion Act repealed; nationality law changed to allow Chinese to become citizens; authorized and financed “bracero” program to bring temporary Mexican farm workers to the US
1945
exempted war brides of Gls from quotas
1946
facilitated admission of alien fiancés and fiancées pending marriage to US military service personnel, with visiting time extended in 1947

1947–1957

1947
relaxed quotas and other restrictions of displaced persons from World War II, particularly favoring Polish, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Romanian and Yugoslavian immigrants
1950
additional categories and extensions for displaced persons and war orphans; excluded “subversives” with any communist associations
1952
revised quotas; removed racial barriers to naturalization; increased family preferences; excluded more classes such as subversives, lepers, drug addicts and dealers; abolished head tax but increased various fees
1954
strengthened laws to deport communists; admitted sheepherders
1957
permitted alien enlistment in US Army

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