Alienage Details

The word alienage refers to the legal standing of someone who is an "alien" or the condition of being an "alien." An alien is a foreigner or someone who is from a different country or has a different race. Regarding alienage, an alien is an immigrant without legal citizenship in the country they are residing within.

Every country has different laws and definitions for citizenship that affect alienage. In the United States, someone without citizenship may stay in the country as long as they have a visa. They must follow "temporary allegiance" obligations such as obeying laws and being subject to the court system's subpoena power during their stay. Someone with alienage also has the right to sue, especially for civil rights violations.

Real-World Example Of Alienage

Alienage commonly appears in court, especially when determining the rights of non-citizens. In 1973, the case Sugarman v. Dougall was presented before the United States Supreme Court regarding employment discrimination due to alienage. Four registered aliens, Patrick McL. Dougall, Esperanza Jorge, Teresa Vargas, and Sylvia Castro had civil service positions within New York City.

In 1971, due to their alienage, they were discharged from their jobs in the competitive class. The decision was based on Section 53 of the New York Civil Service Law. This statute states, "No person shall be eligible for appointment for any position in the competitive class unless he is a citizen of the United States."

The case sought damages for lost earnings and injunctive relief against the city's refusal to employ the four respondents. The court ruled that the Section 53 statute listed above was unconstitutional, violated the Fourteenth Amendment, and granted injunctive relief.

Significance Of Alienage

It is important to have laws regarding alienage because immigration is so prevalent today. According to the Commons Library, an estimated 6.2 million immigrants lived in the United Kingdom in 2019. For the United States, the Migration Policy Institute reports the country had over 44.9 million immigrants in 2019. People live in different countries of their nationalities for job opportunities, education, and forced migration due to conflict.

Many countries can benefit from immigrants who contribute to their culture and economy in many ways. Universities can attract talented professors worldwide, religions can invite leaders for their worship houses, and companies can hire specialized professionals. The healthcare industry in the United States also relies heavily on immigrant nurses. According to the California Nurses Association, in 2020, about 20 percent of Californian nurses are Filipino and have contributed greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alienage laws can protect non-citizens. For example, New York City's Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) has prohibited employment discrimination based on alienage since 1989. NYCHRL prevents discrimination from actual or perceived alienage by employers, housing providers, and providers of public accommodations and prohibits harassment and bias-based profiling by law enforcement.

Types Of Alienage

Someone can be a different type of alienage depending on the specifics of their legal status as an alien. The different classes of aliens include:

  • Legal alien
  • Illegal alien
  • Alien enemy

Legal aliens can be nonresidential, temporary residents, or permanent residents. Nonresidential alienage refers to someone in the country for a short term, such as for business, to visit family, for vacation, or to attend a conference or training course. Temporary aliens have permission to be in the country for several years before leaving or applying for an extension of their stay. Examples include a student with a student visa to study at a University for a limit of four years.

Permanent residents are synonymous with legal immigrants legally allowed to stay in the country for a long period. They can reside, work, study, own property, invest money, start businesses, enlist in the military, pay taxes, and receive certain government benefits.

History Of Alienage

The word alien in alienage is from the Latin word alienus, meaning "belonging (somewhere) else." The origins of the word date back to the 13th century.

In the United States, the term alien was first used legally in 1798 for the Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law by President John Adams. This act made it tougher for immigrants to become U.S. citizens and allowed the imprisonment or deportation of hostile non-citizens. The U.S. started collecting data on immigrants through the census in 1850 and recorded 2.2 million immigrants. That's almost 10 percent of the population at the time.

The first laws regarding aliens as a person in the United Kingdom were put in place at the beginning of the 1900s through the Aliens Act of 1905, the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914, and the Aliens Restriction Act of 1919. In 1981, the British Nationality Act provided a specific definition that an alien is not a British citizen, a British protected person, a Commonwealth citizen, or Ireland's citizen.

Alienage vs. Immigrant Status

Sometimes the terms alien and immigrant are used interchangeably. An immigrant can have alienage, but not all immigrants have alien status.

An immigrant is from a foreign country and has relocated to live or work in another country. Immigrants can obtain citizenship from that country and still be considered to have immigrated there. Once an immigrant obtains citizenship, they no longer have alienage.

Alienage specifically refers to someone from a foreign country without citizenship. While an immigrant commonly relocates to stay long-term, someone with alien status can also be in a foreign country to visit or stay a short time, such as on vacation. Legally, aliens must comply with laws about non-citizens, such as having tourist visas, work permits, or resident documentation.

Alienage vs. Asylum Seeker

An asylum seeker is considered a type of immigrant and has alienage. However, an asylum seeker is someone who moves to another country specifically because of "fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, social group, or political opinion." Usually, asylum seekers are the result of conflicts such as wars or religious persecutions.