The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred the entry of Chinese laborers into the United States, yet also ended up stimulating the formation of certain Chinese businesses through a system of visa preferences. Owners of particular businesses could obtain “merchant status,” which enabled them to enter the United States and sponsor relatives.
After a 1915 court case granted these special immigration privileges to Chinese restaurant owners, entrepreneurs in the United States and China opened restaurants as a way to bypass the restrictions in U.S. immigration law. Flows of newcomers from China were diverted into the restaurant industry and the number of Chinese restaurants in the United States exploded during the early twentieth-century.
Read more in The Untold Story of Chinese Restaurants in America by Heather R. Lee on medium.com (2015)