Immigration Act of 1924

The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act (Pub. L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia and set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere. Additionally, the formation of the U.S. Border Patrol was authorized by the act.

Immigration Act of 1924
Long titleAn Act to the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States, and for other purposes.
NicknamesJohnson-Reed Act
Enacted bythe 68th United States Congress
EffectiveMay 26, 1924
Public lawPub. L. 68–139
Statutes at Large43 Stat. 153
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 7995
  • Passed the House on April 12, 1924 (323-71)
  • Agreed to by the House on May 15, 1924 (308-62) and by the Senate on May 15, 1924 (69-9)
  • Signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on May 24, 1924

The 1924 act supplanted earlier acts to effectively ban all emigration from Asia[1] and set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from the average before World War I. As a temporary measure, taking effect in fiscal year 1925, quota limits per country were reduced from those established by 1921's Emergency Quota Act (3% of a country's foreign-born population present in the U.S. in the 1910 census), to 2% of the foreign-born population recorded in the 1890 census.[1] A new quota took effect in 1927, based on each nationality's share of the total U.S. population in the 1920 census, a system which would govern American immigration policy from 1929 until 1965.[2][3][4] According to the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Historian, the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity."[1] Congressional opposition was minimal.

The act's provisions were revised in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.


The Naturalization Act of 1790 declared that only people of European descent were eligible for naturalization, but eligibility was extended to people of African descent in the Naturalization Act of 1870.[5] Chinese laborers and Japanese people were barred from immigrating to the U.S. in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the (unenforced) Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907, respectively.[1]

A limitation on Southern and Eastern European immigration was first proposed in 1896 in the form of the literacy test bill. Henry Cabot Lodge was confident the bill would provide an indirect measure of reducing emigration from these countries, but after passing both Congress and the Senate, it was vetoed by President Cleveland.[6] Another proposal for immigration restriction was introduced again in 1909 by U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.[7] The Immigration Act of 1917 restricted immigration further in a variety of ways. It increased restrictions on Asian immigration, raised the general immigrant head tax, excluded those deemed to be diseased or mentally unwell, and in light of intense lobbying by the Immigration Restriction League, introduced the literacy test for all new immigrants to prove their ability to read English.[8] In the wake of the post-World War I recession, many Americans believed that bringing in more immigrants would worsen the unemployment rate. The Red Scare of 1919–1921 had fueled fears of foreign radicals migrating to undermine American values and provoke an uprising like the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.[9] The number of immigrants entering the United States decreased for about a year from July 1919 to June 1920 but doubled in the year after that.[10]

U.S. Representative Albert Johnson, a eugenics advocate, and Senator David Reed were the two main architects of the act. In the wake of intense lobbying, it passed with strong congressional support.[11] There were nine dissenting votes in the Senate[12] and a handful of opponents in the House of Representatives, the most vigorous of whom was freshman Brooklyn Representative, Emanuel Celler, a Jewish American. Decades later, he pointed out the act's "startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe."[13]

Proponents of the act sought to establish a distinct American identity by preserving its ethnic homogeneity.[14][15] Reed told the Senate that earlier legislation "disregards entirely those of us who are interested in keeping American stock up to the highest standard—that is, the people who were born here."[16] He believed that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, most of whom were Catholics or Jews, arrived sick and starving, were less capable of contributing to the American economy, and were unable to adapt to American culture.[14] Eugenics was used as justification for the act's restriction of certain races or ethnicities of people to prevent the spread of perceived feeblemindedness in American society.[17] Samuel Gompers, himself a Jewish immigrant from Britain and the founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), supported the act because he opposed the cheap labor that immigration represented even though the act would sharply reduce Jewish immigration.[18] Both the AFL and the Ku Klux Klan supported the act.[19]

US President Calvin Coolidge signs the Immigration Act on the White House South Lawn along with appropriation bills for the Veterans Bureau. John J. Pershing is on the left.

Lobbyists from the West Coast, where a majority of Japanese, Korean, and other East Asian immigrants had settled, were especially concerned with excluding Asian immigrants. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had already slowed Chinese immigration, but as Japanese and  to a lesser degree  Korean and Filipino laborers began arriving and putting down roots in Western United States, an exclusionary movement formed in reaction to the "Yellow Peril." Valentine S. McClatchy, the founder of The McClatchy Company and a leader of the anti-Japanese movement, argued, "They come here specifically and professedly for the purpose of colonizing and establishing here permanently the proud Yamato race." He cites their supposed inability to assimilate to American culture and the economic threat that they posed to white businessmen and farmers.[9]

Opposing the act, U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes said, "The legislation would seem to be quite unnecessary, even for the purpose for which it is devised."[20] The act faced strong opposition from the Japanese government with which the U.S. government had maintained a cordial economic and political relationship.[9] In Japan, the bill was called by some the "Japanese Exclusion" act.[21] Japanese Foreign Minister Matsui Keishirō instructed the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Masanao Hanihara, to write to Hughes:

the manifest object of the [section barring Japanese immigrants] is to single out Japanese as a nation, stigmatizing them as unworthy and undesirable in the eyes of the American people. And yet the actual result of that particular provision, if the proposed bill becomes law as intended, would be only to exclude 146 Japanese per year.... I realize, as I believe you do, the grave consequences which the enactment of the measure retaining that particular provision would inevitably bring upon the otherwise happy and mutually advantageous relations between our two countries.[22]

Members of the Senate interpreted Hanihara's phrase "grave consequences" as a threat, which was used by hardliners of the bill to fuel both houses of Congress to vote for it. Because 1924 was an election year and he was unable to form a compromise, President Calvin Coolidge declined to use his veto power to block the act,[23] although both houses passed it by a veto-overriding two-thirds majority. The act was signed into law on May 24, 1924.[24]


The immigration act made permanent the basic limitations on immigration to the United States established in 1921 and modified the National Origins Formula, which had been established in that year. In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, it governed American immigration policy until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was passed, which revised it completely.

The act provided that no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. That was aimed primarily at Japanese aliens[1] although they were not explicitly named in the act.[25] It imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of U.S. immigration law. It defined the term "immigrant" and designated all other alien entries into the United States as "non-immigrant," or temporary visitors. It also established classes of admission for such non-immigrants.[26]

The act set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from average before World War I, and barred immigrants from Asia, including Japan.[5] However, the Philippines was then a U.S. colony and so its citizens were U.S. nationals and could thus travel freely to the United States.[27] The act did not include China since it was already barred under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The 1924 act reduced the annual quota of any nationality from 3% of their 1910 population (as defined by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921) to 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of any nationality residing in the United States according to the 1890 census.[19] A more recent census existed, but at the behest of a eugenics subcommittee chaired by eugenicist Madison Grant, Congress used the 1890 one to increase immigrants from Northern and Western Europe and to decrease those from Eastern and Southern Europe.[28][29] According to Commonweal, the act "relied on false nostalgia for a census that only seemed to depict a homogenous, Northern European–descended nation: in reality, 15 percent of the nation were immigrants in 1890."[30]

The 1890-based quotas were set to last until 1927, when they would be replaced by of a total annual quota of 150,000, proportional to the national origins figures from the 1920 census.[31][32] However, this did little to diversify the nations from which immigrants came from because the 1920 census did not include Blacks, Mulattos, and Asians as part of the American population used for the quotas. The lowest quota per country was 100 individuals,[31] but even then only those eligible for citizenship could immigrate to the U.S. (i.e. only whites in China could immigrate). Establishing national origin quotas for the country proved to be a difficult task, and was not accepted and completed until 1929.[33] The act gave 85% of the immigration quota to Northern and Western Europe and those who had an education or had a trade. The other 15% went disproportionately to Eastern and Southern Europe.[32]

The act established preferences under the quota system for certain relatives of U.S. residents, including their unmarried children under 21, their parents, and spouses at least 21 and over. It also preferred immigrants at least 21 who were skilled in agriculture and their wives and dependent children under 16. Non-quota status was accorded to wives and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; non-immigrants; and certain others.

Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of the law's inherent discrimination against women.

Quota calculation formula

In 1927, the 1924 act was modified to use census data from 1920. The Bureau of the Census and Department of Commerce estimated the National Origins of the White Population of the United States in 1920 in numbers, then calculated the percentage share each nationality made up. The National Origins Formula derived quotas by calculating the equivalent proportion of each nationality out of a total pool of 150,000 annual quota immigrants, with a minimum quota of 100. This formula was used until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 adopted a simplified formula limiting each country to a flat quota of one-sixth of one percent of that nationality's 1920 population count, with a minimum quota of 100.[34][3][4]

Country of origin Population count Percentage share
Austria 843,000 0.942%
 Belgium 778,000 0.869%
 Czechoslovakia 1,715,000 1.916%
 Denmark 705,000 0.788%
 Estonia 69,000 0.077%
 Finland 339,000 0.379%
 France 1,842,000 2.058%
 Germany 15,489,000 17.305%
 Greece 183,000 0.204%
 Hungary 519,000 0.580%
 Ireland 10,653,000 11.902%
 Italy 3,462,000 3.868%
 Latvia 141,000 0.158%
 Lithuania 230,000 0.257%
 Netherlands 1,881,000 2.102%
 Norway 1,419,000 1.585%
 Poland 3,893,000 4.349%
Portugal 263,000 0.294%
 Romania 176,000 0.197%
 Russia (part of  Soviet Union) 1,661,000 1.856%
Spain 150,000 0.168%
 Sweden 1,977,000 2.209%
Syria & Lebanon 73,000 0.082%
 Switzerland 1,019,000 1.138%
 Turkey 135,000 0.151%
 United Kingdom 39,216,000 43.814%
 Yugoslavia 504,000 0.563%
1920  USA Total 89,507,000 100.000%

Quotas by country under successive laws

Listed below are historical quotas on emigration from the Eastern Hemisphere, by country, as applied in given fiscal years ending June 30, calculated according to successive immigration laws and revisions from the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 to the final quota year of 1965. The 1922 and 1925 systems based on dated census records of the foreign-born population were intended as temporary measures; the 1924 Act's National Origins Formula based on the 1920 census of the total U.S. population took effect on July 1, 1929.[2][35][36][34][3][4]

Annual National Quota Act of 1921Act of 1924Act of 1952
1922[lower-alpha 1] % 1925[lower-alpha 2] % 1930[lower-alpha 3] % 1965[lower-alpha 4] %
Albania 288 0.08% 100 0.06% 100 0.07% 100 0.06%
 Armenia 230 0.06% 124 0.08% 100 0.07% 100 0.06%
Austria 7,451 2.08% 785 0.48% 1,413 0.92% 1,405 0.89%
 Belgium 1,563 0.44% 512 0.31% 1,304 0.85% 1,297 0.82%
 Bulgaria 302 0.08% 100 0.06% 100 0.07% 100 0.06%
 Czechoslovakia 14,357 4.01% 3,073 1.87% 2,874 1.87% 2,859 1.80%
 Danzig 301 0.08% 228 0.14% 100 0.07%
 Denmark 5,619 1.57% 2,789 1.69% 1,181 0.77% 1,175 0.74%
 Estonia 1,348 0.38% 124 0.08% 116 0.08% 115 0.07%
 Finland 3,921 1.10% 471 0.29% 569 0.37% 566 0.36%
 Fiume 71 0.02%
 France 5,729 1.60% 3,954 2.40% 3,086 2.01% 3,069 1.94%
 Germany 67,607 18.90% 51,227 31.11% 25,957 16.89% 25,814 16.28%
 Greece 3,294 0.92% 100 0.06% 307 0.20% 308 0.19%
 Hungary 5,638 1.58% 473 0.29% 869 0.57% 865 0.55%
Iceland 75 0.02% 100 0.06% 100 0.07% 100 0.06%
 Ireland [lower-alpha 5] 28,567 17.35% 17,853 11.61% 17,756 11.20%
 Italy 42,057 11.75% 3,854 2.34% 5,802 3.77% 5,666 3.57%
 Latvia 1,540 0.43% 142 0.09% 236 0.15% 235 0.15%
 Lithuania 2,460 0.69% 344 0.21% 386 0.25% 384 0.24%
 Luxembourg 92 0.03% 100 0.06% 100 0.07% 100 0.06%
 Netherlands 3,607 1.01% 1,648 1.00% 3,153 2.05% 3,136 1.98%
 Norway 12,202 3.41% 6,453 3.92% 2,377 1.55% 2,364 1.49%
 Poland 31,146 8.70% 5,982 3.63% 6,524 4.24% 6,488 4.09%
Portugal 2,465 0.69% 503 0.31% 440 0.29% 438 0.28%
 Romania 7,419 2.07% 603 0.37% 295 0.19% 289 0.18%
 Russia (part of  Soviet Union)[lower-alpha 6] 24,405 6.82% 2,248 1.37% 2,784 1.81% 2,697 1.70%
Spain 912 0.25% 131 0.08% 252 0.16% 250 0.16%
 Sweden 20,042 5.60% 9,561 5.81% 3,314 2.16% 3,295 2.08%
 Switzerland 3,752 1.05% 2,081 1.26% 1,707 1.11% 1,698 1.07%
 Turkey 2,388 0.67% 100 0.06% 226 0.15% 225 0.14%
 United Kingdom[lower-alpha 5] 77,342 21.62% 34,007 20.65% 65,721 42.76% 65,361 41.22%
 Yugoslavia 6,426 1.80% 671 0.41% 845 0.55% 942 0.59%
 Australia and  New Zealand 359 0.10% 221 0.13% 200 0.13% 700 0.44%
Total from Europe 356,135 99.53% 161,546 98.10% 150,591 97.97% 149,697 94.41%
Total from Asia 1,066 0.30% 1,300 0.79% 1,323 0.86% 3,690 2.33%
Total from Africa 122 0.03% 1,200 0.73% 1,200 0.78% 4,274 2.70%
Total from all Countries 357,803 100.00% 164,667 100.00% 153,714 100.00% 158,561 100.00%
  1. Quota per country limited to 3% of the number of foreign-born persons of that nationality residing in the U.S. in the 1910 census (FY 1922-1924)
  2. Quota per country limited to 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of that nationality residing in the U.S. in the 1890 census (FY 1925-1929)
  3. Quota per nationality limited to a percentage share of 150,000 in a ratio proportional to the number of U.S. inhabitants of that national origin as a share of all U.S. inhabitants in the 1920 census (FY 1930-1952)
  4. Quota per nationality limited to one-sixth of 1% of the number of U.S. inhabitants of that national origin in the 1920 census (FY 1953-1965)
  5. From 1921 to 1924, quota for United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland encompassed all of Ireland; after 1925, only Northern Ireland, with a separate quota created for the Irish Free State
  6. USSR excluding regions falling under the Asiatic Barred Zone while in effect

Visas and border control

The act also established the "consular control system" of immigration, which divided responsibility for immigration between the U.S. State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The act also mandated no alien to be allowed to enter the United States without a valid immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad.[37]

Consular officers were now allowed to issue visas to eligible applicants, but the number of visas to be issued by each consulate annually was limited, and no more than 10% of the quota could be given out in any one month. Aliens were not able to leave their home countries before having a valid visa, as opposed to the old system of deporting them at ports of debarkation. That gave a double layer of protection to the border since if they were found to be inadmissible, immigrants could still be deported on arrival.[29]

Establishment of Border Patrol

The National Origins Act authorized the formation of the United States Border Patrol, which was established two days after the act was passed, primarily to guard the Mexico–United States border.[38] A $10 tax was imposed on Mexican immigrants, who were allowed to continue immigrating based on their perceived willingness to provide cheap labor.


Relative proportions of immigrants from Northwestern Europe[lower-alpha 1] (red) and Southern and Eastern Europe[lower-alpha 2] (blue) in the decades before and after the act

The act was seen in a negative light in Japan, causing resignations of ambassadors and protests.[24] A citizen committed seppuku near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo with a note that read: "Appealing to the American people".[21] American businesses situated in Japan suffered the economic brunt of the legislation's repercussions, as the Japanese government subsequently increased tariffs on American trading by '100 per cent'.[39]

Passage of the Immigration Act has been credited with ending a growing democratic movement in Japan during this time period, and opening the door to Japanese militarist government control.[40] According to David C. Atkinson, on the Japaneses government's perception of the act, "this indignity is seen as a turning point in the growing estrangement of the U.S. and Japan, which culminated in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor".[24]

The act's revised formula reduced total emigration from 357,803 between 1923 and 1924 to 164,667 between 1924 and 1925.[38] The law's impact varied widely by country. Emigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while emigration from Italy fell more than 90%.[41] From 1901 to 1914, 2.9 million Italians immigrated, an average of 210,000 per year.[42] Under the 1924 quota, only 4,000 per year were allowed since the 1890 quota counted only 182,580 Italians in the U.S.[43] By contrast, the annual quota for Germany after the passage of the act was over 55,000 since German-born residents in 1890 numbered 2,784,894.[43] Germany, Britain, and Ireland had the highest representation in 1890.[43] The provisions of the act were so restrictive that in 1924 more Italians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, Spaniards, Chinese, and Japanese left the United States than arrived as immigrants.[19]

The law sharply curtailed emigration from those countries that were previously host to the vast majority of the Jews in the United States, almost 75% of whom emigrated from Russia alone.[44] Because Eastern European immigration did not become substantial until the late 19th century, the law's use of the population of the United States in 1890 as the basis for calculating quotas effectively made mass migration from Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of the Jewish diaspora lived at the time, impossible.[45][46] In 1929, the quotas were adjusted to one-sixth of 1% of the 1920 census figures, and the overall immigration limit reduced to 150,000.[13][47][38] The law was not modified to aid the flight of Jewish refugees in the 1930s or 1940s despite the rise of Nazi Germany.[lower-alpha 3][lower-alpha 4] The quotas were adjusted to allow more Jewish refugees after World War II, but without increasing immigration overall.[47]

During World War II, the U.S. modified the act to set immigration quotas for their allies in China.[5] The immigration quotas were eased in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and replaced in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[1][50]


The act has been characterized as the culmination of decades of intentional exclusion of Asian immigrants.[51]

According to a 2023 study in the American Economic Journal, the immigration restrictions did not benefit US-born workers. Farming, a sector of the economy highly reliant on migrant labor, shifted towards more capital-intensive forms of agriculture, whereas the mining industry, another immigrant-reliant industry, contracted.[52]

Looking back on the significance of the act, Harry Laughlin, the eugenicist who served as expert advisor to the House Committee on Immigration during the legislative process, praised it as a political breakthrough in the adoption of scientific racism as a theoretical foundation for immigration policy.[28] Due to the reliance upon eugenics in forming the policy, and growing public reception towards scientific racism as justification for restriction and racial stereotypes by 1924, the act has been seen as a piece of legislation that formalized the views of contemporary U.S. society.[53] Historian Mae Ngai writes of the national origins quota system:

At one level, the new immigration law differentiated Europeans according to nationality and ranked them in a hierarchy of desirability. At another level, the law constructed a white American race, in which persons of European descent shared a common whiteness distinct from those deemed to be not white.[54]

See also



  1. Defined in the act as immigrants from Germany, Free City of Danzig, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the British Isles and Scandinavia
  2. Defined in the act as immigrants from the Baltic States, all Slavic nations, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Albania and Greece
  3. On May 18, 1937, the Omnibus Immigration Bill entered Congress, which was intended to naturalize Jews who had entered the country illegally. It was supported by a majority, including most Republicans, such as future US President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as Southern 'Dixiecrats'.[48]
  4. President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited 982 refugees, most of whom were Jewish, to stay at Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter until the war was over.[49]


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  4. "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1966" (PDF). Statistical Abstract of the United States ...: Finance, Coinage, Commerce, Immigration, Shipping, the Postal Service, Population, Railroads, Agriculture, Coal and Iron (87th ed.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census: 89–93. July 1966. ISSN 0081-4741. LCCN 04-018089. OCLC 781377180. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 28, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  5. Guisepi, Robert A. (January 29, 2007). "Asian Americans". World History International. Archived from the original on May 27, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2008.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  6. Tichenor, Daniel J (2002). Dividing lines: the politics of immigration control in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 84. ISBN 9781400824984.
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  8. Tichenor, Daniel J (2002). Dividing Lines: the politics of immigration control in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 138. ISBN 9781400824984.
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