Emergency Quota Act

The Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, the Per Centum Law, and the Johnson Quota Act (ch. 8, 42 Stat. 5 of May 19, 1921), was formulated mainly in response to the large influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans and successfully restricted their immigration as well as that of other "undesirables" to the United States. Although intended as temporary legislation, it "proved, in the long run, the most important turning-point in American immigration policy"[2] because it added two new features to American immigration law: numerical limits on immigration and the use of a quota system for establishing those limits, which came to be known as the National Origins Formula.

Emergency Quota Act
Other short titles
  • Emergency Immigration Act of 1921
  • Immigration Restriction Act of 1921
  • Johnson Quota Act
Long titleAn Act to limit the immigration of aliens into the United States.[1]
NicknamesPer Centum Limit Act
Enacted bythe 67th United States Congress
EffectiveMay 19, 1921
Public lawPub.L. 67–5
Statutes at Large42 Stat. 5
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 4075 by Albert Johnson (R-WA)
  • Passed the House on April 22, 1921 (passed voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate on May 3, 1921 (90-2)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on May 5, 1921; agreed to by the House on May 13, 1921 (285-41) and by the Senate on May 13, 1921 (agreed)
  • Signed into law by President Warren G. Harding on May 19, 1921

The Emergency Quota Act restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that country living in the United States as of the 1910 Census.[3] That meant that people from Northern and Western Europe had a higher quota and were more likely to be admitted to the US than those from Eastern or Southern Europe or from non-European countries.

However, professionals were to be admitted without regard to their country of origin and no limits were set on immigration from Latin America. The act did not apply to countries with bilateral agreements with the US or to Asian countries listed in the Immigration Act of 1917, known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act.[1] However, the act was not seen as restrictive enough since millions of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe had come into the US since 1890.

The Immigration Act of 1924 reduced the quota to 2% of countries' representation in the 1890 census, when a fairly small percentage of the population was from the regions that were regarded as less than desirable. To execute the new quota, the visa system that is still in use today was implemented in 1924.[4] It mandated all non-citizens seeking to enter the US to obtain and present a visa obtained from a US embassy or consulate before they arrived to the US.[5]

Immigration inspectors handled the visa packets depending on whether they were non-immigrant (visitor) or immigrant (permanent admission).[5] Non-immigrant visas were kept at the ports of entry and were later destroyed, but immigrant visas were sent to the Central Office, in Washington, DC, for processing and filing.[5]

Based on the formula, the number of new immigrants admitted fell from 805,228 in 1920 to 309,556 in 1921-22.[6] The average annual inflow of immigrants prior to 1921 was 175,983 from Northern and Western Europe and 685,531 from other countries, mainly Southern and Eastern Europe. In 1921, there was a drastic reduction in immigration levels from other countries, principally Southern and Eastern Europe.[citation needed]

After the end of World War I, both Europe and the United States were experiencing economic and social upheaval. In Europe, the war's destruction, the Russian Revolution, and the dissolutions of both the Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire led to an increase of immigration to the United States. In the US, an economic downturn after the postwar demobilization increased unemployment. The combination of increased immigration from Europe at the time of higher American unemployment strengthened the anti-immigrant movement.

The act, sponsored by US Representative Albert Johnson (R-Washington),[7] was passed without a recorded vote in the US House of Representatives and by a vote of 90-2-4 in the US Senate.[8]

The act was revised by the Immigration Act of 1924.

The use of the National Origins Formula continued until it was replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which introduced a system of preferences, based on immigrants' skills and family relationships with US citizens or US residents.