An annual limitation of 170,000 visas was established for immigrants from Eastern Hemisphere countries with no more than 20,000 per country. By 1968, the annual limitation from the Western Hemisphere was set at 120,000 immigrants, with visas available on a first-come, first-served basis. However, the number of family reunification visas was unlimited, and it is only now that there are any country-origin quotas for spouses of US citizens, and numerical quotas for other relatives of US citizens.
In the Congress, the House of Representatives voted 326 to 69 (82.5%) in favor of the act while the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 76 to 18. Opposition mainly came from Southern legislators. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation into law.
During debate on the Senate floor, Senator Kennedy, speaking of the effects of the act, said, "First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same.... Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset.... Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia.... In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think.... The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs." (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 1965. pp. 1-3.) The act's supporters not only claimed the law would not change America's ethnic makeup, but that such a change was not desirable.
The Immigration Act of 1965 shifted the focus of immigration law from non-European countries to countries that were considered to be Third World. Presidents Johnson and Kennedy hoped that by reforming immigration law, they would not only improve relations with non-European nations, but they would reaffirm America's principles of freedom and equality.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 became law on July 1, 1968. Along with the act of 1952, it serves as one of the parts of the United States Code until this day.