The House moved toward passage of a major overhaul of the nation's legal immigration system yesterday, rejecting a move to limit the annual total of newcomers arriving in this country to 630,000.

The vote was 245 to 165, a victory by those who said the measure would have torpedoed efforts to reunite families and bring in skilled workers. Supporters said it would have prevented a strain on government services by an overflow of immigrants.

The bill would ease restrictions on reunification of families split by current immigration law and end 25-year-old barriers that make it tough for people from certain countries to enter. It also would increase the number of highly skilled and otherwise needed foreign-born workers.

"This is a far-reaching reform of our immigration system," said Rep. Bruce A. Morrison (D-Conn.). Work on the bill continues today.

The Bush administration has been cold to the House version, preferring the Senate's proposed limit of 630,000 annual immigrants. The House bill would raise the ceiling from the current 540,000 to 775,000.

The bill would extend to immediate families of permanent U.S. residents the same unrestricted right to enter as is now provided to families of U.S. citizens. It would raise the influx of such individuals from the current 436,000 to about 520,000.

A "diversity program" would be created under which the government would provide 55,000 visas for individuals in 34 nations adversely affected when the 1965 law did away with the country quota system that had governed immigration for decades. The bill would increase from 54,000 to 188,000 the number of employment-based visas.