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Aliens Act 1905

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Anti-immigration poster, from 1902

The Aliens Act 1905 was "An Act to amend the law with regard to Aliens" passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1905.[1] The act for the first time introduced immigration controls and registration, and gave the Home Secretary overall responsibility for immigration and nationality matters.[1] The Act was designed to prevent paupers or criminals from entering the country and set up a mechanism to deport those who slipped through. It provided asylum for people fleeing religious or political persecution. Anti-Semitic elements wanted a stop or place severe restrictions on Jewish immigration to Britain, but were completely defeated. The 1905 Act did not meet any of the demands of restrictionists who wanted numerical restrictions on immigration. Liberals generally opposed restrictions, which were favored by trade unions.

Demands for restriction

In the 19th century, Tsarist Russia was home to about five million Jews, at the time, the "largest Jewish community in the world".[2] Subjected to religious persecution, they were obliged to live in the Pale of Settlement, on the Polish-Russian borders, in conditions of great poverty.[2] About half left, mostly for the United States, but many - about 150,000 - arrived in Britain.[2] This reached its peak in the late 1890s, with "tens of thousands of Jews ... mostly poor, semi-skilled and unskilled" settling in the East End of London.[2]

By the turn of the century, a popular and media backlash had begun.[2] The British Brothers League was formed, with the support of local notables, organising marches and petitions.[2] At rallies, its speakers said that Britain should not become "the dumping ground for the scum of Europe".[2] In 1905, an editorial in the Manchester Evening Chronicle[3] wrote "that the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous and criminal foreigner who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land".


  1. 1.0 1.1 Moving Here
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Channel 4
  3. Quoted by Channel 4: Immigration

Further reading

  • Feldman, David. "Was the Nineteenth Century a Golden Age for Immigrants?" in Andreas Fahrmeir et al., eds. Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period (2003), pp 167–77 shows the actual impact of the 1905 law was small and largely bureaucratic.
  • Garrard, John A. The English and Immigration, 1880-1910 (1971)
  • Gartner, Lloyd A. The Jewish Immigrant in England 1870-1914, London (1960): Simon Publications. ISBN ) 908620 00 6
  • Pellew, Jill. "The Home Office and the Aliens Act, 1905," The Historical Journal, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 369–385 in JSTOR

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