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Immigration in United Kingdom

“A politically charged subject in Britain -in accordance to Bamber Gascoigne´ Encyclopedia of Britain about “Immigration”– since the 1960s. In the years immediately after World War II, when the country had need of cheap labour, immigration from within the Commonwealth was made easy. The new arrivals came first from the West Indies and then from the Indian subcontinent. But alarm in some quarters at their numbers led to a Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962. In 1968 the Commonwealth Immigrants Act further restricted the number of Asians arriving from Kenya. By then it was possible for politicians to play on prejudices against ethnic minorities. It was the year of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, and *neo-Nazis were making their appearance in Britain.

The present law derives from the Immigration Acts of 1971 and 1988 and from the British Nationality Act of 1981. The combined effect of these has been to limit permanent entry to *British citizens, citizens of the republic of Ireland and certain Commonwealth citizens (those born before 1983 with at least one British parent); meanwhile EC regulations allow residence to citizens of other EC countries. Any outside these categories who are allowed to settle either have skills in short supply in Britain or have been granted political asylum.

A recent area of friction has resulted from the established custom by which many Asians return to their country of origin to marry. Marriage to a British citizen automatically conferred the right of abode until the act of 1981 introduced the ‘primary purpose’ rule – an obligation on foreigners marrying British citizens to prove that the primary purpose was not residence in Britain. This is stricter than the equivalent law in other EC countries, and a ruling by the *European Court of Justice in 1992 cast doubt on its legality.”

Immigration: UK Legal History

Many Irish people immigrated to Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among other immigrant groups, there was also an influx of Eastern European Jews between 1870 and 1914. After 1945, Commonwealth immigration became a significant and controversial political issue.

Related documents

Labour shortage and a declining population

Increased immigration

Discrimination and immigration restrictions

Notting Hill riots

The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962

The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968

The Immigration Act of 1971

Search using Commonwealth immigration British Nationality Act

Further reading

Glennerster, H., British Social Policy 1945 to the Present (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007)

Holmes, C., John Bull’s Island: Immigration and British Society 1871-1971. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988)

Jones, C., Immigration and Social Policy in Britain. (London: Tavistock, 1977)

Layton-Henry, Z., The Politics of Immigration: ‘Race’ and ‘Race’ Relations in Post-war Britain. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)

Spencer, I.R.G., British Immigration Policy Since 1939: The Making of Multi-racial Britain. (London: Routledge, 1997)



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  • Article Name: Immigration
  • Author: International
  • Description: A politically charged subject in Britain -in accordance to Bamber Gascoigne´ Encyclopedia of Britain about “Immigration”- [...]

This entry was last updated: November 4, 2020

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