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Jewish Migration: Aliens Act

ALIENS ACT, measure enacted by the British parliament in 1905 which restricted immigration into Britain from areas outside the British Empire; it is generally believed to have been chiefly a response to heavy East European Jewish immigration into Britain after 1880. (In British law, the age-old term "alien" is used to designate someone who is not a citizen of Britain or its Empire; it has no derogatory connotations.) Agitation to restrict Jewish immigration began in the 1880s and became more outspoken through the actions of a number of right-wing groups and activists. In 1902, a Royal Commission was held into this question which recommended that there should be no general restriction on immigration but that "undesirable" migrants should be excluded. By the Act of 1905, would-be immigrants had to disembark only at a designated port, where officials could deny entry to "undesirable" immigrants, especially those without means of support. Historians have generally believed that the Aliens Act reduced East European Jewish immigration to Britain by about one-third in the years 1905–14. Recent research, however, has suggested that the Act had only limited effects, and that immigration declined because of perceptions of much greater economic opportunity in America. As Britain had no immigration restrictions prior to the 1905 Act, plainly something like it was inevitable. In 1919, following World War I, the 1905 Act was replaced by a much more stringent one which virtually ended Jewish immigration to Britain until the 1930s.


V.D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England, 1850–1950 (1954); B. Garner, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (1972); G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1992), 132–37; W.D. Rubinstein, Jews in Great Britain, 153–58; A. Godley, Jewish Immigrant Entrepreneurship in New York and London, 1880–1914: Enterprise and Culture (2001).

[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.