Aliens Act 1905

The Aliens Act 1905 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[2] The Act introduced immigration controls and registration for the first time, and gave the Home Secretary overall responsibility for matters concerning immigration and nationality.[2]

Aliens Act, 1905[1]
Long titleAn Act to amend the Law with regard to Aliens.
Citation5 Edw. 7 c. 13
Royal assent11 August 1905
Other legislation
Repealed byAliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

While the Act was ostensibly designed to prevent paupers or criminals from entering the country and set up a mechanism to deport those who slipped through, one of its main objectives was to control Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.[3] Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe significantly increased after 1880[4] which served as some basis for the creation of the Aliens Act 1905. Although it remained in force, the 1905 Act was effectively subsumed by the Aliens Restriction Act 1914, which introduced far more restrictive provisions. It was eventually repealed by the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919.

Demands for restrictionEdit

Anti-immigration poster from 1902, advertising a speech by William Evans-Gordon.

In the 19th century, the Russian Empire was home to about five million Jews, at the time, the "largest Jewish community in the world".[3] Subjected to religious persecution, they were obliged to live in the Pale of Settlement, on the Polish-Russian borders, in conditions of great poverty.[3] About half left, mostly for the United States, but many – about 150,000 – arrived in the United Kingdom, mostly in England.[3] 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.[3]

By the turn of the century, a media and public backlash had begun.[3] The British Brothers League was formed, with the support of prominent politicians such as William Evans-Gordon, MP for Stepney, organising marches and petitions.[3] At rallies, its speakers said that Britain should not become "the dumping ground for the scum of Europe".[3] 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". Antisemitism broke out into violence in South Wales in 1902 and 1903 where Jews were assaulted.[5]

Aside from antisemitic sentiments, the act was also driven by the economic and social unrest in the East End of London where most immigrants settled. Work was difficult to come by and families required all members to contribute.[6]

See alsoEdit

  • Edict of Expulsion 1290 was a prior legal measure against Jewish people under English law.


  1. ^ Short title as conferred by s. 10 of the Act; the modern convention for the citation of short titles omits the comma after the word "Act"
  2. ^ a b Moving Here
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Rosenberg, 'Immigration' on the Channel 4 website
  4. ^ Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905, (London, Heinemann Educational books LTD, 1972) Preface.
  5. ^ David Cesarani, The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry 1841-1991, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994) p. 98.
  6. ^ Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905, (London, Heinemann Educational books LTD, 1972) pp. 19-20.

Further readingEdit

  • Bernard Gainer, The Alien Invasion: The Origins of the Aliens Act of 1905 (London, Heinemann Educational books Ltd, 1972)
  • 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.
  • Pellew, Jill. "The Home Office and the Aliens Act, 1905," The Historical Journal, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 369–385 in JSTOR

External linksEdit