1919 Aliens Restriction Act

23 Dec 1919

The 1919 Aliens Restriction Act extended the powers of the wartime Act of 1914 which obliged foreign nationals to register with the police, enabled their deportation, and restricted where they could live. The primary aim of the 1914 Act was to target ‘enemy aliens’ resident in Britain during the First World War. The 1919 Act continued these restrictions into peace-time and extended them. It restricted the employment rights of aliens resident in Britain, barring them from certain jobs (in the civil service, for example), and had a particular impact on foreign seamen working on British ships. It also targeted criminals, paupers and ‘undesirables’, and made it illegal for aliens to promote industrial actionA motivation for the extension of the restrictions was the end to the wartime labour shortages and consequent desire to safeguard jobs for indigenous white Britons.

South Asians were not formally classified as ‘aliens’ as they were citizens of empire. However, many were harassed because of the legislation. The 1919 Act was renewed annually until 1971 when it was replaced by the Immigration Act.

Secondary works: 

Tabili, Laura, ‘We Ask for British Justice’: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Archive source: 

Metropolitan Police Archives, MEPO 35, National Archives, Kew