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Immigration Restriction Previous Next
Digital History ID 3295


Gradually during the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States imposed additional restrictions on immigration. In 1882, excluded people were likely to become public charges. It subsequently prohibited the immigration of contract laborers (1885) and illiterates (1917), and all Asian immigrants (except for Filipinos, who were U.S. nationals) (1917). Other acts restricted the entry of certain criminals, people who were considered immoral, those suffering from certain diseases, and paupers. Under the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907-1908, the Japanese government agreed to limit passports issued to Japanese in order to permit wives to enter the United States; and in 1917, the United States barred all Asian immigrants except for Filipinos, who were U.S. nationals. Intolerance toward immigrants from southern and eastern Europe resulted in the Immigration Act of 1924, which placed a numerical cap on immigration and instituted a deliberately discriminatory system of national quotas. In 1965, the United States adopted a new immigration law which ended the quota system.

During the 20th century, all advanced countries imposed restrictions on the entry of immigrants. A variety of factors encouraged immigration restriction. These include a concern about the impact of immigration on the economic well-being of a country's workforce as well as anxiety about the feasibility of assimilating immigrants of diverse ethnic and cultural origins. Especially following World War I and World War II, countries expressed concern that foreign immigrants might threaten national security by introducing alien ideologies.

It is only in the 20th century that governments became capable of effectively enforcing immigration restrictions. Before the 20th century, Russia was the only major European country to enforce a system of passports and travel regulations. During and after World War I, however, many western countries adopted systems of passports and border controls as well as more restrictive immigration laws. The Russian Revolution prompted fear of foreign radicalism exacerbated by the Russian Revolution, while many countries feared that their societies would be overwhelmed by a postwar surge of refugees.

Among the first societies to adopt restrictive immigration policies were Europe's overseas colonies. Apart from prohibitions on the slave trade, many of the earliest immigration restrictions were aimed at Asian immigrants. The United States imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It barred the entry of Chinese laborers and established stringent conditions under which Chinese merchants and their families could enter. Canada also imposed restrictions on Chinese immigration. It imposed a "head" tax (which was $500 in 1904) and required migrants to arrive by a "continuous voyage."

  • Xenophobia: Hatred of foreigners and immigrants.
  • Nativism: The policy of keeping a society ethnically homogenous.

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