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IRG Spencer, ‘The open door, labour needs and British Immigration Policy, 1945-55’.

The article by I.R.G Spencer is divided into four parts and overall aims to recognise the policies made by the British government to restrict the settlements of subjects from the Empire and Commonwealth. The articles largely counterargues the common belief that Britain maintained an ‘open door’ policy in terms of immigration as the author examines that as early as the 1930s, British officials spoke of a ‘problem’ of settlement of people from the Empire and Commonwealth. Although not always through legislation, the British immigration policy was largely argued to be ‘obstructionist’, limiting the human movement of people from the areas mentioned above.  

Part one of the article examines the notion that immigration in the post-war period until 1962 was ‘racialised’ and race was often ‘politicised’. According to Spencer, this was the reason for a shift from the non-discriminatory to obstructive immigration policies. Spencer also argues that the British Government despite recruiting people from the Commonwealth and Empire during the Second World War, it largely pushed for them to return to their homeland after the hostilities stopped. Part one of the articles is concluded by an analysis of the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962, which was said to provide a legal framework which enabled the British Government to limit settlement of Black and Asian British subjects.  

The second part of the article provides the reader with an insight into the different methods undertaken by the British government to discourage the settlement of – mainly – colonial citizens. The author gives examples of changes to issuing of passports and other administrative devices, one of these is the movement of passport approval from the colonial government to London, where the officials were said to be stricter on allowing entry and settlement. Further, many of those wishing to travel to Britain were required to possess a sponsor before being granted entry, this often discouraged the less affluent migrants. Additionally, the author also describes how the British Government aimed to deter colonial citizens from wishing to settle in Britain by sending over unemployment figures – especially those of colonials already settled in Britain. Lastly, within the second part of the article, the author states that although Britain was said to provide equality for all members of the Empire and Commonwealth, that certainly was not the case for other ‘foreigners’. 

Part three of the article discusses the ‘colour problem’ as a result of Empire Windrush. However, the author discusses how following an investigation, proposal for additional restrictions was rejected due to a lack of evidence that Empire Windrush was the beginning of a large-scale immigration. This part of the article also states that there was a lack of mention of labour needs during immigration debates and that one cannot generalise the attitudes towards Commonwealth immigration was the attitudes and opinions varied. 

The article is concluded in section four where the author argues that the measures put in place were of little success, particularly in the Caribbean. However, in the Indian subcontinent, emigration to Britain was made much more difficult as a result of the changes. 

Overall, the article is very detailed and informative, examining each aspect of British policy in the period 1945-55 thoroughly.  

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