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British Attitudes towards Immigrants to Britain over the Last 100 Year: Analytical Essay

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Analyse British attitudes towards immigrants to Britain over the last 100 years and analyse the reasons for these attitudes and for changes over time.

Immigration has long been a topic under discussion because it is a significant demographic and social phenomenon. It involves a wide range of complex issues closely related to people’s lives, which makes people’s attitudes towards immigrants vary. Figure 1 displays a detailed description of British people’s attitude changes in the last century. The detailed analysis and reasons are as follows.

In 1920-1937, after World War I, British attitudes towards immigrants, mainly Russian refugees (Clohesy, 2020), were negative. On the government side, as Wilson suggests, the Aliens Order of 1920 signaled a greater control of immigrants (Wilson, 1959 in Panayi, 1992), setting the tone for British attitudes towards immigrants in the next decades. As for public opinion, Panayi mentions that people had a feeling of “apathy” toward these refugees (1993). There were three reasons for the negative attitudes. After the war, firstly, the closure of munitions factories and retooling caused unemployment in the society (Cesarani,1992). British people feared that immigrants would intensify the problem. Secondly, the “economic dislocation” (Cesarani,1992) after the war was a big concern. An increase of immigrants would overload the country’s resources. Thirdly, people considered these immigrants as right-wing diehard (Wilson, 1959 in Panayi, 1992). They feared that immigrants could be a threat to society.

From 1938 to 1945, although some immigration restrictions still existed (Cesarani, 1992), generally, British attitudes towards immigrants were sympathetic. Panayi mentions that in 1938-1939, a large influx of refugees from Nazism sought entrance into British society, and in World War II, refugees from European conflict entered Britain (1993). In both periods of time, Britain actively helped refugees to integrate into society. As Panayi states, many reception committees, “usually backed with government money”, were formed to aid the refugees, and just “by 1939 over 200 provincial committees of the above, and other, organizations existed” (1993). The reasons for the attitudes could be that on the one hand, humanitarianism in British society resulted in a sympathetic view toward immigrants (Kay and Miles, 1988 in Panayi, 1992). On the other hand, the aid for the refugees might help Britain to set up a good image internationally.

In 1946-1961, after World War II, government attitudes toward immigrants were positive while public attitudes were negative. In 1948, according to Clohesy, the “British Nationality Act technically gave every Commonwealth the right to move to Britain” (2020). And this led to a large influx of immigrants of Commonwealth citizens, mainly from South Asia and the Caribbean (Ford, 2011). Two reasons could be accounted for the government’s positive attitudes towards immigrants. Economically, after World War II, as Clohesy suggests, Britain needed a labor force to help rebuild the country (2020). Politically, the immigrant policy at that time was, as McLaren and Johnson suggest, “determined by the concern for maintaining subjecthood linkages with the Old Commonwealth of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand”(2007). However, public opinions were negative, since most of the Commonwealth immigrants were black people. Just as Ford points out, non-white immigrants were more likely to receive negative opinions, and “hostility to migrants from South Asia and the Caribbean was vociferous from the outset” (2011).

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[bookmark: _Hlk39521577]From 1962 to 1988, British people’s attitudes towards immigrants became worse. That was mainly on account of a series of social events. The rapid breakout of imported smallpox was a beginning. Bivins notes that it marked the changes of British people’s attitudes toward immigrants (2007). The British people were furious at the immigrants who brought the smallpox virus to Britain. Bivins also mentions that with the raising payment to the welfare system that was mainly supported by government tax income, the British people considered that they paid a great price for the welfare of the immigrants (2007). Things went worse later. Small and Solomos point out that the widespread riots caused British people to worry (2006). Immigrants were discriminated against in this time period.

In recent decades(from 1988 to 2020), British people’s attitudes towards immigrants tend to be more positive in general, which is caused by the British government’s ideology. Velázquez points out that the British government intends to embrace multiculturalism and diversity by using immigration as a helpful strategy (2017). Karatani also expresses a similar idea that the British government acknowledges immigration officially due to its influence on cultural enrichment, which has a very powerful and positive impact on British people’s opinion on immigrants (2019).

However, what cannot be ignored is that the sentiment against immigration still exists. Specifically, the sentiment and negative perceptions toward immigrants result from some British people’s sense of threat of their own group(Blinder, 2011). In other words, those people who hold negative opinions towards immigrants experience more feelings of threat to their own cultural identity and culture than others. Moreover, as binder states, those people tend to think that immigrants cause a bad impact on literally every aspect of life, including the economy, society, and politics (2011). The media is to blame for that because they tend to portray immigrants as criminals, terrorists, and people who steal their jobs (Sinno and Hellwig, 2016). Those negative portrayals influence those people who hold negative opinions. That explains with a great many of people being positive, why there are still people holding negative opinions towards immigrants.

All in all, in the last century, British people’s attitudes towards immigrants change through time. Society, politics, economy, and culture are all important factors that have a huge impact on people’s opinions to immigrants. These factors work together and help people’s ideas toward immigrants to evolve and develop. In the future, not only British people but people from all over the world should combine those factors together when it comes to viewing immigrants.

Reference list:

  1. Bivins, R. (2007) ‘“The people have no more love left for the Commonwealth”: Media, migration, and identity in the 1961–62 British smallpox outbreak’, Immigrants & Minorities, 25 (3), pp.263-289. DOI: 10.1080/02619280802407376.
  2. Blinder, S. (2011) ‘UK Public Opinion toward Migration: Determinants of Attitudes’, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May 2020].
  3. [bookmark: _Hlk39408817]Cesarani, D. (1992) ‘An alien concept? The continuity of anti‐alienism in British society before 1940’, Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration, and Diaspora, 11(3), pp. 24-52, DOI: 10.1080/02619288.1992.9974788.
  4. Colhesy, A. (2020) PPT
  5. Ford, R. (2011) ‘Acceptable and unacceptable immigrants: How opposition to immigration in Britain is affected by migrants’ region of origin’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(7), pp. 1017-1037. DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2011.572423.
  6. Hellwig, T. and Sinno, A. (2016) ‘Different groups, different threats: public attitudes towards immigrants’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43(3), pp. 339-358, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2016.1202749.
  7. Karatani, R. (2019) ‘Britishness Reconsidered: Interplay Between Immigration and Nationality Legislation and Policymaking in Twenty-first Century Britain’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 47(5), pp. 1021-1042. DOI: 10.1080/03086534.2019.1677347.
  8. McLaren, L. and Johnson, M. (2007) ‘Resources, Group Conflict and Symbols: Explaining Anti-Immigration Hostility in Britain’, Political Studies, 55(4), pp. 709–732. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2007.00680.x
  9. Panayi, P. (1993) ‘Refugees in twentieth-century Britain: A brief history, The International Refugee Crisis, pp. 95-112. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-12054-3_7
  10. Small, S. and Solomos, J. (2006) ‘Race, Immigration and Politics in Britain Changing Policy Agendas and Conceptual Paradigms 1940s–2000s’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 47(3-4), pp. 235-257. DOI: 10.1177/0020715206065781.
  11. Ortega Velázquez, E. (2017) ‘Minority Rights for Immigrants: From Multiculturalism to Civic Participation’, Mexican law review, 10(1), pp. 103-126. doi: 10.22201/iij.24485306e.2017.19.11385.

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British Attitudes towards Immigrants to Britain over the Last 100 Year: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from
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