Timeline 1900 – 2017

British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act

With the increase of the minority ethnic population in Britain from the turn of the century, popular concerns about interracial relationships grew. The 1914 British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act meant that not only did ‘aliens’ – that is, foreign-born residents, have to carry an alien registration card, but British women across the Empire who married such men automatically lost their British nationality. Such was the case for Emily Ah Foo, a Liverpudlian woman who married Stanley, a Chinese seaman. There were no such restrictions for British men; in fact, any foreign woman marrying a British subject automatically became British.

Government documents from 1923 state that the loss of nationality was ‘the only argument which the Foreign Office found to prevail with British women in deterring them from entering into such relationships, particularly with ‘Orientals’ and any change of the laws would ‘encourage mixed marriages of this particular kind, which are in the women’s case nearly always most undesirable.’ (in Baldwin 2001, 538). The Act would not be reformed until 1948.

[The loss of nationality was the] only argument which the Foreign Office as a rule found to prevail with British women in such cases in deterring them. [Changing this law would remove this argument and] encourage mixed marriages of this particular kind, which are in the women’s case nearly always most undesirable.’

— The Report of the Select Committee on the Nationality of Married Women, 1923, cited in Baldwin (2001).

Alien Immigration card on Mixed Britannia, BBC Two, TX October 2011. Copyright BBC