Journal of Global History


Immigration restriction: rethinking period and place from settler colonies to postcolonial nations  *

Alison Bashford

School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Building A14, University of Sydney, NSW 2006 Australia E-mail:


Immigration acts have long been analysed as instrumental to the working of the modern nation-state. A particular focus has been the racial exclusions and restrictions that were adopted by aspirationally white, new world nation-states: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. This article looks again at the long modern history of immigration restriction in order to connect the history of these settler-colonial race-based exclusions (much studied) with immigration restriction in postcolonial nation-states (little studied). It argues for the need to expand the scope of immigration restriction histories geographically, temporally and substantively: beyond the settler nation, beyond the Second World War, and beyond ‘race’. The article focuses on the Asia-Pacific region, bringing into a single analytical frame the early immigration laws of New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Canada on the one hand and those of Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Fiji on the other.


  • exclusion;
  • migration;
  • quarantine;
  • race;
  • settler colonialism;
  • twentieth century


*  The author extends thanks to Sunil Amrith, Paul Kramer, Jane McAdam, and participants at the World History Seminar, University of Cambridge, as well as the editors of, and anonymous readers for, this journal. This research has been funded by the Australian Research Council.