Ticket of Leave

Marika Sherwood on race and exploitation at sea.

The prospect of the government approving large-scale immigration from Hong Kong has roused the (by now) usual chorus of xenophobic fears, not unlike what we heard at the time of the Ugandan Asian 'crisis'. Yet both the Asians and the highly-skilled Hong Kong Chinese, as well as previous immigrants from India and the Caribbean, were of British nationality (that is to say, they held British passports).

Why have the governments of the day permitted (and even invited) some immigrants and excluded others? Britain has never been the Mother Country welcoming her far-flung citizens: so why have some been allowed in at various times? Was – or is – Britain fulfilling obligations begotten in the days of Empire? Or is there a relationship between Britain's need for labour (and particular types of labour at any time) and the recognition of the nationality, and hence the right to immigrate, of 'coloured' British citizens? And once 'home' in the Mother Country axe such workers treated as equal citizens?

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