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Compare The Immigration Policies In Two Countries History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

“Australia and America during the White Australia Policy period 1901 – 1973; Comparisons, Consequences & the Future”

When comparing and contrasting the factors that shaped the immigration policies of the United States and Australia during the White Australia period of 1901-1973 it is apparent that there are some strong similarities in the policies, particularly in the areas of politics and economics. There are also defining differences in the contributing cultural factors with regard to the types of nationalism and identity that emerged within the two countries. Whilst both countries were ‘immigrant nations’, Australia has held on to its British heritage, whereas the United States had become a world power in its own right even before the British Empire fell. The vast size of the United States population has also played an immense role in its place in the global world of leading nations. Although the two nations are similar in geographical size, by 1901 the population of the United States was twenty times that of Australia (Aust. Beaureau of Statistics 2002 & U.S. Bureau of the Census 1999). The enormity of the US made it less concerned than Australia about fears of attack, or being “swamped by immigrants” (Freeman & Jupp, 1992, Preface). These factors have all contributed in some way to the diversity in the ethnicity of immigrants who settled in the respective nations. Similarly the reasons behind why they chose one country over another, were allowed into one country over another, or in the case of Australia, were coerced into migrating to a foreign nation by means of free passage, must be considered. The similarities and differences in the immigration policies of these two countries will be discussed and compared throughout this research essay with the aim to focus on how these factors have contributed to current migrant populations and immigration polices within a global context.

The initial immigration policies of both Australia and the United States shared many common factors and some differences. In the United States the San Francisco Gold Rush began during 1848. Many Mexicans and South Americans migrated to the region at this time to labor as miners. Initially the levels of Chinese migration as gold diggers was relatively low; it was not until 1852 that the numbers began to rise and by 1860 California had a total Chinese population of approximately 35,000 (Markus, 1979, pg.1). The levels of Chinese people arriving became so high that accommodation sources were completely depleted and tents were pitched on the streets. From an economic perspective, fears began to rise that the mines were going to be fully overtaken by these migrants and the US miners began to retaliate, ‘The War upon the Chinese’ began (Markus 1979, pg.4). Daily expulsions began to take place with US miners demolishing Chinese tents and claims and mining codes were introduced that prevented Chinese from mining in certain districts. The Chinese were physically chased from claims and mining districts and murders were reported but rarely, if at all, were followed up by officials with no apprehension or punishment of offenders (Markus 1979, pg.6-7).

Similarly, in Australia, the discovery of Gold near Bathurst in 1851 was the initial instigator for mass migration changes. Prior to this, migrants had been primarily convicts from Britain and Ireland. During the Gold Rush migrants began pouring into Australia from wide and varied backgrounds. Between 1851 and 1861 over 600,000 people migrated to Australia (Migration Heritage Website, 2001). Whilst the vast majority were still from Britain and Ireland, immigrant levels from countries such as Europe, China, the United States, New Zealand and the South Pacific began to rise (Migration Heritage Website, 2001). One of the largest migration groups were the Chinese, who with time, were seen by the Australian population as a financial threat to society, just as they were in the United States. In both cases the number of Chinese migrants grew whilst gold yields slumped. However, unlike America , this economic concern introduced a change in culture in Australia , with racial aggression towards the Chinese due to their differences in appearance, customs and culture. In a nation looking towards maintaining its British ‘white Australia’ policy these clashes were a major reason for the implementation of the Immigration Restriction Act at the time of Federation in 1901.

Therefore, for both Australia and the US, Asian immigration caused the introduction of exclusionary policies. The White Australia Policy of 1901 effectively banned Asian immigration to Australia for the next fifty years (Migration Heritage Website, 2001). Similarly, in the US the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’ passed by President Chester Arthur in 1882 prevented immigration of the Chinese for ten years. This act was later extended for another ten years and became permanent in 1902 (Harvard University Library website, 2006). Interestingly, although the US did not make the Chinese Exclusion Act permanent until 1902, Australian legislators used this act as a model when developing the Immigration Act of 1901 (White Australia Policy), after considering the problems they saw occurring in the US during the Gold Rush years (Markus 1979, Intro pg.xiv).

In Australia, unlike the US, the main complaints against the Chinese were initially economic but rapidly became cultural and political. The economic concerns began with claims predominately relating to the idea that Chinese were taking the gold that rightfully belonged to the homeland. Whilst Australia had initially tolerated early Chinese immigration under the hope that they would provide cheap labor, boosting the economic working population and opening “the Northern parts of Australia to settlement” (Markus 1979, pg. 20), this early tolerance did not take long to fade. Miners and the Australian general population began to take offense not only to the working habits of the Chinese, their so called ‘clanning’ which gave them the advantage of working in large numbers and monopolising diggings, but also to their mannerisms, customs, religion and colour (Markus 1979, pg. 21). Although these factors also played a role in the US reaction to Chinese immigrants, it was not quite so significant in the racial sense, as it was in Australia. Hence, Australia put into place its White Australia Policy, specifically aimed at excluding Asians, and later, non-desirable Europeans, whilst the US initially aimed their immigration policies predominantly at culling the amount of migrants from anywhere to their country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902 preceded the US immigration restriction acts of the 1920’s, which eventuated in the National Origins Act of 1929, capping the overall immigration allowance to the US at 150,000 and completely prohibiting Asian immigration (Harvard University Library website, 2006).

World War I brought another change to the US immigration policies which had repercussions for Australia. In Australia when the First World War broke out in 1914, migration almost ceased altogether. Migrants from some countries previously thought of as acceptable were now classified as ‘enemy aliens’ (Migration Heritage Website, 2001). Germans, Austro-Hungarians, Bulgarians and Turkish immigrants faced internment in Australia or general restrictions on their daily lives. Altogether, about 7000 people were interned in camps in New Sout Wales. This happened again during the Second World War with Germans, Italians, Japanese, Hungarians and Jewish refugees being interned. No preference was given on the basis of refugee status or political sympathies to the Jewish migrants. (Migration Heritage Website, 2001). In comparison, United States immigration between 1901 – 1973 can be categorized into three eras; The New Immigration 1890 – 1930, The Depression & War 1930 – 1965 and Third World Immigrations 1965 onwards (Judd & Freeman, 1992, pg 9). During the New Immigration unprecedented amounts of immigrants landed on American shores. Most of these were young and predominantly male, providing laborers to work within the industrial uprising (Judd & Freeman, 1992, pg 9). However, after the First World War the United States wanted to limit the amount of the no longer ‘acceptable Europeans’, particularly Southern Europeans, migrating to their nation. In turn this caused increasing numbers of young Greek and Italian men to pay their way instead to Australia (as just discussed). This knock on effect resulted in Australia implementing strict quota restrictions on these men (Judd & Freeman, 1992, pg. 4). These migrants were escaping “religious, racial, and political persecution, or seeking relief from a lack of economic opportunity or famine” (Eyewitness to History website, 2000). We can see here the correlation between the two countries and the consequences that the United States immigration restrictions had on Australian policy makers, encouraging them to adopt racially discriminative immigration legislation.

In Australia, Post World War II and on into the 1950’s and 60’s Europeans continued to be granted immigration status, with the focus being greatly based on the “populate or perish” idea and assimilation into Australian society and culture. Immigrants were expected to “shed their existing cultural identities, including their native languages, to promote their rapid absorption into the host population” (DFAT website, nd). Although Australia in theory needed and encouraged these migrants in order to increase the population through means of government work placement agreements, the conditions they were subject to on arrival were quite appalling. Most migrants arrived by ship, from where they were immediately taken to hostels for migrants that had been set up in rural areas. The conditions were often very primitive, with men and woman separated into single sex barracks, shared bathrooms and communal kitchens and dining rooms serving unfamiliar foods. The situation was not welcoming and there was an expectation that a migrant would need only four to six weeks in one of these hostels before being prepared to settle near their new (enforced) workplace. It was not until 1969 that family units opened at the Villawood migration centre in New South Wales (Migration Heritage Website, 2001).

On the contrary in the US things were very different. As they had no need to populate their already vastly inhabited nation, migration policy was largely prohibitive. From the 1930’s right through until 1965 when the Immigration & Nationality Amendments Act was passed, immigration was on the decline in the US. As a result of this, coupled with the fact that existing migrants were ageing, specific assimilation policies were not implemented. The emphasis was very much on Americanization and the ‘melting pot’ theory without an actual government act required (Judd & Freeman, 1992, pg.8). With the passing of the Immigration Amendments Act this all changed. The Third World immigration period began, bringing with it a new wave of immigrants, differing from those who had arrived before. The new law set an overall limit on immigration from the eastern hemisphere countries and capped, for the first time, entries from the west. Family reunification was emphasized and refugee law was introduced (Freeman & Jupp, 1992, pg.9). This Immigration Amendments Act reflected the civil rights movement taking place in the US, along with a movement toward the establishment of good foreign relations with an economically rising Asia.

As this new wave of migrants was hitting America, Australia also began to experience significant changes. It was recognized that immigrants could not be forced to become the “New Australians”(Freeman & Jupp, 1992, p.184) when there were obvious, governmentally imposed, employment and social segregations for these new arrivals. Migrants were living, as a result of these segregations, in “isolation and relative poverty”(Freeman & Jupp, 1992, p.184). Children were failing at school, only basic low paid employment was available for people with poor English speaking skills, and the local Australians avoided contact with these people who were supposed to be assimilating into their society. Between 1965 and 1972 an Integration Branch was implemented into the Department of Immigration (Freeman & Jupp, 1992, p.186) which was a means to assist migrants in as many aspects of their new Australian life as possible. It was a first attempt to make life easier for them, with English language schooling, welfare services, workplace teachings, etc. By 1972 the government had recognised that the migrant population in Australia formed a large part of society that deserved to be recognized and have their needs met. In 1973 Gough Whitlam abolished the White Australia Policy completely.

In a comparison of both Australian and American immigration history, it can be seen that whilst some issues were relatively similar or related, as noted above, that these two countries are actually very different in terms of migration. Many correlations can be drawn globally between the two nations, such as being English speaking, settler societies, or ‘countries of immigrants’, but the reasons behind their migration trends in most instances is completely different. Whilst Australia’s early, and most significant immigration population initially came from Britain, based on ethnic ties with the home country and Australia’s need for population, America’s first immigrants were volunteer migrants heading to a new land for a better life. The similarities in the policies that both nations have adopted over time, is that they have caused a type of “cultural pluralism” (Ucarer & Puchala, 1997, pg.341). In theory this means that all racial, religious and cultural groups are tolerated within one society. On the surface of both countries this is true. Blacks and whites work together, there are interracial marriages, everyone can vote and society does usually operate in a suitable manner. It is the problems under the surface of a long history of underlying racial tension that need to be addressed. These racial tensions essentially exist, not because of the immigration policies alone, but of how they were implemented into society for both locals and migrants. Emigration throughout history results from people around the world searching for human security, whether it is economic, social, political or cultural, the search continues (Ucarer & Puchala, 1997, pg.342). A possible global solution for nations, such as Australia and the United States, who are trying to control and contain the flow of migration, would be to consider the adverse conditions that people are looking to escape and implement foreign policy to begin to change and assist with these problems. Although these types of policies would take a great deal of time to implement, it seems worth considering as a plausible and humanitarian option rather than simply working to establish policies that are aimed at keeping prospective migrants out as per the existing legislation in both countries.


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