In 1901 the census showed a large increase in immigration to Britain and out of a population of 41,458,721 there were 286,952 non-British citizens or ‘aliens’ as was the official name. There was official concern about the strain these immigrants might put on local communities, about rising crime rates as well as the possibility of having anarchists in the country. As a result, in 1905, the government introduced the Aliens Act which was tightened at the start of the First World War, making it compulsory for all ‘aliens’ over the age of 16 to register with the police. Restrictions were further tightened in 1920 with the introduction of the Home Office Immigration Branch.

Registering with the police is a process that still applies to some Chinese immigrants today. Refugees and students in particular have to register upon their arrival into the Greater Manchester area.

 Some of these early records or ‘Alien Registers’ still exist today and they provide fascinating information about the early Chinese settlers. Sadly the Manchester ‘Alien Registers’ were destroyed, but the Salford registers from 1901 until the 1970s are held at the Greater Manchester Police Museum and we have been using them for our research. A person had to register not only their arrival, but any subsequent moves, as well as marriages, births and deaths. The registers also chart a person’s efforts to become ‘naturalised’, i.e. to become a British citizen.

Naturalisation was a difficult process which involved paying money to gain rights of citizenship. Denization was another option, but offered less of the rights of full citizenship. Records of Denization and Naturalisation up to 1961 can be found at The National Archives (TNA) in London.