Immigration, Statecraft and Public Health: The 1920 Aliens Order, Medical Examinations and the Limitations of the State in England

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This article considers the medical measures of the 1920 Aliens Order barring aliens from Britain. Building on existing local and port public health inspection, the requirement for aliens to be medically inspected before landing significantly expanded the duties of these state agencies and necessitated the creation of a new level of physical infrastructure and administrative machinery. This article closely examines the workings and limitations of alien medical inspection in two of England’s major ports – Liverpool and London. – and sheds light on the everyday working of the Act. In doing so it reflects on the ambitions, actions and limitations of the state and so extends research by historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth century on the disputed histories of public health and the complexities of statecraft. Overall it suggests the importance of developing nuanced understandings of the gaps and failures arising from the translation of legislation into practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-533
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date15 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


  • public health
  • state
  • aliens
  • immigration
  • governance

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