Legal transfers of restrictive immigration laws: a historical perspective

Daniel Ghezelbash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the legal transfer of restrictive race-based immigration laws across self-governing settler societies in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These societies shared the common policy objective of limiting Chinese and other 'non-white' immigration. They each also faced informal and formal restrictions on implementing overtly racist immigration policies. This created fertile ground for legal transfers. When an innovation was found that could achieve the policy goal of race-based immigration restriction, without direct reference to race, it quickly spread across all jurisdictions operating in that paradigm. The legal transfer of three mechanisms is examined: (1) landing taxes; (2) passenger-per-ship restrictions; and (3) literacy tests. The article concludes by drawing parallels with contemporary transfers of restrictive border control policies targeting asylum seekers and irregular migrants more broadly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-255
Number of pages21
JournalInternational and Comparative Law Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • asylum
  • competition
  • dictation test
  • exclusion
  • immigration
  • language
  • literacy
  • race
  • refugee
  • restriction
  • transfer
  • transplant

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