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The story of how British citizenship developed and why this matters for questions of race, migration and belonging in 'Global Britain'

Hosted and produced by Michaela Benson.

Cover Art: George Kalivis

Production and post-production: Art of Podcast 

Nov 12, 2021

How did changes in the UK's immigrations laws in the 1960s and 1970s set the stage for the Windrush deportation scandal? What can we learn about the racialised politics of belonging and migration in Britain today from looking at the historical transformation of immigration legislation?

In this episode, we look at how immigration controls were introduced in ways that explicitly restricted the movement to and settlement in the UK of Britain's racialised colonial citizens. Host Michaela Benson explains how changes in law which made some British citizens deportable from the UK and how these transformations in law were caught up in the transformation of Britain's colonies in nation-states, how the shifting relationships between Britain and its former colonies led to some people falling between the gaps as Britain tried to restrict the settlement of their own citizens. George Kalivis goes back into the archive to remind us of the history of deportation, highlighting how deportation was introduced through the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962 to permit the deportation from the UK for those from Britain's colonies who were convicted of offences punishable with imprisonment. And they are joined by Elsa Oommen, independent scholar and visiting researcher at Goldsmiths and the University of Warwick, to discuss in more detail the historical back story to the Windrush Deportation Scandal; the legislative changes which mean that some colonial citizens living in the UK had their right to abode in the UK, their rights systematically eroded witout their knowledge; the litany of mistakes that led to the devastating and deadly effects for their lives and well-being in the context of the Hostile Environment; and what this can tell us about how questions of citizenship and migration are caught up in the contemporary politics of belonging in Britain.   

Access the full episode transcript

In this episode we cover …

  • The historical back story to the Windrush Deportation Scandal
  • The Commonwealth Immigration Acts of the 1960s and 1970s
  • How Britain’s colonial citizens were made deportable and why this matters for making sense of the racialisation at the heart of questions of migration and belonging in Britain today


What has been quite stark to me is how the Government can go to extreme lengths in ensuring that some people are always made to belong and how some citizens, or some people could be citizens from the get-go, but could be made to feel like they are nothing and deportable; this what is the most striking revelation from my ongoing research, that there is really a continuum in which you can be a Commonwealth citizen but you can always be treated as a Commonwealth migrant.

— Elsa Oommen


Where can you find out more about the topics in today’s episode?

To find out more about the Windrush Deportation Scandal, we recommend consulting Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review.

You can find out more about Elsa and her research here. Her research funded by The Sociological Review with long-term Caribbean residents in the UK and the historical back story to the Hostile Environment is still in progress.

Her wider research focuses on youth mobility to the UK, a part of the immigration regime that has not received much notice. You can read her work about the experiences of youth mobility workers in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. We’d also like to recommend her recent piece for Discover Society, which considered the Youth Mobility Scheme as a route to settlement in the UK for young Hong Kongers leaving HK SAR in the wake of political oppression.

Our recommended reading of the week is Kathleen Paul’s 1997 book Whitewashing Britain, and in particular Chapter 5 Keeping Britain White.


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