Example of alien registration card (Catalogue reference: MEPO 35/2/9)

This is a brief guide to help you find records of an immigrant to the UK. Records about foreigners coming during the past 600 years to live in the UK were created by various government departments at different times. They are held in a range of record series, but there is no composite index of names. Many records of immigration have been destroyed.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the date and place of arrival in the UK
      • the country of origin
      • the means of travel to the UK
  • What other resources will help me find information?

Did you know?

If immigrants came to Britain from Ireland or the British colonies they were called Britons. If they came from elsewhere (including Scotland before 1707) they were called aliens.

In 1793 the Aliens Act introduced the first official immigrant registration system. It was introduced to manage the influx of people coming to Britain to escape the French Revolution.

People other than those from British colonies or Ireland had to register with a Justice of the Peace, giving their name, rank, address and occupation. The records of Justices of the Peace may survive in local record offices.

In 1905 a new Aliens Act meant that aliens could only enter the UK at the discretion of the authorities. After 1919 they had to register with the local police.

There are no passenger lists for people arriving in the UK by air.