The Immigration System Merely Mirrored Slavery

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Slavery was a mechanism put in place that allowed ‘prestigious people’ to take advantage of other individuals. This allowed them to take away their human rights treating as though they were property by buying, selling and owning. Men and women were held against their will after being captured or bought by other slave owners. When slavery was abolished; there was still an increasing demand for labour which brought about the immigration labour system. The immigration labour system was introduced after the abolition of slavery in order to reduce the impending labour problems being experienced by plantation owners. “Although the planters were very enthusiastic about immigrant labour schemes, the governments, both imperial and colonial, were hesitant.” (Immigration Labour 2011).

While governments were reluctant to agree on the system, the British government had no choice but to favour it because they were faced with a major predicament, having to sustain the sugar economies of its West Indian colonies and maintain sugar imports into Britain (Immigration Labour 2011). The Anti- Slavery Society kept governments under a watchful eye because they viewed the system as another form of slavery. As a result, “in 1838 James Stephen, a Colonial Office official, humanitarian and drafter of the 1833 Emancipation Act, was appointed to draw up conditions for immigrant labour schemes which would make it clear that no new slave trade was being established because they did not want to be accused of hypocrisy by foreign governments in allowing a new slave trade while persuading other countries to stop theirs” (Immigration Labour 2011).

Some of the conditions drafted by Mr. James Stephen applied to all immigration schemes, but mainly concerned Indian schemes. After a cost for transporting immigrants was introduced planters insisted on having a written contract for migrants to sign. The increasing trend of refusing contracts when faced with the hard conditions of plantation labour was something that planters could do nothing about. This was a very popular practice in British Guiana and Trinidad. (Immigration Labour 2011)

In 1848 the British government permitted contracts to be signed before immigrants arrived in the colonies which was beneficial to planters but was unfortunate for immigrants who could do nothing about it if they were being given false promises (Immigration Labour 2011).

The details surrounding the contracts varied with respect to the scheme or colony. Immigrants were brought to the colonies on one year contracts and as time passed contracts were extended to three to five years. Contracts outlined the amount of days the immigrant was required to work, the working hours per day, the wages and about return passages. For example, a labour contract in British Guiana would run for five years from the day of arrival in the colony. Work was required on every day of the year except Sundays and public holidays, and days spent in prison had to be made up at the end of the contract (Immigration Labour 2011). In the first three months of the immigrants stay, they were offered food which would be taken away from their earning and were also offered housing and medical care at no extra cost to them.

The issue of repatriation became a very contentious one because immigrants were given false hope of being able to return to their home countries after they completed the requirements of the contracts, but in 1854 the requirement to claim repatriation was that the immigrant had to have been living in the colony for no less than ten years (Immigration Labour 2011).

Governments in British Guiana continued to experience financial strain and were unable to pay for eligible immigrants to return home and as time progressed they found alternatives like offering them land (5-acre lots) free of cost. This was later adopted by the Trinidadian government. In the late 1800s government modified the terms of the contracts. Immigrants were then...
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