Immigration 20th Century Essay

According to a recent study, about 3 percent of the world population comprises of international immigrants, and the country with the largest number of immigrants is the United States (Parkins ). The 20th century has witnessed many migrations that have been characterized by a variety of factors. The statement of this study is that the economic disparities have been a major cause of immigration in the 20th century. However, I disagree with the statement because if we study the happenings of the 20th century, we will find that there have been different factors along with the economic disparities that have contributed towards immigration in the 20 the century. The essay will render you a short description of those factors along with quoting some data.

After the 1890’s depression, the numbers of immigrants went from 3.5 million in that decade to about 9 million in the first decade of the 20th century. Immigrants from Western and Northern Europe continued to pour in, but the rate was lesser in comparison to the past three centuries. By the end of 1910, southern and eastern Europeans made about 70 percent of the migrants that entered the US. The reasons that the new immigrants made their way to the United States included escaping racial, political and religious prosecution, and for searching economic opportunities. Famine was also one of the reasons causing people to leave their homelands. There is a variety of reasons, which have caused immigration in the 20th century, and the most eminent among those reasons are poverty, social strife, armed conflicts, economic hardships, and political turmoil (Cresciani).

Since the mid of the 20th century, globalization has been a major factor that has influenced immigration. Advances in transportation technology and communication have taken globalization many step forwards. These factors have allowed us to develop a world where the time of travel and the distances between regions are no more an obstacle. Disparities among the developed and developing countries have also caused to accelerate globalization. In 1900, the ratio of average income of 5 richest countries and 5 to 10 poorest nations was 9:1, today this ratio is about 100:1 ( These disparities between the countries coupled with the lack of employment opportunities and proper wages have caused to drive migration from the underdeveloped countries to the developed countries. Globalization has not been the only factor that has fueled global migration. The US foreign and economic policy decisions such as the Iraq War or NAFTA has caused to fuel immigration in the 20th century. These policies caused an influx of political and economic refugees in the US (Anderson).

Armed conflicts in the world during the 20th century have also been a major reason behind global immigration throughout the century and especially in the first 60 to 70 years. In the early 19th, the Muslim minorities that were living in the New-nation states of Balkan were affected due to the persecution and discrimination, which caused them to leave their homes. Finally, during 1912-193, which was the era of the Balkan wars, around 10 thousand people had to leave their homes because of being members of religious and ethnic minorities. After the end of Greco-Turkish war in 1921-1922, which accompanied escapes and expulsions, relocation was forced as a political answer to the question of nationality. Nearly 2 million people had to face the effects of population exchange that was laid down by the Treat of Lausanne 1923. Estimates suggest that, in many countries of western and eastern Europe, around 6 million people who belonged to ethnic minorities left their homes due to duress and pressure which was there after the World War I. During that Era, relocation of population was considered as a legitimate and the only means for safeguarding peace and for solving the nationality issues. The great powers of Europe also consented to the Treaty of Lausanne. The idea of providing huge resettlements for the people and for creating nations with borders and without minorities was also espoused by some scientists (Stradling).

The next phase which hugely forced the relocation of masses took place was a time around the Second World War. That period started with the migration of the Jewish population from Germany after it was taken over by the National Socialists, and after persecution and discrimination started in 1933. After the Agreement of Munich in 1938, thousands and thousands of people left their homeland that was then known as Czechoslovakia due to actual of feared violence. During the same time, the National Socialists of Germany entered into treaties with different states including Soviet Union and Italy. According to the treaties, the German Minority groups were to be resettled. The Era of Second World War is characterized by deportation and massive killings of the Jews, and of other groups like Roma and Sinti, which were living under the German rule. Especially from Eastern Europe, millions of labors were transported to Germany by force. In Soviet Union, various members of different ethnic minorities such as Germans, Balts, Crimean, Caucasians and others were accused of developing sympathy for the enemies, and were deported relocated to Republics of central Asia. In most of these cases, safeguarding the Stalinist rule and dissolution of social structure was the prime rationale behind relocations. These factors caused to affect around 3 million people in total.

Finally, after the war was over, Europe saw massive migration movements. Millions of forced laborers, former war prisoners, and displaced people were relocated or deported to their home countries. Many of the Jews that survived left Europe and started settling in US and the newly founded Israel. With consent from the Allies, around 10 million members of ethnic groups or more had left their areas in Eastern Europe and were relocated to Austria and Germany. In the Southeast and east Europe, various settlements activities were planned which affected Ukrainians, Magyars, Italians, and Fins among others. The largest chunk was 2 million Polls who were taken from Former eastern Poland to the western regions of the country (which previously had been Germany.
During the times of the Cold war, the norm of ethnic homogenization carried on but was mostly the result of people making their own decisions and not due to some government policy or goals, as in the case of Bulgaria. German, Turks, Jews, Muslims, Hungarians, Greeks, and Armenians among other ethnic groups migrated from different countries of Southeast and East Europe. After collapse of “Iron Curtain” that accompanied with improved travelling possibilities, this trend carried on and even accelerated. Soviet Union (Former) also began to witness new movements of migration, which were mostly caused by members of Russian Diaspora who were migrating to Russia.

If we consider the civil wars that raged in Yugoslavia during 1992-1999, expulsions, massacres and expulsions took place at the doorstep of European Union. This caused immigrations of hundreds of thousands of people. The clinical term of ethnic cleansing was the reason behind the phenomena, and this term was vastly used in media coverage. It was once more the concept of developing new nation states, which urged nationalism that was defined by ethnicity. Depending on military situations, Serbs, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and others were affected. Their ethnic identity was identified by using their religion as a means. Estimates suggest that this affected about 2 million (Tesser).

If we consider the INDO-Pakistan sub- continent situation in the mid of the 20th century, it was characterized by religious sentiments and ethnicity which led to partition. It also caused migrations of millions and millions of people and led to the development of new nations. If we carefully study the history, we will find that the migration in the first 60 to 70 years of the 20th century has been characterized dominantly by wars and armed conflicts on religious and ethnicity grounds. Economic disparities and search for a better living was also a reason, but not that dominant. However if we consider the last 3 decades of the 20th century, we will find that majority of the population that was migrated from their home country to other countries for searching better earning opportunities and a better standard of life. Millions of younger people have left their home countries for the purpose of education and finding improved livelihood.


Therefore, to conclude this study, the statement that economic disparities have been the major reason for migration cannot hold true for the whole of the 20th century. The reason is that the earlier part of the 20th century has been influenced by wars based on political issues and issues of race, religion, and ethnicity. These wars and the political and social scenarios that they created was a dominant reason why people resorted to migration. However if we consider the last 30 years of the 20th century, it was a time when most of the people migrated to different countries in search of better economic opportunities, and it was the economic disparities that forced them to migrate for a better living.


Anderson, Staurt. Immigration. California: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web.

Cresciani, Gianfranco . “Italian Immigrants in Australia, 1900-22.” Labor History 43 (1982): 36-43. Online. 10 May 2014.

Parkins , Natasha C. “Push and Pull Factors of Migration.” American Review of Political Economy (2013). Website. 10 May 2014.

Stradling, Roberrt. Teaching 20th-Century European History. UK: Council of Europe, 2001. Web.

Tesser, Lynn. Ethnic Cleansing and the European Union. UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 10 May 2014. Root causes opf Migration-Fact sheet. 2014. website. 10 May 2014.

Background Essay on Late 19th and Early 20th Century Immigration

This summary of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigration describes the "new immigration" that originated from Southern and Eastern Europe. The essay also outlines American responses to the new wave of immigration, including some of the laws designed to restrict immigration that were adopted between 1880 and 1910.

Between 1880 and 1910, almost fifteen million immigrants entered the United States, a number which dwarfed immigration figures for previous periods. Unlike earlier nineteenth century immigration, which consisted primarily of immigrants from Northern Europe, the bulk of the new arrivals hailed mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe. These included more than two and half million Italians and approximately two million Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as many Poles, Hungarians, Austrians, Greeks, and others.

The new immigrants’ ethnic, cultural, and religious differences from both earlier immigrants and the native-born population led to widespread assertions that they were unfit for either labor or American citizenship. A growing chorus of voices sought legislative restrictions on immigration. Often the most vocal proponents of such restrictions were labor groups (many of whose members were descended from previous generations of Irish and German immigrants), who feared competition from so-called “pauper labor.” 

After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese immigration and made it nearly impossible for Chinese to become naturalized citizens, efforts to restrict European immigration increased. In the same year, the Immigration Act for the first time levied a “head tax” (initially fifty cents a person) intended to finance enforcement of federal immigration laws. The act also made several categories of immigrants ineligible to enter the United States, including convicts, "lunatics" (a catch-all term for those deemed mentally unfit) and those likely to become “public charges,” i.e., those who would place a financial burden on state institutions or charities. A second Immigration Act in 1891 expanded these categories to include polygamists and those sick with contagious diseases, and established a Bureau of Immigration to administer and enforce the new restrictions. In 1892, Ellis Island opened in New York Harbor, replacing Castle Garden as the main point of entry for millions of immigrants arriving on the East Coast. In accordance with the 1891 law, the federal immigration station at Ellis Island included facilities for medical inspections and a hospital. 

While business and financial interests occasionally defended unrestricted immigration, viewing a surplus of cheap labor as essential to industry and westward expansion, calls for measures restricting the flow of the new immigrants continued to grow. Although President Grover Cleveland vetoed an 1897 law proposing a literacy test for prospective immigrants, further restrictions on immigration continued to be added. Following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz, xenophobia and hysteria about political radicalism led to the Anarchist Exclusion Act, which excluded would-be immigrants on the basis of their political beliefs. 

In 1907, immigration at Ellis Island reached its peak with 1,004,756 immigrants arriving. That same year, Congress authorized the Dillingham Commission to investigate the origins and consequences of contemporary immigration. The Commission concluded that immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and recommended that it be greatly curtailed in the future, proposing as the most efficacious remedy a literacy test similar to the one President Cleveland had vetoed in 1897. Ultimately, the Commission’s findings provided a rationale for the sweeping immigration laws passed in the years after World War I.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2008.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Background Essay on Late 19th and Early 20th Century Immigration,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed March 10, 2018,

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