About this record
This is a letter exempting Hong Kong-born Sym Choon from the Immigration Restriction Act’s dictation test and authorising him to re-enter Australia after a visit overseas.
- Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, people who wanted to enter Australia had to sit a written dictation test in any European language chosen by the tester. Conducted by Customs officers, it was designed to prevent immigration to Australia by so-called ‘undesirables’, particularly people from Asia.
- The Collector of Customs in each state was responsible for issuing certificates of exemption from the dictation test. These allowed those resident in Australia to return after travelling overseas. They also allowed non-Europeans to enter Australia temporarily.
- Australian residents re-entering the country who wanted to apply for exemption from the dictation test had to demonstrate that they were of good character. Sym Choon, for example, had to produce a number of written references. One was from a schoolteacher, stating that Sym Choon was 'a keen business man and a desirable citizen'. Another, from a businessman, declared him to be a 'bright, honest and intelligent lad'.
- In 1861, during Australia’s gold rush period, there were more than 38,000 Chinese-born people in Australia. By 1901, when the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was introduced, the number of Chinese-born residents in Australia had dropped to about 30,000. In 1921, when Sym Choon’s exemption was granted, the Chinese-born population had dropped to just over 15,000 and was continuing to decline.