What is Statelessness?
The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons establishes the legal definition for stateless persons as individuals who are not considered citizens or nationals under the operation of the laws of any country. A person’s citizenship and nationality may be determined based on the laws of a country where an individual is born or where her/his parents were born. A person can also lose citizenship and nationality in a number of ways, including when a country ceases to exist or a country adopts nationality laws that discriminate against certain groups.
UNHCR has released a Handbook on the Protection of Stateless People that helps to explain the definition of statelessness and procedural considerations for determining whether a person is stateless. These documents serve as guiding principles for countries, but the remedies available to stateless persons vary by country.
The United States does not currently make determinations about whether someone is stateless. In addition, the fact that a person is stateless does not provide her/him with any benefit or status under U.S. law. If a stateless person in the United States is ordered removed, some of the hardships that s/he might face include:
- Inability to obtain travel documents;
- Long-term family separation due to that lack of travel documents;
- Possibility of being held in immigration detention for months or longer;
- Periodic reporting to immigration authorities on orders of supervision;
- Requirements to request travel documents from all countries to which s/he may have a claim to citizenship, either based on her/his parentage or place of birth;
- Requirements to contact third countries to ask their permission to be removed there, regardless of whether that individual has ties to that country;
- Requirement to apply annually for work authorization.
- Representing Stateless Persons Before U.S. Immigration Authorities: A Legal Practice Resource from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2017) (A resource manual for U.S. attorneys working with stateless or potentially stateless clients)
- Handbook on the Protection of Stateless Persons (2014) (explaining the definition of statelessness and procedural considerations for determining whether a person is stateless)
- 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness & 1954 Convention on Statelessness (These treaties form the foundation of the international legal framework to address statelessness. The 1961 Convention establishes safeguards for the conferral and non-withdrawal of citizenship to prevent cases of statelessness from arising. The 1954 Convention establishes a framework for the international protection of stateless persons.)
- UNHCR Report, Citizens of Nowhere: Solutions for the Stateless in the U.S. (2012) (discussing some of the key issues faced by stateless individuals in the U.S.)