Latvia

Latvia has acceded to most relevant human rights instruments and is party to both the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions. Although the stateless population has not been mapped, the Latvian authorities count and publish population data on statelessness, with a ‘stateless’ (bezvalstnieks) category in national statistics. However, this only includes people granted stateless status under the statelessness determination procedure, and 'non-citizens' (nepilsonis) are counted separately. This is because under domestic law, ‘non-citizens’ are excluded from the definition of a ‘stateless person’ as they are considered a separate legal category of persons who enjoy a significant set of rights. Although ‘non-citizens’ are granted rights beyond the minimum prescribed by the Convention, there are important differences distinguishing non-citizens from citizens as a matter of domestic law, including a lack of political rights and some restrictions on employment and land ownership. Moreover, ‘non-citizens’ in Latvia clearly lack a nationality and therefore meet the definition of a stateless person under international law regardless of any separate legal consideration of whether they should be excluded from protection under the 1954 Convention.

Positively, in the migratory context, Latvia has established a statelessness determination procedure in national law, in line with good practice in many respects, although there are some remaining gaps, including a lack of protection during the procedure, and no facilitated route to naturalisation for people with ‘stateless’ status. There are also gaps in safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless people and alternatives to detention are only applied in a small proportion of cases. Safeguards in law to prevent children being born stateless in Latvia depend on the status and actions of the parents and none serves as a full safeguard. Statelessness is prevented for foundlings, adopted children, and children born to Latvian nationals abroad in most cases, but not for children born abroad to ‘non-citizens’. Birth registration requires parents to present identity documents, which could leave some children at risk of remaining unregistered. Latvia has taken some steps towards reducing statelessness, including amendments to the Citizenship Law in 2013 and initiatives to provide information and support to ‘non-citizens’ to naturalise. However, more than 200,000 people - 65% of whom identify as members of the ethnic Russian minority - remain stateless with ‘non-citizen’ status in the country.  

Last updated: 
Feb 2019
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2020
Country expert(s): 

Additional resources

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are state party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

Latvia is state party to the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions and has signed but not yet acceded to the European Convention on Nationality. Its record of accession to other relevant regional and international human rights treaties is generally good. However, it retains significant reservations to the 1954 Convention, and is not state party to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.

  • Latvia is State Party to the 1954 Convention, and it has direct effect, but it retains reservations to Articles 24.1(b) and 27.
  • Latvia is State Party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations and it has direct effect.
  • Latvia has signed but not acceded to the European Convention on Nationality and it is not party to the European Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • Latvia is party to the European Convention on Human Rights with a Protocol reservation, bound by the EU Returns Directive, and party to all other relevant international human rights instruments with no reservations, except for the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are effective measures in place to count stateless people in detention.

The Latvian Government counts and publishes population data on statelessness. National statistics published by the Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs contain a category ‘stateless’ (bezvalstnieks), disaggregated by ethnic origin. However, only people granted stateless status under the statelessness determination procedure are counted in this category. There is a separate category for 'non-citizens' (nepilsonis), whose legal status is defined separately under Latvian law. UNHCR reports government figures under both these categories separately as ‘persons under its statelessness mandate’ with a footnote explanation as referred to in the third bullet point under Availability and Sources below. There has been no comprehensive mapping of the stateless population in Latvia, and asylum and immigration detention data by nationality status is not routinely published by the Government, although annual statistical reports on the number of asylum seekers are available online at the UNHCR Population Statistics website.

  • The Latvian Government counts and publishes population data under the category ‘stateless’ (bezvalstnieks). However, only people granted stateless status under the statelessness determination procedure are counted in this category (176 Latvian, 28 Estonian, 4 Uzbek, 2 Belarussian and 1 Finnish ‘stateless persons’ in Latvia were recorded on 1 July 2018).
  • National statistics contain a separate category for 'non-citizens' (nepilsonis) (228,855 on 1 Jan 2018), who are former USSR citizens and their descendants who have not acquired any citizenship since the restoration of Latvian independence. Their legal status is defined separately under Latvian law, which does not consider this group to fall under the 1954 Convention definition of a stateless person.
  • In its 2017 Global Trends report, UNHCR reports Latvian Government figures - 178 stateless persons - as well as the figure 233,393 as the total number of ‘persons under the statelessness mandate’ in the country, which includes ‘non-citizens’ with a footnote indicating that ‘non-citizens’ “enjoy a set of rights and obligations generally beyond the rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention and as such may currently be considered persons to whom the Convention does not apply in accordance with Article 1.2 (ii).”
  • There are other categories for which statistics are available that could include stateless people. For example, the Population Register on Latvia's residents by ethnic origin and nationality includes figures for Latvian citizen, Latvian non-citizen, Latvian alternative (subsidiary status), Latvian stateless, Latvian refugee, and Latvian temporary protection, Estonian non-citizens, Estonian stateless, Belarus stateless, Finland stateless, Uzbekistan stateless and ’not indicated’ (nav norādīta).
  • No comprehensive mapping study of statelessness in Latvia is available, and the reliability of data on statelessness is questionable as numbers vary depending on the definitions employed by different actors (i.e. whether ‘non-citizens’ are counted as stateless or not). 
  • Data on refugees and asylum seekers by country of origin, gender, age and status is available upon request, but this is not routinely published by the Government.
  • There is no published data available on stateless persons in detention, although the government does collect data on detention, disaggregated by nationality status.

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a definition of a stateless person in national law that aligns with the 1954 Convention, and whether they have a dedicated statelessness determination (SDP) procedure; or, if not, whether there are other procedures or mechanisms by which statelessness can be identified and legal status determined. Countries are subdivided in four groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP in place, those with other administrative procedures, those with a status but no clear mechanism, and those without any status or mechanism. Where a procedure and status exist, these are assessed against norms and good practice, and the rights granted to recognised stateless persons are examined.

The definition of a stateless person under Latvian law is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition. The formulation ‘in accordance with the laws thereof’ is narrower than the international law definition, whereby a stateless person is someone ‘not considered a national of any state under the operation of its law’. Since ‘non-citizens’ lack any nationality, they meet the international legal definition of a stateless person. Positively, in the migration context, Latvia has established a statelessness determination procedure in national law, in line with good practice in many respects, although there are some remaining gaps. These include limited guarantees to ensure ease of access and some missing procedural protections (such as a guaranteed interview or referral from asylum procedures), a lack of protection and rights during the procedure, and a lack of an accelerated or facilitated route to naturalisation for people recognised as stateless under the procedure. It should be noted that people who hold ‘non-citizen’ status do not qualify under the SDP, so information relating to the procedure does not apply to this group.

  • Latvian law distinguishes ‘stateless persons’ from ‘non-citizens’. The status of ‘non-citizens’ is defined under the Law on the Status of those Former USSR Citizens who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State, which defines this group as former Soviet citizens who were registered as living on the territory of Latvia on 1 July 1992, or their last registered place of residence before that date was on the territory of Latvia, and their children, provided that they have no other citizenship.
  • The Latvian Law on Stateless Persons and the Latvian Citizenship Law define a stateless person as ‘someone who is not considered a citizen by any state in accordance with the laws thereof, except a person who is a subject of the Law on the Status of those Former USSR Citizens who are not Citizens of Latvia or Any Other State’.
  • Aside from excluding ‘non-citizens’ from the definition of a stateless person, the formulation ‘in accordance with the laws thereof’ is also narrower than the international law definition, whereby a stateless person is someone ‘not considered a national of any other state under the operation of its law’.
  • People who fall under either category in Latvian law (‘stateless person’ or ‘non-citizen’) are stateless according to Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention (customary international law). Although ‘non-citizens’ are granted rights (and a route to naturalisation if they can meet certain conditions) that go beyond the minimum rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention, there are important differences distinguishing them from Latvian citizens (for example, they do not have political rights and are excluded from certain professions, face limitations to land ownership and do not benefit from EU citizenship).
  • Furthermore, protection under the Convention and the definition of a stateless person should not be confused, as the international legal definition applies at the moment in time in which it is determined, regardless of whether the stateless person is able to acquire rights and a nationality at a later date, or whether they are deemed to be excluded from protection under the Convention, which is a separate legal consideration.
  • There is a dedicated Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP) established in Latvian law.
  • The competent authority for the SDP is the Office of Citizenship and Migration (OCMA).
  • The information in the remainder of this theme applies only to the SDP and not to the procedure for the determination of ‘non-citizen’ status, for which OCMA is also the competent authority.
  • By law, a person who has lost the status of ‘non-citizen’ shall be recognised as a stateless person if they do not hold another citizenship nor guarantee of being issued one.
  • Statelessness determination is the specific objective of the procedure.
  • Information about the procedure may be provided by phone, email and in person, but public information is only available in Latvian (unlike in the case of the asylum procedure, for example, about which information in English can be found on the authority’s website).
  • Applications can be made in writing and orally, and there is no application fee.
  • However, applications cannot be initiated ex officio and can only be considered based on an application submitted to an official in Latvian accompanied by a personal identification document and proof of inability to acquire another nationality. The law permits a decision to be made based on the documentation available.
  • There is no requirement for lawful stay nor a time limit on when applications can be made.
  • There is cooperation between agencies and all authorities are obliged to forward any written information to OCMA.
  • Ad hoc training has been provided to decision makers by UNHCR, but it is not clear whether statelessness is embedded in routine training for the authorities.
  • The burden of proof is shared based on the principles of administrative law, and the Head of OCMA is permitted by law to make a decision even if the applicant is unable to submit the required documentation.
  • The standard of proof is the same or lower than in the asylum procedure.
  • There are specific obligations in Latvian law to consider the best interests of the child and principles of equality and non-discrimination.
  • It's not clear from information available publicly whether decision-makers have clear guidance on how to determine statelessness.
  • The Latvian legal system does not provide for legal assistance before administrative authorities in general, but there is an obligation on the institution to assess all circumstances of the case objectively and for the proportional benefit of the individual concerned.
  • An interview is only granted for the SDP if needed for additional information.
  • There is a legal gap relating to the right to interpreting and translation, but, in practice, if language support is needed it is provided free of charge.
  • Decisions are given in writing with reasons.
  • There is no formal referral mechanism in place from the asylum procedure to the SDP. A new application must be submitted even though the competent authority is the same for both procedures.
  • There is a time limit set in law for decisions to be made under the SDP (three months), which may be extended by one month in complex cases where justified.
  • No information is publicly available as to whether this is complied with in practice and it is not known whether quality assurance audits of decision-making take place.
  • Applicants for stateless status do not have automatic legal admission by law, and deportation orders are not suspended automatically. In practice applicants are not expelled during the process and there is no ground in law for a person's claim to be decided if they are no longer in Latvia.
  • Applicants do not have a right to work, nor to social services and assistance.
  • Applicants are entitled to emergency (minimum state funded) healthcare.
  • In practice, there have been isolated cases of applicants for stateless status being placed in municipal crisis centres where basic shelter and services are provided.
  • There is a right to appeal a first-instance refusal to the Head of OCMA, and then a right to a further appeal before the courts.
  • Legal aid is not available for the initial review appeal to OCMA, as legal aid is not generally available for administrative procedures in Latvia. Legal aid is available for court procedures.
  • There is a fee for the appeal application (60 EUR in 2018), though this can be decreased in specific circumstances.
  • There is no current public information available about the quality of decision-making.
  • A person recognised as stateless under the SDP has the right to apply for a temporary residence permit for a period not exceeding five years, after which they may request a permanent residence permit if they can meet the requirement of continuous residence and Latvian language requirements.
  • Travel documents are issued to people granted stateless status under the SDP.
  • The right to family reunification for people granted stateless status is not provided per se, nevertheless, if someone has acquired permanent residence (after five years’ residence and acquiring Latvian language) general rules for family reunification for third-country nationals apply under the EU Family Reunification Directive.
  • A person with stateless status has the right to work, the same right to elementary education as a national, a right to free secondary education if of school age and may access higher education for a fee agreed between the stateless person and the educational establishment.
  • People granted stateless status with a residence permit in Latvia have a right to social security (social insurance and minimum preventive and curative healthcare).
  • A person recognised as stateless under the SDP may apply for naturalisation after five years’ permanent residence; so they must have resided with a permit as a stateless person for five years and then acquired and held a permanent residence permit for five years (10 years’ total legal residence) before applying for naturalisation. There is no accelerated naturalisation procedure for a person recognised as stateless as the general provision is five years’ permanent residence.
  • There are no exemptions for stateless people from the general naturalisation requirements: fluency in Latvian language, a legal source of income, knowledge of the constitution, national anthem and history and culture of Latvia. The only exemption is a general one from the written test for applicants over 65 years-old.
  • Previous criminal convictions may be a bar to naturalisation, unless it is deemed that the trial was unfair or the punishment disproportionate.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, focusing in on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, whether alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight and effective remedies, as well as protections on release and whether statelessness is considered juridically relevant in bilateral return and readmission agreements.

There are some safeguards against the arbitrary detention of stateless migrants in Latvia, but significant gaps remain. A proposed country of removal does not need to be identified prior to detaining someone for removal, and there is no clear legal provision guaranteeing that detention is only ever used as a last resort. Alternatives to detention are established in law and the wording implies that reporting to the authorities should be considered prior to ordering detention. However, evidence from practice and available data suggests that alternatives are applied in only a small proportion of return decisions. There are some procedural safeguards, but periodic reviews are undertaken by the authorities, rather than the courts, although decisions may be appealed to a judge. Legal aid is limited to challenging the return decision and not detention. People released from detention are not guaranteed access to basic rights or assistance and cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards the maximum time limit. People with ‘non-citizen’ status are not subject to immigration detention.

  • Immigration detention powers are provided for under the Immigration Law and the Asylum Law, and do not exceed the purposes allowed under ECHR.
  • However, a proposed country of removal does not need to be identified prior to detention and there is no clear legal provision on detention being used only as a measure of last resort.
  • Statelessness is only considered juridically relevant in that someone may be referred to the SDP for determination of their statelessness, but if they have no legal right to stay or there is a risk of absconding, a stateless person may still be detained until their statelessness is determined under a procedure.
  • Stateless people have been detained in practice in the past, though there is no recent information on this.
  • Vulnerability assessments are provided for in law, but statelessness is not considered a vulnerability factor.
  • Alternatives to detention are established in both the Asylum Law and Immigration Law: regular registration at a specific unit of the State Border Guard and handing over a travel document or other personal identification document to the State Border Guard.
  • There is no clear provision in law that obliges alternatives to be considered prior to detention, and alternatives are not subject to clear rules or limitations. Nevertheless, the implication in law is that an assessment of proportionality should be made on humanitarian grounds and the alternative of registering with the State Border Guard considered prior to detention.
  • Evidence from practice and available data suggests that alternatives are applied in a small proportion of overall return decisions, and detention is applied in the vast majority of cases.
  • Under the Immigration Law a person cannot be detained for more than six months, but a judge may take a decision to extend the duration of detention, not exceeding an additional 12 months, if the detainee refuses to cooperate or delays documents being received from third countries.
  • When detaining a person, by law, the State Border Guard must draw up a detention report with written reasons for detention and the detainee must sign this. It should be communicated to the detainee in a language they understand. Although the law sets out detainees' rights including to legal representation, contact with family and support organisations and effective remedies, this information is not included in the detention report given to detainees.
  • The law provides for judicial oversight of detention, but periodic review is undertaken by the State Border Guard and there is no time frame for how often this should take place.
  • The detainee has the right to appeal the State Border Guard decision before a court, and to appeal the decision of a judge within 48 hours. 
  • There is no provision for free legal aid in law for stateless people to challenge detention (although there is for challenging a removal order, and for asylum seekers to challenge detention orders).
  • Detainees may be referred to an SDP from detention, though there is no formal referral mechanism.
  • No information is available as to whether there are clear rules governing the process of documentation and ascertaining nationality.
  • According to the law, irregular migrants with no valid passport or identity document cannot be assigned a personal identification number on release from detention, and so are released without formal identification or any rights to social assistance.
  • A person who applies for status as a stateless person under the SDP and is granted a positive decision, may acquire a temporary residence permit on release, as per SDP section above.
  • Each detention decision is taken on the basis of the circumstances of a particular case and cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards the maximum time limit.
  • Readmission and return agreements are only imposed after the status of a person is determined and risks of torture or other forms of inhuman treatment established.
  • Not all readmission and return agreements are publicly available. Where they are available, statelessness does not appear to be juridically relevant, though there is also no available information about whether stateless persons have been returned under these agreements in practice.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, reduction measures taken by states to prevent statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions regarding withdrawal of nationality.

Safeguards in Latvian nationality law to prevent childhood statelessness are limited and depend on the status and actions of the parents. A child born to parents with ‘stateless’ or ‘non-citizen’ status may acquire nationality if a parent so chooses, or if they apply themselves between the ages of 15-18 (and can meet certain conditions). None of the legal options serves as a full safeguard against children being born stateless in Latvia. In the case of foundlings, adopted children, and children born to Latvian nationals abroad, statelessness is prevented in most cases, although the requirement to register with consular authorities could be a practical barrier for some children born abroad. Children born to people with ‘non-citizen’ status abroad on the other hand, cannot readily acquire Latvian citizenship. All births in Latvia must be registered within a month, but parents must have identity documents, which could leave some at risk of remaining unregistered. The Latvian Government has taken some steps towards reducing statelessness, including amending the Citizenship Law in 2013 to facilitate the process for ‘non-citizen’ children to acquire nationality, and providing information and support for ‘non-citizens’ to naturalise. However, more than 200,000 people - 65% of whom identify as members of the ethnic Russian minority – remain stateless with ‘non-citizen’ status in the country.

  • There is a provision in law to grant nationality to children born in Latvia to parents with 'stateless' or 'non-citizen' status if one parent who has permanent residence expresses the wish for the child to acquire Latvian nationality at birth registration (or if the mother does so where the father has no entry in the civil registry; or if one parent does so where the other parent is deceased).
  • One parent may apply for a child to acquire Latvian nationality until the child is 15, if the child has been 'stateless' or 'non-citizen' their whole life, is a permanent resident, and both parents have 'stateless' or 'non-citizen' status, and the parent with whom the child has lived has five years' permanent residence in Latvia.
  • The child may apply themselves to acquire Latvian nationality between the ages of 15 and 18, if both parents have 'stateless' or 'non-citizen' status, and the child has five years' residence, no serious criminal record, and Latvian language proficiency.
  • None of the legal options covers all children born stateless on the territory; the timeframe for a child to apply in their own right does not extend beyond the age of majority; and all legal options rely on the status and choices of the parents, so the provisions are not fully consistent with the international standards in the 1961 Convention.
  • There is an automatic provision in law for foundlings to acquire Latvian nationality, which is usually confirmed upon birth registration.
  • The age limit for registration of a foundling as a Latvian citizen by their legal representative is 15 years-old, or the child may register themselves between the ages of 15 and 18.
  • There is no provision for citizenship to be withdrawn from a foundling.
  • A child national adopted by foreign parents does not lose their Latvian nationality.
  • A foreign child adopted by Latvian nationals acquires Latvian nationality on adoption as if by birth.
  • Latvian nationality is acquired automatically by children born abroad to Latvian nationals, but the birth of the child must be registered with the Latvian authorities before the child is 18. The child may register themselves if aged 15 to 18. This age limit does not meet the standards in the 1961 Convention, which requires a minimum of three years for a young person to register themselves on reaching the age of majority.
  • A document certifying the child’s birth, a parent’s or both the parents’ passports as well as a child’s identity document, if available, should also be submitted to OCMA or the consular authorities in Latvian (unless in English, German, French or Russian). Legalisation is not required if issued in the EU/EEA, Switzerland or states with which Latvia has bilateral agreements.
  • The children of ‘Non-citizens’ and ‘stateless persons’ born abroad cannot automatically acquire Latvian nationality, as the criteria set by the Citizenship Law (that the child should be born in Latvia, etc.) are not fulfilled; in such cases, the child may have the right to ‘non-citizen’ status.
  • The law provides that all births should be registered within one month, but parents must submit documentation, so children of undocumented migrants or those residing irregularly in the country are at risk of remaining unregistered.
  • There are no available reports of significant numbers of children remaining unregistered due to parents' lack of documentation or legal status, but there are discussions ongoing about how to ensure all births are registered where parents or medical personnel have failed to report a birth for more than six months. New procedures to facilitate registration are due to be in place by 2022.
  • Late birth registration is possible in law and practice and may be undertaken on the basis of a submission by one or more parent, or another interested party, after establishing the reasons for the delay, and on presentation of documentation, and a medical certificate evidencing the birth.
  • The Latvian Government has undertaken certain reduction measures: in 2018, OCMA conducted a proactive information campaign sending letters to ‘non-citizen’ parents encouraging them to register their children as Latvian citizens; regular information days are held by local OCMA offices and support is provided through EU funding to people with ‘non-citizen’ status to access naturalisation courses; and, significantly, amendments to the Law in 2013 allowed for one parent (rather than both) to consent to the child of ‘non-citizens’ acquiring Latvian nationality at birth registration.
  • Among people with ‘non-citizen’ status in Latvia, 66% identify as ethnic Russians and 14% Belorussian. Of the total population, 64% of people who identify as ethnic Russians are Latvian citizens, 28% have 'non-citizen' status, and the remainder are recorded under other citizenship categories in the population register.
  • The majority of children born to people with 'non-citizen' status in 2014-17 were registered as Latvian citizens, but 253 children born during this period remain stateless.
  • People with ‘non-citizen’ status may apply for naturalisation under general rules if they can meet conditions including language proficiency, a legal source of income, and citizenship test.
  • Latvian law permits withdrawal of citizenship under circumstances including military service to a foreign country, acquisition of nationality of another state (with which Latvia does not hold a dual nationality agreement), promotion of violent overthrow of the Republic of Latvia, falsification of information to acquire Latvian citizenship.
  • There is a safeguard against statelessness in most cases except for fraudulent naturalisation.
  • The competent authority is OCMA, there is a right of appeal to the head of OCMA and the administrative court. Legal aid is not available in administrative procedures.

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