United Kingdom

Law, policy and practice on statelessness in the UK is mixed. Positively, a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) was introduced in 2013, and the UK is party to most relevant human rights treaties. The UK also has safeguards in place to prevent childhood statelessness in most cases. But there are significant gaps in terms of prevention more broadly. The UK is not party to the European Convention on Nationality, it does not consider statelessness as a protection issue, there is no time limit on immigration detention, and the definition of a stateless person in the UK Immigration Rules contains exclusion criteria that go beyond the 1954 Convention.

The UK SDP allows some people to have their statelessness recognised and acquire residence and socio-economic rights with a route to naturalisation. However, as well as the exclusion clauses, there are procedural obstacles, including a lack of legal aid in some jurisdictions, limited appeal rights, and a high standard of proof. Applicants have few rights and in practice may be detained while awaiting a decision, although this may be unlawful in some cases. Statelessness is not always considered a juridically relevant fact in decisions to detain, and the lack of sufficient procedural safeguards, including no time limit on immigration detention, leads to repeated and/or lengthy detention in some cases. Safeguards are in place in British nationality law to prevent statelessness in the case of most children born in the UK or to British nationals abroad, but prohibitively high fees for registration and naturalisation (with no possibility of exemption or reduction) are a major barrier for stateless people to acquire British nationality. The UK Government also has far reaching powers to deprive British nationals of their nationality, in some cases even if this results in statelessness.

Last updated: 
Mar 2021
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2022
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.

The UK is state party to most relevant international treaties, including the 1954 and 1961 statelessness conventions. However, it is not party to key regional instruments, such as the European Convention on Nationality, nor is it bound by the EU Returns Directive. Most provisions in the 1954 and 1961 conventions are enacted in domestic law (treaties do not have direct effect in the UK legal system), but the definition of a stateless person in the UK’s Immigration Rules contains exclusion criteria that go beyond the 1954 Convention, and some reservations to international instruments impact directly on statelessness.

  • The UK is State party to the 1954 Convention, but it maintains several reservations and the Convention has not been fully incorporated into domestic law (treaties do not have direct effect in the UK legal system).
  • Although some Convention rights are implemented through the statelessness determination procedure, there are legal and/or practical barriers to their realisation in some cases, for example, exceptionally high fees for British nationality applications.
  • The UK is State party to the 1961 Convention, but has reservations allowing for deprivation of nationality of a naturalised person on certain grounds. Deprivation of nationality was reintroduced to UK law in 2014 in cases where a naturalised person ‘acts in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the Crown’.
  • UK nationality law enacts many of the 1961 Convention provisions, but there are gaps.  For example, British nationality law continues to treat those with a form of British nationality that does not allow entry and residence (‘right of abode’) in any country - even the UK - as ‘nationals’ rather than ‘stateless persons’, contrary to a 2018 decision of a higher court in England.
  • The UK is not State party to the two core regional statelessness conventions, the European Convention on Nationality, and the Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • The UK maintains reservations to all the relevant international treaties, but those reservations do not have a direct impact on statelessness or stateless people.

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 sufficient measures in place to count stateless persons in detention.

The UK Government collects (and in some cases publishes) some data on the stateless population, including those it recognises as stateless under the statelessness determination procedure (SDP), stateless people with other types of residence permit, who were born in the UK, or who are held in immigration detention. However, the data is not analysed or presented in such a way as to enable an accurate understanding of the stateless population in the UK, and there are potentially overlapping statistical categories, such as 'unknown nationality', 'Palestinian Occupied Territories’, and ‘Western Sahara’. Censuses in the UK do not count stateless people. A mapping study carried out by UNHCR and a national NGO in 2011 noted limitations in stateless population data at the time. Measures are in place to count recognised stateless people detained in immigration removal centres, but there are instances of people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness in detention who are not counted in the statistics.

  • Censuses in the UK do not include a 'stateless' category but do include a question on passport held.
  • UK Government (Home Office) data includes the category ‘stateless’ in some statistics including detention, asylum, residence permit, and acquisition of nationality statistics. However, it does not publish statistics on applications under the SDP, nor does it include those refused a residence permit under the SDP in published data; and there are categories such as ‘unknown nationality’, ‘Palestinian Occupied Territories’, and ‘Western Sahara’, which overlap with statelessness.
  • Relevant data is not analysed or presented in such a way as to enable an accurate understanding of the stateless population in the UK.
  • Some data on the SDP has been made available through Freedom of Information Requests (for example, a total of 5,236 applications  were made between 1 April 2013 and 30 September 2019; and as of 30 June 2019, a total of 174 people had been granted a residence permit under the SDP since it was established in 2013).
  • In 2019, 202 people categorised as stateless were granted refugee protection or resettlement; 104 were refused, and 70 applications were withdrawn. Separate figures are provided for decisions on asylum claims by people recorded as 'Occupied Palestinian Territories', 'Western Sahara', 'Kuwait', and 'Other/unknown', at least some of whom are likely to be stateless.
  • There is a 2011 mapping study of statelessness in the UK (by NGO Asylum Aid, and UNHCR), but it is now out of date and limitations in the availability of data were noted at the time of the study.
  • Based on the UK Government’s figures, UNHCR reports 161 (non-refugee) stateless people in the UK who have had their status formally determined in its Global Trends database as at the end of 2019.
  • The UK Government (Home Office) counts and publishes some limited data on stateless people held in UK immigration removal centres, but this does not include people who are or may be stateless but have not been recognised as such under the SDP.
  • Home Office statistics show that 65 people recorded as 'stateless' entered immigration detention in 2019, and 58 people recorded as stateless were released from detention on bail in 2019. 8 people recorded as stateless were 'returned' to a third country on leaving detention in 2019.
  • In addition, 34 people recorded as ‘Kuwait’; 28 as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’; and 19 ‘other/unknown’ entered immigration detention in 2019. We were unable to find data published by the Ministry of Justice or prison services in devolved administrations (Scottish Prison Service and Northern Ireland Prison Service) on stateless people detained under immigration powers in UK prisons.

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 procedure (SDP) leading to a dedicated stateless status. If an SDP is not place, it assesses whether there are other procedures in which statelessness can be identified or other routes through which stateless people could regularise their stay or access their rights. Countries are subdivided in three groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP leading to protection, those with other procedures, and those with a stateless status but no clear mechanism to access protection. The existing procedures and rights granted to stateless persons are examined and assessed against international norms and good practice.

The UK introduced a dedicated SDP in the Immigration Rules in 2013. A centralised Statelessness Team within the UK Government Visas and Immigration (Home Office) is responsible for examining all claims. There is some good practice relating to accessibility, procedural protections, and the rights granted to recognised stateless people; but there are significant shortcomings both in the Rules and how they are implemented. The procedure prioritises consideration of eligibility for a residence permit over the determination of statelessness and given the exclusion criteria in the UK definition of a stateless person, this results in a protection gap. Legal aid is not generally available for the procedure in England and Wales, there is no automatic right to appeal, and there is evidence of poor decision-making. Those who are recognised and receive a residence permit as a stateless person, face further barriers to naturalisation, including prohibitively high fees.

  • The UK definition of a stateless person does not fully align with the 1954 Convention, as the exclusion clauses set out in the Immigration Rules are considered part of the definition itself. This departs from the 1954 Convention, which permits state parties to withhold protection from excluded persons, but not recognition of a person's statelessness.
  • Additionally, the exclusions permitted by the UK go further than those set out in the 1954 Convention, for example, in relation to admissibility to a country of former habitual residence or the types of criminal activity that affect exclusion from protection or expulsion from the territory.
  • Further criteria were added in 2019 and 2020 following updates to the Immigration Rules. Most problematically, the applicant is required to have 'sought and failed to obtain or re-establish their nationality with the appropriate authorities of the relevant country' before they become eligible for leave as a stateless person.
  • Statelessness decision-makers have received general immigration and asylum-related training. Statelessness training is generally provided ‘on the job’. Some staff received training from UNHCR and Asylum Aid.
  • A UNHCR audit of the SDP published in December 2020 recommends that decision-makers receive refresher training on interviewing; assessing evidence and credibility; and identifying and communicating casework errors.
  • Home Office 'detention gatekeepers' received two hours of specialist statelessness training in 2018.
  • Upper Tribunal judges in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber have received some limited training on identifying statelessness. It is not known whether judges at the Administrative Court receive training on statelessness. Civil society experts provided training for lawyers on the SDP when it was introduced in 2013, and there have been several further ad hoc trainings on statelessness for lawyers in recent years.
  • The UK has a dedicated statelessness determination procedure established in its Immigration Rules. However, the procedure bars certain stateless people from identification and protection on the basis of exclusion clauses in the UK definition of a stateless person.
  • SDP decision-makers sometimes consider eligibility for permission to stay before determining statelessness, resulting in a protection gap for stateless people who do not meet the criteria for permission to stay.
  • The authority appointed is UK Visas and Immigration (part of the UK Government Home Office), which has a dedicated, centralised Statelessness Team.
  • Statelessness determination is the specific objective of the procedure. There is a specific form with instructions, but it is lengthy, only available in English, and unclear and repetitive in parts. Applications must be made in English in writing (via a problematic online form) and cannot be made orally to a public official. There is little flexibility in the application requirements.
  • There is no fee for the procedure. Access is not contingent on residence status, and there is no time limit. Authorities have an obligation in law to consider the application.
  • There is no general obligation to initiate the procedure ex officio. The authorities are not prohibited from referring to the SDP, but rarely do so. For example, there is no evidence that any detainees are referred to the SDP from immigration detention. An obligation might be inferred for children, deriving from the obligation to consider children’s best interests in any immigration decision, but the procedure is not initiated ex officio for children.
  • There is no formal cooperation between different government agencies specifically on statelessness or the SDP and recent cases have been reported of lack of coordination and cooperation on statelessness cases between different authorities.
  • Applications are assessed by a centralised team, but practitioners have reported some cases of poor decision-making.
  • The burden of proof is on the applicant, but decision makers are obliged by government guidance to carry out research and enquiries, particularly for child applicants, where the applicant is ‘unable’ to do so. However, this is not done consistently, as highlighted by UNHCR in a recent audit of the procedure.
  • There are some special considerations in guidance for children, women, and ethnic minorities, but practitioners have observed this guidance not being followed in practice. The 2019 version of the guidance acknowledges the link between statelessness and human trafficking; it also clarifies the procedure for determination of statelessness in a deportation case.
  • The standard of proof is ‘balance of probabilities’, which is higher than in asylum applications.
  • The authorities have guidance on how to determine statelessness, which was updated in 2019, but it is not clear nor comprehensive in all respects. There has been some improvement and some regression in the 2019 version of the guidance.
  • In contrast to provision of legal aid for asylum applicants throughout the UK, there is no legal aid for statelessness applications in England and Wales, though it is possible to apply for exceptional case funding. Survivors of trafficking and separated migrant children are eligible for legal aid in any immigration application, including a statelessness application. Legal aid is available in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for judicial review of refusals in all jurisdictions.
  • Not all applicants are interviewed. Interviews are only conducted where decision-makers consider they cannot make a decision based on the written information provided. However, in some cases in which further relevant information could have been sought in an interview, the applicants were not invited for interview, and their applications refused. The requirement to interview has been watered down in successive versions of the guidance for decision-makers, including in 2019. Recent cases have also been noted of the Home Office refusing to pay for applicants to travel to interviews resulting in them being unable to attend.
  • Interpreters are provided free of charge for interviews, but the costs of interpreting for communication with legal/other representatives must be covered by legal aid, charitable funds, or provided free by the interpreter.
  • There is an internal Home Office quality assurance system in place within the Statelessness Unit, whereby at least one decision per examiner is reviewed each month, but the outcomes of these reviews are not published. Separately, UNHCR’s Quality Integration Project has access to Home Office files with authorities’ consent and works with the UK Government to strengthen decision-making quality, including with respect to the statelessness procedure. It carried out a recent audit of the procedure, which was published in December 2020.
  • Decisions for refusals are written and reasons must be provided, but reasons are not required nor given when applications are approved.
  • There is no referral mechanism into the SDP from other agencies or departments.
  • There is no timeframe for decisions set in law. Lengthy waiting times were highlighted in the UNHCR audit and legal representatives report that applications routinely take 18-24 months to decide. If the first decision is a refusal and a request for administrative review of the decision is upheld, guidance requires that a new decision be made within three months.
  • There is no automatic right for an applicant to remain in the UK during the procedure and no guarantee against expulsion. A stateless leave application is not a barrier to removal where a person does not have extant leave in any other capacity and an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) has been issued: that will be accepted as evidence that the person is re-admissible to the country of return.  Whether or not they are stateless, they will not be granted a residence permit.
  • Applicants do not have the right to work and may be detained, although this is unlawful if detention is for the purposes of removal and removal is not imminent.
  • Applicants who have been refused asylum and are destitute (or imminently so) are potentially eligible for very basic shelter and support.
  • There is no time limit for the procedure in law. The Government has stated it is working to reduce delays in decision-making and may introduce non-mandatory guidance on discretionary timeframes.
  • UNHCR recommended in its 2020 audit report that applicants under the SDP should have the same access to protection and rights as asylum seekers.
  • There is no automatic right of appeal against a decision to refuse a grant of leave to remain on the grounds of statelessness, but administrative and judicial reviews are possible.
  • In its December 2020 audit report, UNHCR recommended a full statutory appeal against a refusal under the SDP.
  • In all UK jurisdictions, legal aid is potentially available for judicial review, but not necessarily for administrative review (in England and Wales), and the case must meet an eligibility test on income and merits. Judicial reviews are subject to court fees, but fee waivers may be available, and fees may be covered by legal aid, where approved. Court fees may vary in different jurisdictions. There are some restrictions on legal aid for judicial review (for example, in England, legal advisers may not be paid under legal aid if the court does not grant permission for the judicial review or does not order payment of their costs). There is no fee for an administrative review as there is no fee for the statelessness residence permit application itself.
  • There is evidence of errors in decision-making.,  Cases decided at judicial review have found errors of law and further cases are pending; errors have been identified by the Home Office through the administrative review process; and UNHCR's 2020 audit report found a number of errors in decision-making in the cases reviewed, including failures to examine relevant evidence and failures to determine statelessness prior to refusals on grounds of criminality. The audit recommended a comprehensive revision and improvement of training for decision makers.
  • People recognised as stateless may be granted permission to remain in the UK if they meet additional requirements, but those admissible to another country for permanent residence are barred from leave to remain in the UK. The exclusion clauses of the Convention pertaining to character and conduct are applied in addition to further, general grounds for refusal in the immigration rules, which apply to all applicants for visas or residence permits.
  • If eligible for a residence permit on grounds of statelessness, a renewable right to reside for 60 months is granted, after which an application for permanent residence can be made. A travel document can be requested (the cost is the same as for a British passport), but is not issued automatically.
  • Residence can be revoked if it is considered the applicant poses a danger to public safety or security or that they have made false representations and therefore should not have been granted a statelessness residence permit.
  • Family reunion is available with a spouse, civil partner, unmarried partner, and/or child under 18 years-old; however, there are significant delays and procedural and evidential hurdles for some applicants.
  • People granted a residence permit have the right to work and to access primary, secondary and higher education. In England and Wales, stateless people must comply with residence conditions for higher education entitlements, although the Home Office has committed to removing this requirement in line with the exemption for refugees. Stateless students in England and Scotland are eligible for student loans as well as a cap on fees in Scotland. In Wales, people with stateless leave must meet a three-year residency requirement before starting a higher education course.
  • Stateless people are eligible for social security and access to healthcare (but in England and Wales they may be required to pay for non-urgent healthcare). There is an outstanding issue that a National Insurance Number, required to access social security, is not automatically allocated and printed on the Biometric Residence Permit, unlike for refugees. This causes delays in access to social assistance after the right to it arises.
  • People granted refugee status or subsidiary protection are eligible for integration loans (England), but people granted leave to remain under the SDP are not.
  • 'Foreign nationals with a right to reside' may vote in some elections in some parts of the UK, although none may vote in General Elections for the UK Parliament. In England and Northern Ireland stateless people may not register to vote, regardless of their residence status. In Scotland, 'foreign nationals' (other than EEA nationals and Commonwealth citizens) who have a residence permit, or who do not need one, may vote in local and Scottish Parliament elections. In Wales, the same 'qualifying foreign nationals’ may register to vote in Welsh Parliament elections.
  • Stateless people are eligible to apply for naturalisation generally after five years’ lawful residence and one additional year of permanent residence, in line with refugees and people with subsidiary protection (if they meet other criteria for naturalisation). This does not put them in a more advantageous position than most other people applying for naturalisation.
  • The standard naturalisation fees are prohibitively high (1330 GBP / 1535 EUR) and there are no exemptions for stateless people.
  • A 'good character' requirement is imposed, creating a further barrier, especially for those with criminal convictions or 'reasonable grounds to suspect they have been involved in a crime'.
  • There is no minimum income requirement, but there are citizenship and language tests, which can be waived in certain exceptional circumstances, but not on grounds of statelessness.
  • Children recognised as stateless are potentially eligible to register as British nationals when their parents naturalise; or, if recognised as stateless under the immigration rules as unaccompanied minors, to register as British nationals after five years’ lawful residence and one additional year of permanent residence. Children born in the UK and remaining stateless until they are five years-old may apply to register. The fees applied to all these types of applications are also prohibitively high: 1012 GBP (1168 EUR) increased if the child turns 18 during the application process.
  • In February 2021, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling that the fee for a child to register as a British national is unlawful because it is set without consideration of the best interests of children.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, but focusing 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, how 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.

There are few positive aspects to law, policy, and practice on immigration detention in the UK. Powers to detain are provided for in law and policy guidance, which states that detention should be a last resort, and detainees have recourse to legal aid and judicial review of their detention. However, there is no time limit on immigration detention and prolonged periods of detention have been found to be lawful in some cases (though unlawful in others). Many people enter detention who are later released, and in many cases re-detained; case reviews are often cursory, alternatives are not adequately considered prior to detention, and few protections are provided on release. Statelessness is not identified as giving rise to vulnerability and is not adequately considered as a juridically relevant fact in decisions to detain.

  • Powers for immigration detention are provided in law. Detention is permitted on various grounds including when removal from the UK is allegedly ‘imminent’. By law, detention must be for a reasonable period and the authorities must exercise diligence and expedition in seeking to remove. Detention must end if removal will not occur within a reasonable period. However, prolonged periods of detention (for example, 10 months) have been found to be lawful in some cases.
  • The law does not state whether a country of removal must be identified prior to detention.
  • Statelessness is not explicitly referred to in UK law or policy as a juridically relevant fact in relation to detention, but it can be raised by detainees and is a relevant fact according to case law. In practice, there is evidence that the authorities do not always adequately consider statelessness.
  • The authorities do not refer people in detention to the statelessness determination procedure, though a detainee can apply from detention.
  • Some stateless people are detained, including some who are not acknowledged to be stateless.
  • Individual vulnerability assessments are required under UK law and policy but are not always thorough and do not consistently prevent detention in practice. Statelessness is not identified as giving rise to vulnerability.
  • There are various alternatives to detention and alternative forms of detention used in the UK, including curfews and electronic tagging, and these are required to be considered prior to detention, but in practice, they are not often adequately considered.
  • The law provides that immigration detention should only be used as a last resort, but this is not observed in practice; many people enter immigration detention each year who are later released.
  • There is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK.
  • Written reasons for detention are provided to the detainee at the time of detention, but these are in tick-box form and are not individualised.
  • Detainees are usually informed of how to access legal advice and bail when detained and in monthly reviews of their detention, but this does not include how to access the statelessness procedure, despite a commitment from the Home Office in 2017 to add this to information provided to detainees. The Home Office internally reviews the need for immigration detention every 28 days, but this is often a cursory review. The Immigration Act 2016 introduced automatic periodic bail hearings for people who have not had a bail hearing for four months, and the UK Government has been trialling an automatic bail hearing pilot for people who have not had a bail hearing for two months, but the results of this are not yet known.
  • Detainees can apply for bail, seek judicial review of unlawful detention or bring a habeas corpus action before a judge.
  • Free legal aid exists to challenge detention, but evidence suggests there are barriers to accessing free legal advice in practice (particularly for those immigration detainees held in prisons) and there are reports of poor-quality advice being provided.
  • A person released from detention is not routinely issued with residency documents unless they have applied for and been granted stateless (or another) status from within detention.
  • If the person is released, they are normally granted Immigration Bail. They may be eligible for basic support, accommodation and healthcare (although they may be required to pay for non-urgent healthcare in England and Wales) but are not permitted to work.
  • As there is no time limit on detention, cumulative time spent in detention does not count towards any limit. Some people are detained for very lengthy periods and some people are detained multiple times.
  • Very little information is available publicly on the content of bilateral return or readmission agreements entered into by the UK Government, and there is no information as to whether stateless people are returned under such agreements in practice.
  • The UK is no longer party to EU readmission agreements since it left the EU. When considering whether a person could be refused leave to remain as a stateless person under the Immigration Rules, the relevant criterion is ‘admissibility’ (Part 14). Government guidance states that ‘Applications for leave to remain as a stateless person will normally be decided and the decision communicated to the applicant before removal arrangements are made.’  It asserts that where a person holds a current passport or is issued an Emergency Travel Document then that is evidence that they are readmissible for the purposes of permanent residence.

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 and reduce statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions for the deprivation of nationality.

There are safeguards in UK nationality law to prevent statelessness in most cases, but some gaps and practical barriers persist. Children born and remaining stateless in the UK can register as British nationals after five years of living in the UK, before the age of 22, but there is a prohibitively high fee for registration. There are partial safeguards in law for children born abroad to British nationals, children adopted by British nationals in certain circumstances, and for foundlings. There is no statutory age limit for the acquisition of nationality by foundlings, but policy guidance is not clear about whether a foundling's nationality could later be lost should circumstances change or new facts come to light. All births must be registered in the UK irrespective of parents’ status, but health services are required to report unpaid healthcare charges to the authorities, which may deter undocumented migrants from accessing services. The UK Government has far reaching powers to deprive British nationals of their nationality, in some cases even if this results in statelessness.

  • Otherwise stateless children born in the UK to a parent holding a form of British nationality (British Citizenship; British Overseas Territories Citizenship; British Overseas Citizenship; British Subject), acquire British nationality automatically.
  • Children born stateless in the UK with no British (or permanently resident) parent are entitled to register for British nationality on application after five years’ continuous residence prior to the age of 22. This does not need to be lawful residence, but the child must not have been absent for more than 450 days during this period.
  • There is a fee of 1012 GBP (1168 EUR) for registration of a child as a British national, which is a significant barrier for many. In February 2021, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling that the fee for a child to register as a British national is unlawful because it is set without consideration of the best interests of children.
  • Children are not required to prove they cannot access another nationality (unlike in the SDP), only that they are, and always have been, stateless. The standard of proof is 'balance of probabilities' and the burden of proof is on the applicant.
  • There are no specific provisions to protect the right to a nationality of children born to refugees.
  • Foundlings are presumed in law to have been born to a British national and acquire British nationality automatically.
  • The law refers to 'new-born infants'. UK Government guidance previously indicated that the reference to new-born infants should be interpreted generously and included babies up to one year old; however, this was omitted from updated guidance.
  • There is no statutory age limit for the acquisition of nationality by foundlings, but policy guidance is not clear about whether a foundling's nationality could later be lost should circumstances change or new facts come to light.
  • An adopted child's acquisition of another foreign nationality does not result in loss of their British nationality.
  • The law provides for a child adopted by British nationals to acquire British nationality, but where it is not a Hague Convention adoption (for example, if it is a ‘de facto’ adoption where there are no papers) the child will not acquire the parent’s nationality automatically.
  • Children born to British national parents abroad can acquire a parent’s nationality by descent (ius sanguinis) if in the first generation, and subsequent generations under certain conditions. British nationals by descent born overseas cannot in principle pass their nationality to their children also born overseas.  Where a child is stateless, that child can be registered as British if the parents are resident in the UK for three years after the birth. Conditions are not discriminatory in nature.
  • Births must be reported to the birth registrar within 42 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and within 21 days in Scotland.
  • All births must be registered by law even if parents are undocumented or do not have any residence status.
  • There is no evidence of barriers to birth registration in practice due to lack of documentation or residence status; however, public health services are required to report certain immigration matters to the immigration authorities and some undocumented migrants are subject to charging for healthcare, which may deter them from accessing services and could discourage birth registration, though no recent cases have been reported.
  • Late registration is possible in law and practice in all jurisdictions although it is discretionary after a year and there is provision in law for failure to register a birth to incur a fine (no more than 200 GBP (230 EUR)). In 2020 the fine was not imposed for late registration due to the temporary closure of some registry offices during the COVID-19 pandemic. It remained possible to claim child social security entitlements and access health services without a birth certificate.
  • In England and Wales, a short form birth certificate is provided for free (although this is not always clearly communicated).  In Scotland, a provision for free short form birth certificates was repealed in 2006. In Northern Ireland there is provision for payment of a fee for the short form certificate.
  • Nationality is not recorded on the birth registration document (neither of the parents nor the child) and there is no formal, standalone procedure for determining nationality. Most children will only have their nationality determined at the point of requesting a British passport.  Children who are subject to immigration procedures may have their nationality determined by the relevant Home Office authority dealing with their immigration application.
  • There is no evidence of targeted government campaigns to promote birth registration, though information on how to register births is provided on government websites (although it is not always complete).
  • Hospitals advise people to register births and there is generally high awareness of the need to do so. Still, there is some anecdotal evidence of some births in very marginalised communities not being registered.
  • The UK Government has not taken any proactive measures to reduce the risk of statelessness in recent years, and in fact this risk has increased through implementation of deprivation of nationality provisions.
  • There are provisions in UK law, which permit the Secretary of State to deprive British nationals of their nationality (including on national security grounds) even if this would result in statelessness, if certain tests are met.
  • An order for deprivation of British nationality may be made which results in a person becoming stateless where: a) the person naturalised; and b) the Secretary of State considers that they have conducted themselves in a manner seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the state; and c) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person may be able to acquire another nationality.
  • There is a safeguard in law and practice to prevent renunciation of British nationality resulting in statelessness. If a person renounces British nationality to acquire another but then does not acquire this within six months, the renunciation is revoked.
  • Procedural guarantees relating to deprivation provisions include the right to appeal, but in some cases if the Secretary of State considers that there is information that should not be made public, the appeal is only to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission where the appellant's right to review evidence is severely curtailed. The Secretary of State may notify the person concerned while they are abroad, and by electronic means or ‘served to file’, which means that the person is not in fact served with the notice. In February 2021, the Supreme Court rejected the request of an applicant deprived of her British nationality whilst abroad to return to the UK to appeal her case.
  • Deprivation of nationality provisions are applied in practice, and increasingly. The Royal Prerogative can also be used to deny passport facilities without going to the extent of depriving a person of British nationality; or where it is not legally possible to deprive them of their nationality. There is limited oversight of Royal Prerogative powers, but there is some evidence of this power having been used in recent years.
  • Only naturalised nationals can be deprived of their nationality on grounds of acquisition by fraud, false representation, or concealment of a material fact. The consequences of deprivation for family members who acquired nationality as dependents are complex and raise further issues. The power under s40(2) British Nationality Act 1981 can be considered discriminatory because it can be exercised against dual nationals only.

Resources

Library of resources, legal instruments, publications and training materials on statelessness, specifically relevant to this country. More regional and international materials, as well as resources from other countries, are available on the Resources library. Domestic case law can be consulted in the Statelessness Case Law Database (with summaries available in English).

Please note that we are in the process of adding new resources, so check back soon.

Council of Europe - European Convention on Nationality (Nov 1997)
United Nations - Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Jan 1961)

UNHCR & Asylum Aid - Mapping Statelessness in The United Kingdom (Jan 2011)
Migrants Resource Centre, University of Liverpool Law Clinic, ENS & ISI - Joint Submission to the Human Rights Council at UPR27 - UK (Sep 2016)
UNHCR - I Am Human (Apr 2021)

Latest news on United Kingdom

Photo: UNHCR & Greg Constantine

UNHCR publishes audit of statelessness determination in the UK

UNHCR published an audit of the UK’s statelessness determination procedure.
19 Jan 2021 / Statelessness determination and status / United Kingdom

New INDEX thematic briefing: Birth registration and the prevention of statelessness in Europe

Read our new briefing on birth registration and the prevention of statelessness
5 May 2020 / Prevention and reduction / Austria / Belgium / Bulgaria / Cyprus / Czech Republic / France / Germany / Greece / Hungary / Italy / Latvia / Malta / Moldova / Netherlands / North Macedonia / Norway / Poland / Portugal / Serbia / Slovenia / Spain / Switzerland / Ukraine / United Kingdom

Urgent Reforms Needed to Improve UK's Approach to Statelessness

This joint briefing by Consonant, Liverpool Law Clinic and the European Network on Statelessness recommends three urgent reforms for the UK to commit...
28 Aug 2019 / Detention / International and Regional Instruments / Prevention and reduction / Statelessness determination and status / Statelessness population data / United Kingdom

Project funded by: