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.
Judith Carter, Liverpool University Law Clinic