Update from June 2022:
There is data relating to the UK’s stateless population, but it is not comprehensive nor entirely reliable. UNHCR indicates that at the end of 2021 there were 258 persons who had been recognised as stateless through the UK’s statelessness determination procedure, and 5,177 total stateless persons, including forcibly displaced persons. It is not clear how the data is collected, and it does not take into account stateless people who are in the UK but not recognised or recorded as stateless, nor some categories in which stateless people are recorded. The UK Government’s published Immigration Statistics do not include data about the statelessness determination procedure. Other data published by the UK Government indicate that there were 254 stateless people granted temporary extensions of permission to stay in the UK in 2021 on grounds related with family, work, study and other categories, and in 2021 there were 214 stateless persons granted permanent residence, 165 stateless adults were naturalised as British citizens and 1325 stateless children were registered as British citizens – in a consistent upward trend. UK Government data also indicates that 151 stateless persons were detained under immigration powers in 2021. This data does not represent the entire stateless population and only includes people recorded as ‘stateless’, but not others who may be stateless, such as those recorded as Palestinian.
The UK Supreme Court handed down a judgment in the case PRCBC & O v SSHD  UKSC 3, finding that setting high and unaffordable fees for registration as a British citizen is not unlawful (because the UK Parliament had given the Government the authority to set the fees). The same case had already resulted in a previous holding that the Government must consider children's best interests in setting the fees, which still remain valid after the Supreme Court decision. Following this litigation, in June 2022 the Government introduced for the first time an exemption from the British citizenship application fee for children in the care of the State, and the possibility of a fee waiver for other children who cannot afford the fee (which applies to stateless as well as other children).
The UK Parliament passed the Nationality and Borders Act (NBA), parts of which came into force on 28 April 2022 and amends the British Nationality Act 1981. It introduces two amendments, in particular, that have the potential to worsen statelessness in the UK as well as unnecessarily leaving more children in limbo, exposed to the detrimental impacts of growing up without a nationality. The NBA amends the safeguard for children (up to age 18) born stateless in the UK to acquire British citizenship, which now requires that the Government must be ‘satisfied that the person is unable to acquire another nationality’. The NBA also contains provisions expanding the government’s power to deprive people of nationality without notice. Positively, it brings in some changes to correct historic discrimination in nationality law on the basis of parents’ sex and marital status as well as some provisions allowing qualifying Chagos Islanders (some of whom are stateless) to acquire British nationality.
New resources on the United Kingdom now available include:
- 2021 Statelessness Index Survey
- Joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review on the United Kingdom (March 2022)
- ENS, Policy briefing on risks of childhood statelessness for the children associated with alleged ‘foreign fighters’ detained in Syria and Iraq (October 2021)
- ENS, Invisible Kids: Childhood Statelessness in the UK (July 2021)
- UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights, End to historical discrimination in nationality law welcome but Nationality bill may fail to protect rights of stateless children (November 2021)
- Luo, S., Statusless and Stateless Chinese Migrants in the UK (April 2021)
- UNHCR, Many Stateless in UK Face Tortuous Road to Recognition (April 2021)
- UK Supreme Court, PRCBC & O v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 3, 2 February 2022: on fee waivers for children to acquire British citizenship
- Upper Tribunal (IAC), AM v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKUT 62 (IAC), 1 February 2021: on granting of a residence permit to avoid “legal limbo”
- Upper Tribunal (IAC), AZ v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKUT 284 (IAC), 25 March 2021: on the admissibility of a person who claims to be stateless to their country of formal habitual residence
- Court of Appeal, Secretary of State for the Home Department v Tariq  EWCA Civ 378, 16 March 2021: on determination of foreign nationality in order to acquire British nationality
- ENS and AIRE Centre, Third party submission to the ECtHR on Pham v. UK (April 2021)
Law, policy and practice on statelessness in the UK is mixed. Positively, a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) was introduced in 2013 for residence permits, 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. The UK Government has far reaching powers to deprive British nationals of their nationality, in some cases even if this results in statelessness. 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 amendments to nationality law exclude some children born stateless in the UK from eligibility for British citizenship.
Information below by theme was last updated in March 2021.
Judith Carter, Liverpool University Law Clinic