United Kingdom

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United Kingdom

Urgent Reforms Needed to Improve UK's Approach to Statelessness

On 7 October 2019, the Global High Level Segment on Statelessness convened by UNHCR in Geneva will mark the mid-point of UNHCR's iBELONG campaign to end statelessness by 2024. This joint briefing by Consonant, Liverpool Law Clinic and the European Network on Statelessness recommends three urgent reforms for the UK to commit at the event to undertaking by the end of 2020 to improve its approach to statelessness.

28 Aug 2019 / Detention / International and Regional Instruments / Prevention and reduction / Statelessness determination and status / Statelessness population data / United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Law, policy and practice on statelessness in the UK is mixed. There have been some recent positive developments, such as the introduction of a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) in 2013, and the UK is party to most relevant human rights treaties. It also has safeguards in place to prevent statelessness in most cases. But there are significant gaps.

  • 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 (1197 EUR in March 2019) for registration of a child as a British citizen, which is a significant barrier for many.
  • Children are not required to prove they cannot access another nationality, 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.
  • Foundlings are presumed in law to have been born to a British national and acquire British citizenship automatically.
  • The law refers to 'new-born infants'. 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 citizen parents abroad can acquire a parent’s citizenship by descent (ius sanguinis) if in the first generation, and subsequent generations under certain conditions. If a child would otherwise be stateless, children of British citizens by descent born overseas who cannot pass on their nationality to children born overseas can also be registered as British if the parents were resident in the UK prior to the birth, or 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 not legally resident.
  • There is no evidence of barriers to birth registration in practice due to lack of documentation or legal status, however, 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 prevent birth registration.
  • 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).
  • There is no evidence of targeted government campaigns to promote birth registration, though information on how to register births is provided on government websites.
  • 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 births in very marginalised communities not being registered.
  • There is no evidence of specific groups being at particular risk of statelessness in the UK, and the UK Government has not taken any proactive reduction measures to reduce the risk of statelessness.
  • Powers exist in law for the Secretary of State to deprive British citizens of their citizenship if certain tests are met.
  • No deprivation order may be made which would render a person stateless unless certain criteria are met. An order 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.
  • Procedural guarantees include the right to appeal. 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.
  • Withdrawal provisions are applied in practice, and increasingly.

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