What is Statelessness?

Who is a ‘stateless person’?

In international law a stateless person is: ‘a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law’. This definition is from the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.

Appendix Statelessness uses this definition and sets out the requirements to be granted leave to remain as a stateless person in the UK.

Put simplya ‘stateless person’ is someone who is not recognised as a citizen of any state. There are many ways a person can become stateless, and they may not be aware of the fact that they are stateless.

The UNHCR estimates there are millions of people in the world who are denied a nationality. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, language or gender is a major cause of statelessness. For example, 25 countries do not allow women to pass on their nationality in the same way as men. Migration, the emergence of new states and lack of birth registration are also causes of statelessness. Many of the people who apply in the UK are undocumented and cannot prove their nationality.

Not every country has a Statelessness Determination Procedure. That is something in their laws which provides a way for a stateless person to regularise their status. The UK has had this procedure in the Immigration Rules Part 14 since 2013. On 31 January 2024 Part 14 was replaced by Appendix Statelessness. 

For more information about the definition of statelessness, see the Statelessness and Applications for Leave to Remain: A Best Practice Guide, B.2.

See also the Home Office guidance: Permission to stay as a stateless person

Stateless people who fear persecution or serious harm – applying for asylum

A stateless person who fears persecution or serious harm in their country or territory of origin may also have an asylum claim (for refugee status). It is not possible to have both an asylum claim and an application for statelessness leave running at the same time. 

A person may harm their asylum claim if they contact the authorities of a country where they fear persecution. For a statelessness application, it is always necessary to contact the authorities of any country to which the person may have a right of admission. It is essential to get legal advice from a competent UK legal adviser before approaching the authorities of a country where persecution is feared.

If a claim for asylum has been made, then it will need to be resolved - meaning it needs to be granted, refused or withdrawn - before an application for statelessness leave will be considered. 

See the section on Legal Advice.

For more information about the UK’s asylum process, see here