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One of the biggest challenges with statelessness in the U.S. is that so many people don’t know about it. And currently, the U.S. lacks any laws or policies that acknowledge and address statelessness in the U.S. — so there's a lot of work to do. You can begin by learning about these frequently asked questions.

What Causes Statelessness?

A number of complex conditions and combinations of them can cause statelessness.


State Succession
Some people become stateless when their state of nationality ceases to exist, or when the territory on which they live comes under the control of another state. This was the case when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and also in the cases of Yugoslavia and Ethiopia.


Discrimination by Race, Religion, or Gender
In most large-scale statelessness situations, statelessness is a result of discrimination. Many states define their body of citizens based on ethnicity, leading to the exclusion of large groups. This violates international laws against discrimination.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated on 1 October 2014 that the "deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin is a breach of States’ obligations to ensure non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to nationality.

​Although many states allow the acquisition of nationality through parental descent irrespective of where the child is born, some do not allow female citizens to confer nationality to their children. This can result in statelessness when the father is stateless, unknown, or otherwise unable to confer nationality.


Conflicts in Nationality Law
Conflicting nationality laws are one of many causes of statelessness. Nationality is usually acquired through one of two modes, although many nations recognize both modes today:


  • “Jus soli” ("right of the soil") denotes a regime by which nationality is acquired through birth on the territory of the state. This is common in the Americas.


  • Jus sanguinis ("right of blood") is a regime by which nationality is acquired through descent, usually from a parent who is a national. Almost all states in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania grant citizenship at birth based upon the principle of jus sanguinis.

A person who does not have either parent eligible to pass citizenship by jus sanguinis can be stateless at birth if born in a state which does not recognize jus soli. For instance, a child born outside Canada to two Canadian parents, who were also born outside Canada to Canadian parents, would not be a Canadian citizen, since jus sanguinis is only recognized for the first generation in Canada.


If the child were born in India and neither parent had Indian citizenship, then the child would be stateless since India only confers citizenship to children born to at least one Indian parent.

Administrative Obstacles

People may also become stateless as a result of administrative and practical problems, especially when they are from a group whose nationality is questioned. Individuals might be entitled to citizenship but unable to undertake the necessary procedural steps. They may be required to pay excessive fees for documentation proving nationality, to provide documentation that is not available to them, or to meet unrealistic deadlines; or they may face geographic or literacy barriers.

Non-State Territories

As per the definition of a stateless person, only states can have nationals. As a result, people who are "citizens" of non-state territories are stateless.


This includes, for instance, residents of occupied territories where statehood has ceased to exist or never emerged in the first place. The Palestinian territories are the most prominent example. Others are Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus (depending on the interpretation of what constitutes statehood and sovereignty). An example not involving military occupation is American Samoa.


In rare cases, individuals may become stateless upon renouncing their citizenship. Many states do not allow citizens to renounce their nationality unless they acquire another. However, consular officials are unlikely to be familiar with the citizenship laws of all countries, so there may still be situations where renunciation leads to effective statelessness.

Who are The stateless Populations around The World?

According to UN statistics there are about 10 million stateless people worldwide, but the real number may be higher. There are many situations that leave people stateless. Here are the most common:


  • Wars and conflicts (Iraq, Syria)

  • Racism, nationalism, political discrimination against minorities, religious persecution (Dominican Republic, Estonia, Myanmar, Latvia, Kuwaiti Bidoon, Roma in Europe)

  • State collapse or succession (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Palestine)

  • Gender discrimination (Bahamas, Lebanon, Barbados)

  • Or any combination of these factors

If you belong to a group that is commonly stateless, you may also be stateless. Some commonly stateless groups include:


Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali groups in Europe are ethnic and cultural minorities in Europe historically associated with nomadism. Roma groups have been persecuted throughout European history and many are stateless.


The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority in Burma/Myanmar who do not qualify for citizenship under the law. Long persecuted, the Rohingya are now undergoing a genocide.

Palestinians are an ethnic and religious group from the Middle East. They became stateless during the process of creating the state of Israel. There are many Palestinians living in the US. For information on some of the legal problems faced by Palestinians in the U.S., see here.

Dominicans of Haitian Descent

The government of the Dominican Republican recently denaturalized Dominicans of Haitian descent, those with Dominican citizenship whose families were originally from Haiti, meaning that many Dominicans in the U.S. may now be stateless. Read more here.


People from Laos may also be stateless. You can read more here.

Former Soviet Block Countries and Yugoslavia

People from former Soviet Union countries like Estonia and Latvia, as well as the former Yugoslavia, like Bosnia, frequently lack citizenship because of discrimination and gaps during the succession or breakup of states. You can read more here.

South Sudan and Eritrea

Likewise, the creation of South Sudan and Eritrea has created cases of statelessness. Find out more here and here.

Countries from the British Empire
Immigrant populations during the British Empire period — people whose families migrated or were relocated during the British Empire period are often stateless, such as in countries like Malaysia and Kenya. Some countries, like Sri Lanka, have worked to resolve their cases.

Indigenous People around the World
Indigenous, nomadic and mobile peoples all over the world are at high risk of statelessness. For an example in the Central American context, see here.


Finally, a large number of refugees and displaced persons may be at risk of statelessness or become stateless due to problems with registration and documents. Examples including Syrian refugees in Lebanon and refugees in Hong Kong.

Countries with Discriminatory Nationality Laws
Discriminatory, gendered nationality laws can also create or contribute to statelessness. For an example from Nepal, see here.

What does international law say about statelessness?

Under international law, everyone has a right to nationality. Statelessness denies you this basic human right. Several international laws were created to address statelessness:

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 15 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to a nationality”. Article 15 (2) states "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality". Learn more here.

1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
In 1951 the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted, and the planned Protocol relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which was intended to accompany it, was deferred for further study. While the 1951 Refugee Convention applies to some stateless persons, its application is limited to those who are also refugees.

Article 1A (2) provides that the Convention applies to a person who: owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. Only those stateless persons who are outside of their country of habitual residence and who have a well-founded fear of persecution on one of the enumerated grounds are protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
The 1954 Convention seeks to regulate and improve the legal status of stateless persons, and to ensure non-discriminatory protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms by the state in which they reside. Many of its provisions are identical to those of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

These include, inter alia, the core non-discrimination obligation, provisions on religious freedom, juridical status, employment, welfare, freedom of movement, issuance of travel and identity documents, and an obligation to ‘facilitate assimilation and naturalization’.

In addition the 1954 Convention prohibits expulsion of stateless persons ‘save on grounds of national security or public order’. While the 1954 Convention encourages the naturalization of stateless persons, it does not require a state to grant its nationality to a stateless person.

1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
The 1954 Convention seeks to ensure a legal status and minimum level of protection for stateless persons wherever they may be, but leaves to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness the question of which nationality an individual should have.

The 1961 Convention aims at reducing future statelessness by setting international standards for national laws on the acquisition and loss of nationality. The Convention provides “for the acquisition of nationality by those who would otherwise be stateless and who have an appropriate link with the State through birth on the territory or through descent from nationals, and for the retention of nationality for those who will be made stateless should they inadvertently lose the State’s nationality".

The Convention accepts both the jus sanguinis and jus soli approaches to citizenship. It includes detailed provisions on the grant of nationality, loss and renunciation of nationality, deprivation of nationality and transfer of territory. It provides for an international agency to assist stateless persons, and like other international conventions, for the submission, rarely resorted to, of inter-state disputes regarding its interpretation or application to the International Court of Justice.

The Final Act of the Conference, like that of the 1954 Convention, recommends that de facto stateless persons be treated as far as possible like de jure stateless persons, so that they too may acquire effective nationality.

Do you have any questions about statelessness?

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