A stateless person is generally not considered a national by any state under the operation of its laws. While some people are de jure (legally) stateless, meaning they are not recognized as citizens under the laws of any state, many people are de facto (effectively) stateless, meaning they are not recognized as citizens by any state, even if they have a claim to citizenship under the laws of 1 or more states. Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and should not be deprived arbitrarily of their nationality.
Statelessness exists in every region of the world. The plight of stateless individuals remains a largely hidden problem because many governments fail to acknowledge and address their circumstances. Statelessness has a wide array of causes, including but not limited to:
- Gaps in nationality laws;
- Discriminatory laws;
- Changes in borders or the emergence of new states; and
- Loss or deprivation of nationality.
On Dec. 15, 2021, DHS announced its commitment to enhance protections for stateless noncitizens in the United States. DHS recognizes that a significant number of stateless noncitizens reside in the United States and face serious challenges and obstacles to securing eligible immigration benefits and the processing of other requests with USCIS because they have no officially recognized nationality. They often lack access to basic documentation, such as birth certificates or passports. A noncitizen who does not possess legal identity documents for themselves or for their children may face difficulties when applying for an immigration status or protection as well as accessing employment, travel, or government services.
USCIS Policy Manual Update
On Aug. 1, 2023, USCIS published policy manual guidance, effective Oct. 30, 2023, that is relevant to stateless noncitizens in the United States who have applied for an immigration benefit or filed some other request with USCIS or may be interested in doing so.
Through this policy guidance, USCIS:
- Clarifies when and how USCIS will generally consider a noncitizen stateless for the purpose of adjudicating immigration benefits or other requests;
- Explains the relevance of a determination that a noncitizen is considered stateless for immigration purposes;
- Clarifies the circumstances and provides examples of situations when an officer may request an internal report analyzing whether a noncitizen may be considered stateless for immigration purposes;
- Describes examples of documentation and evidence a noncitizen may provide as evidence of statelessness; and
- Explains how USCIS may use available documentation and evidence to produce reports that officers may use when adjudicating immigration benefit requests.