Can citizenship be revoked if a person would be rendered stateless, provided that they could anyway eventually become a citizen of their native country by descent? Countries like India even allow people who have never set foot on Indian soil and just have one Indian parent apply for "Overseas citizen of India" card (India's pseudo/dummy citizenship, virtually equal to citizenship with some exceptions). They can even apply for citizenship after living in India for a period with that card.

One thing that immediately comes to mind is the Shamima Begum case. She fled her London home to join the Islamic state but now she wants to come back to the UK (after realizing), but UK's Home Office revoked her citizenship, claiming that she could claim Bangladesh citizenship by descent even though she isn't a citizen of Bangladesh at the time of revocation. A British court recently allowed her to come to the UK, but that was challenged by the Home Office. Anyway.

We do not know yet what will happen next, but can countries claim a citizen's former country's citizenship by descent pathway, to revoke their current citizenship? Is that allowed under international law? It is very difficult to revoke citizenship if there's no other pathway for the person to get another citizenship, but what if there's a straightforward pathway by means of descent?

PS: There is obviously an assumption that the citizen we are talking about here would be a big big threat to the public.

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    which state's law allows to revoke or drop your own citizenship if you have no other? I am not aware of any that does so.
    – Trish
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:52
  • Look at the PS. There is an assumption here that the citizen have done something that leads to a decision for revocation like the case of Shamima Begum. Many countries have that power of revocation
    – Jay Shah
    Aug 11, 2020 at 13:55
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    Making someone stateless is generally a violation of international law, but not everyone sticks to that. In your example it seems the Home Office was taking a political but likely illegal action. As long as rule of law prevails, a court will have final say on that matter. And as a side note, making them stateless is not a suitable way to deal with dangerous persons, that's just passing the buck to the country where they are deported to – a country that's often less well equipped to keep dangerous persons in check.
    – amon
    Aug 11, 2020 at 15:37
  • Just to clarify: the courts have currently allowed her to enter the UK to pursue her appeal against the revocation of her citizenship, and it's a decision largely based on her right to a fair trial rather than the merit of the case.
    – richardb
    Aug 11, 2020 at 16:36
  • @Trish the US is one.
    – phoog
    Aug 12, 2020 at 3:24

3 Answers 3


The case that you mentioned isn't an example of what you're talking about.

One thing that immediately comes to mind is the Shamima Begum case. She fled her London home to join the Islamic state but now she wants to come back to the UK (after realizing), but UK's Home Office revoked her citizenship, claiming that she could claim Bangladesh citizenship by descent even though she isn't a citizen of Bangladesh at the time of revocation.

No, they are claiming that Shamima Begum is a citizen of Bangladesh at the time of revocation.

According to section 5 of Bangladesh's Citizenship Act 1951, a child born abroad to a Bangladeshi citizen father is automatically ("shall be") a Bangladeshi citizen by descent at birth. (Mothers were allowed to pass on citizenship after 2009, but that was after Begum was born.) Note that registration at a Bangladeshi consulate within 1 year of birth is only necessary in the case where the father is a Bangladeshi citizen by descent. I believe Begum's father was a Bangladeshi citizen otherwise by descent, in which case no registration or other action is necessary for her to be a Bangladeshi citizen at birth. It doesn't matter that she has never been to Bangladesh nor does it matter that she never claimed to be a Bangladeshi citizen.

There were two men of Bangladeshi descent in a separate case who successfully fought their revocation of British citizenship, but the difference between their cases and Begum's case was that they were over 21, which she was under 21 at the time of revocation. Section 14 of Bangladeshi's Citizenship Act provides that someone with dual citizenship automatically loses Bangladeshi citizenship if they don't renounce their other citizenship, but this provision doesn't apply to those under 21. So these two men had Bangladeshi citizenship too, while they were under 21, but they lost it when they turned 21, before their supposed revocation of British citizenship, whereas for Begum, she hadn't lost Bangladeshi citizenship at the time of the revocation of her British citizenship, because she hadn't turned 21.

(Perhaps you got the idea of "claiming" of citizenship from some report that one can "claim" Bangladeshi citizenship by descent while under 21, and these men failed to claim it, but Begum can still "claim" it. But if you read the text of the law, that is clearly not the case. For a child born to a father who was a Bangladeshi citizen otherwise than by descent, there is no "claim" of citizenship -- it is automatic and involuntary at birth.)

As to your question, there are no universal restrictions to how a country can grant or take away citizenship. There is the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which countries may voluntarily join, but only a minority of countries of the world are party to the convention. Article 8 of the Convention does prohibit countries that are party to the Convention from depriving someone's citizenship if it would "render him stateless", though there are several exceptions including if the citizenship was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. The language seems to require that the person already have another citizenship, not just have the ability to acquire one, though I am not sure how much leeway countries have to interpret this.

In the case of the UK, it is a party to the Convention, and it has largely implemented the provisions of the Convention in its domestic law. With respect to deprivation of citizenship, section 40 subsection (4) of the British Nationality Act 1981 prohibits a deprivation order if the Secretary "is satisfied that the order would make a person stateless." (Subsection (4A) has a looser restriction where British citizens by naturalization can be deprived of citizenship if the Secretary believes that the person is able to become the national of another country. I am not sure whether this is compatible with the Convention. In any case, this is not relevant to Begum's case as she was not a British citizen by naturalization.) So if the UK were to try to deprive citizenship of a British citizen otherwise than by naturalization like Begum, not on the basis that the person already has another citizenship but on the basis that they are "eligible" to "claim" one (which as I described above I do not believe is the case for Begum; I am talking hypothetically if such a case were to arise), that can already be challenged as a violation of British law, in British courts, without considering the UK's obligations under the Convention.

If it's another country that's a party to the Convention, but their law expressly allows deprivation of citizenship for being "eligible" to acquire another citizenship even though the person doesn't have one (including, perhaps, British citizens by naturalization deprived citizenship under section 40(4A)), and a person in that situation is deprived of citizenship, they don't really have any recourse. A private party cannot "sue" a country over any violations of the Convention in an international court.

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    According to the BBC (bbc.com/news/uk-51413040) the Bangladesh ministry of foreign affairs has stated that Ms Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen and will not be allowed into the country. However it is not clear how they have reached that conclusion. Aug 12, 2020 at 9:01

US law (8 USC 1451) allows the revocation of naturalization, and does not restrict such revocation to people having any particular actual or potential citizenship. The US is also not a party to the statelesness conventions. So it is possible to legally make a person stateless.

The nationality law of Syria is kind of complex, being of the paternal jus sanguinis type, regularly gives rise to stateless individuals (discussed here), especially the children of women not married to Syrian citizens. There are provisions for persons of Arab origin, but these do not apply to the Kurds of Syria. There was a census event in 1962 whereby about 120,000 Syrian Kurds lost Syrian citizenship – under their nationality law, the status ajanib and maktumin (foreign, illegal) is herditary. In the case of Kurds in Syria, their "native country" is indeed Syria: as far as I know, Syria does not hold that they are really citizens of Turkey or the non-existent Ottoman Empire.

Nationality can also be revoked by the Minister of the Interior if deemed necessary for safety and security of the state, or if a citizen resides in a non-Arab state for more than 3 years and does not sufficiently justify their absence. Syria is not a party to the statelessness conventions. Outside of Europe and South America, most countries are not parties to those conventions.

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    US only allows revocation of naturalization for fraudulent naturalization, but I believe pretty much every other country allows revocation of naturalization for fraudulent naturalization even if the person has no other nationality too, based on the legal principal that you should not be able to keep something that was obtained fraudulently. And the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness specifically allows countries to revoke citizenship if it was obtained through fraud, even if it will make the person stateless.
    – user102008
    Aug 12, 2020 at 3:11

Citizenship is a matter for the laws of individual countries

When and in what circumstances it can be granted or revoked varies by nation. Some nations prohibit revocation where it can leave a person stateless and others don't.

The law in the UK and British Overseas Territories

The relevant provisions are in s40 of the British Nationality Act 1981:

(2) The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good.


(4) The Secretary of State may not make an order under subsection (2) if he is satisfied that the order would make a person stateless.

(4A) But that does not prevent the Secretary of State from making an order under subsection (2) to deprive a person of a citizenship status if—

(a) the citizenship status results from the person's naturalisation,

(b) the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory, and

(c) the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.

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