The project aims to fill a gap in research on this topic by examining the nature and scope of statelessness in the United States.


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Statelessness is a highly complex legal and often political issue that has a disproportionate impact on women, children, and ethnically mixed families, leading to discrimination, exploitation, and forced displacement in all regions of the world. The effects include: lack of legal protection, poor employment prospects, poverty, limited opportunity to own property, and social exclusion. The 1953 Convention of Future Statelessness was adopted to cover stateless persons who are not refugees and are not protected under the 1951 Convention, and it is the primary international instrument designed to regulate the legal status and treatment of stateless persons. The 1953 Convention is the only instrument that outlines specific ways to identify a person's nationality in circumstances where he or she would otherwise be stateless. Despite what is known about statelessness around the world, there have been no independent studies on statelessness in the United States to date.

Program Summary

The project aims to fill a gap in research on this topic by examining the nature and scope of statelessness in the United States. The International Observatory on Statelessness (IOS) study complements an initial 2012 study by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Open Society Foundation, taking a more comprehensive look at statelessness in the United States. The team proposing this study has extensive experience researching statelessness in the international context. This nine-month project will be directed by Dr. Maureen Lynch in partnership with Dr. Brad Blitz, Director of the International Observatory on Statelessness, and if permissible per university human subjects regimen, Dr. Lindsay Kingston and colleagues at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The project includes eight core parts:

  1. Discuss anticipated project with UN and NGO counterparts, especially the author of the December 2012 report
  2. Develop and standardize questions for state government officials and stateless persons
  3. Contact and arrange interviews with officials
  4. Identify stateless persons and schedule meetings/interviews
  5. Conduct interviews with officials and stateless persons
  6. Transcribe (as necessary) and review findings
  7. Conduct qualitative analysis
  8. Publish and disseminate findings.

This project will develop interview protocols for officials and stateless persons in part based on those used in the international arena. Project findings will be consolidated for reporting purposes and will be prepared for publication and dissemination.


The expected impact takes several forms. First and foremost, any data gathered is critical to researchers and others who depend on data for human rights purposes. Information obtained will play a key role in prompting legal reform on behalf of stateless people in the United States. Concrete recommendations will influence policy decisions and ultimately help guide the process of eliminating statelessness in the U.S. This impact will be measured by developments on Capitol Hill, as well as by activities in DHS and NSC. It is also hoped that this project will have both a direct and indirect impact on the lives of stateless people. This type of impact will be evident based on self-reporting and media reports. This project and the resulting report will be an invaluable advocacy tool for the related UN campaign. It will back up the previous report and be useful in the development of future studies. The impact of the role the proposed project can make to the campaign will be evident from discussions of the campaign working group and in the long-term changes in U.S. law.

Anticipated Issues

There are at least two huge hurdles faced by this project.

  1. It is expected to be incredibly difficult to find and identify stateless persons, much less have them to agree to be interviewed
  2. It will also be very challenging to locate the relevant officials and secure appointments to speak with them


This project will be undertaken with the informal partnership of many individuals and organizations, including:

  • A necessary, but informal, partnership with the UNHCR
  • Member groups in the international and domestic statelessness working groups – including but not limited to Refugees International, the Open Society Institute Equal Justice Initiative, the Jesuit Refugee Services, and other similar groups
  • A more formal partnership with the International Observatory on Statelessness and the Human Rights Institute at Webster University
  • Potentially added expertise of legal scholars with expertise in statelessness, primarily individuals who have worked within the UN system to help stateless people in the US

Program Details

Western Europe & North America
United States