CITES BY TOPIC:  Stateless person
Social Security Program Operations Manual System (POMS), Section RS 02640.040 Stateless Persons

RS 02640.040 Stateless Persons


There are two classes of stateless persons:

  • DE JURE—Persons who do not have nationality in any country.
  • DE FACTO—Persons who have left the country of which they were nationals and no longer enjoy its protection and assistance. They are usually political refugees. They are legally citizens of a country because its laws do not permit denaturalization or only permit it with the country's approval.


1. De Jure Status

Once it is established that a person is de jure stateless, he/she keeps this status until he/she acquires nationality in some country.

Any of the following establish an individual is de jure stateless:

  1. a “travel document” issued by the individual's country of residence showing the:
    • holder is stateless; and
    • document is issued under the United Nations Convention of 28 September 1954 Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. (The document shows the phrase “Convention of 28 September 1954” on the cover and sometimes on each page.)
  2. a “travel document” issued by the International Refugee Organization showing the person is stateless.
  3. a document issued by the officials of the country of former citizenship showing the individual has been deprived of citizenship in that country.

2. De Facto Status

Assume an individual is de facto stateless if he/she:

  1. says he/she is stateless but cannot establish he/she is de jure stateless; and
  2. establishes that:
    • he/she has taken up residence outside the country of his/her nationality;
    • there has been an event which is hostile to him/her, such as a sudden or radical change in the government, in the country of nationality; and

      NOTE: In determining whether an event was hostile to the individual, it is sufficient to show the individual had reason to believe it would be hostile to him/her.

    • he/she renounces, in a sworn statement, the protection and assistance of the government of the country of which he/she is a national and declares he/she is stateless. The statement must be sworn to before an individual legally authorized to administer oaths and the original statement must be submitted to SSA.

De facto status stays in effect only as long as the conditions in b. continue to exist. If, for example, the individual returns to his/her country of nationality, de facto statelessness ends.

3. Residents of Hong King and Macau

The following applies to residents of Hong Kong for months before July 1997 and without a time restriction to residents of Macau.

Consider as stateless any person who:

  • resides in Hong Kong or Macau; and
  • alleges citizenship in China, Taiwan or Nationalist China (The Republic of China).

Consider him/her stateless only as long as he/she resides in Hong Kong or Macau.

Do not consider him/her stateless if he/she states he/she is a citizen of The People's Republic of China (PRC).

Effective July 1997, the PRC took control of Hong Kong. Thus, residents of Hong Kong can be considered stateless for months after June 1997 only if they meet the criteria in RS 02640.040B.1. or RS 02640.040B.2.

Newman-Green v. Alfonso Larrain, 490 U.S. 826 (1989)

Petitioner Newman-Green, Inc., an Illinois corporation, brought this state law contract action in District Court against a Venezuelan corporation, four Venezuelan citizens, and William L. Bettison, a United States citizen domiciled in Caracas, Venezuela. Newman-Green's complaint alleged that the Venezuelan corporation had breached a licensing agreement, and that the individual defendants, joint and several guarantors of royalty payments due under the agreement, owed money to Newman-Green. Several years of discovery and pretrial motions followed. The District Court ultimately granted partial summary judgment for the guarantors and partial summary judgment for Newman-Green. 590 F.Supp. 1083 (ND Ill.1984). Only Newman-Green appealed.

At oral argument before a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Easterbrook inquired as to the statutory basis for diversity jurisdiction, an issue which had not been previously raised either by counsel or by the District Court Judge. In its complaint, Newman-Green had invoked 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(3), which confers jurisdiction in the District Court when a citizen of one State sues both aliens and citizens of a State (or States) different from the plaintiff's. In order to be a citizen of a State within the meaning of the diversity statute, a natural person must both be a citizen of the United States and be domiciled within the State. See Robertson v. Cease, 97 U.S. 646, 648-649 (1878); Brown v. Keene, 8 Pet. 112, 115 (1834). The problem in this case is that Bettison, although a United States citizen, has no domicile in any State. He is therefore "stateless" for purposes of 1332(a)(3). Subsection 1332(a)(2), which confers jurisdiction in the District Court when a citizen of a State sues aliens only, also could not be satisfied because Bettison is a United States citizen. [490 U.S. 829]

When a plaintiff sues more than one defendant in a diversity action, the plaintiff must meet the requirements of the diversity statute for each defendant or face dismissal. Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 3 Cranch 267 (1806).{1} Here, Bettison's "stateless" status destroyed complete diversity under 1332(a)(3), and his United States citizenship destroyed complete diversity under 1332(a)(2). Instead of dismissing the case, however, the Court of Appeals panel granted Newman-Green's motion, which it had invited, to amend the complaint to drop Bettison as a party, thereby producing complete diversity under 1332(a)(2). 832 F.2d 417 (1987). The panel, in an opinion by Judge Easterbrook, relied both on 28 U.S.C. 1653 and on Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as sources of its authority to grant this motion. The panel noted that, because the guarantors are jointly and severally liable, Bettison is not an indispensable party, and dismissing him would not prejudice the remaining guarantors. 832 F.2d at 420, citing Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 19(b). The panel then proceeded to the merits of the case, ruling in Newman-Green's favor in large part, but remanding to allow the District Court to quantify damages and to resolve certain minor issues.{2}

[Newman-Green v. Alfonso Larrain, 490 U.S. 826 (1989)]

Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963)

We recognize at the outset that we are confronted here with an issue of the utmost import. Deprivation of citizenship -- particularly American citizenship, which is "one of the most valuable rights in the world today," Report of the President's Commission on Immigration and Naturalization (1953), 235 -- has grave practical consequences. An expatriate who, like Cort, had no other nationality becomes a stateless person -- a person who not only has no rights as an American citizen, but no membership in any national entity whatsoever.

Such individuals as do not possess any nationality enjoy, in general, no protection whatever, and if they are aggrieved by a State, they have no means of redress, since there is no State which is competent to take up their case. As far as the Law of Nations [372 U.S. 161] is concerned, there is, apart from restraints of morality or obligations expressly laid down by treaty . . . , no restriction whatever to cause a State to abstain from maltreating to any extent such stateless individuals.

1 Oppenheim, International Law (8th ed., Lauterpacht, 1955), 291, at 640.{14} The calamity is "[n]ot the loss of specific rights, then, but the loss of a community willing and able to guarantee any rights whatsoever. . . ." Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), 294. The stateless person may end up shunted from nation to nation, there being no one obligated or willing to receive him,{15} or, as in Cort's case, may receive the dubious sanctuary of a Communist regime lacking the essential liberties precious to American citizenship.{16} [372 U.S. 162]
B. The Perez and Trop Cases
The basic principles here involved, the gravity of the issue, and the arguments bearing upon Congress' power to forfeit citizenship were considered by the Court in relation to different provisions of the Nationality Act of 1940 in two cases decided on the same day less than five years ago: Perez v. Brownell, 356 U.S. 44, and Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86.

In Perez, 401(e), which imposes loss of nationality for "[v]oting in a political election in a foreign state or participating in an election or plebiscite to determine the sovereignty over foreign territory," was upheld by a closely divided Court as a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to regulate foreign affairs. The Court reasoned that, since withdrawal of citizenship of Americans who vote in foreign elections is reasonably calculated to effect the avoidance of embarrassment in the conduct of foreign relations, such withdrawal is within the power of Congress, acting under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Since the Court sustained the application of 401(e) to denationalize Perez, it did not have to deal with 401(j), upon which the Government had also relied, and it expressly declined to rule on the constitutionality of that section, 356 U.S. at 62. There were three opinions written in dissent. The principal one, that of THE CHIEF JUSTICE, recognized

that citizenship may not only be voluntarily renounced through exercise of the right of expatriation, but also by other actions in derogation of undivided allegiance to this country,

id. at 68, but concluded that "[t]he mere act of voting in a foreign election, however, without regard to the circumstances attending [372 U.S. 163] the participation, is not sufficient to show a voluntary abandonment of citizenship," id. at 78.

In Trop, 401(g), forfeiting the citizenship of any American who is guilty of

[d]eserting the military or naval forces of the United States in time of war, provided he is convicted thereof by court martial and as the result of such conviction is dismissed or dishonorably discharged . . . ,

was declared unconstitutional. There was no opinion of the Court. THE CHIEF JUSTICE wrote an opinion for four members of the Court, concluding that 401(g) was invalid for the same reason that he had urged as to 401(e) in his dissent in Perez, and that it was also invalid as a cruel and unusual punishment imposed in violation of the Eighth Amendment. JUSTICE BRENNAN conceded that it is

paradoxical to justify as constitutional the expatriation of the citizen who has committed no crime by voting in a Mexican political election, yet find unconstitutional a statute which provides for the expatriation of a soldier guilty of the very serious crime of desertion in time of war,

356 U.S. at 105. Notwithstanding, he concurred because "the requisite rational relation between this statute and the war power does not appear . . . ," id. at 114. Justice Frankfurter, joined by three other Justices, dissented on the ground that 401(g) did not impose punishment at all, let alone cruel and unusual punishment, and was within the war powers of Congress.

[Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963)]