Deprivation of Citizenship: What is it?

The case of the British teenager Shamima Begum has brought the Home Secretary’s power to strip people of their citizenship – also known as ‘deprivation of citizenship’ – into sharp focus this week.

Shamima was one of the three school children who left the UK in 2015 to join the Islamic State in Syria.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has made the controversial decision to strip Shamima of her British citizenship to prevent Shamima from returning to the UK from the refugee camp where she currently lives.

Deprivation of citizenship on the basis of behaviour was rarely used and almost unheard of until recent years.

The deprivation of citizenship legislation was changed by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

With fewer restrictions on the power to deprive, there have since been over 100 individuals permanently stripped of their citizenship in the last decade.

What Does it Mean to be Stripped of Citizenship?

When Can a Person be Deprived of Their Citizenship?

There are certain circumstances in which a person can have their citizenship taken away from them.

The below points fall under Section 40 of The British Nationality Act 1981, which sets out these circumstances:

  1. If the Secretary of State believes that deprivation of citizenship is in the public’s best interests (Section 40(2))
  2. If the Secretary of State believes that the person obtained their citizenship through registration or naturalisation using:
    1. Fraud,
    2. False representation, or
    3. Concealment of a material fact (Section 40(3))

Shamima’s citizenship has been withdrawn under Section 40(2), on the basis that it is in the public’s best interests, due to her decision to flee the UK to join the Islamic State.

Can the Secretary of State Make a Person Stateless by Depriving Their Citizenship?

The Secretary of State cannot make an order on the basis of deprivation being for the public’s good if this would result in the individual being stateless.

So, if you are a British citizen and you are not a dual national of another country, you could not be stripped of your citizenship.

In Shamima’s case it has been reported that she may be a national of Bangladesh due to her parent’s nationality.

This is why the Secretary of State was able to deprive her of her British citizenship.

However, the Secretary of State does still hold the power to make a person stateless.

If a person became British through registration or naturalisation and obtained this through fraud (Section 40(3)), they can be deprived of their citizenship even if they do not hold any other nationality.

This would render them stateless.

What Happens After Deprivation of Citizenship?

If a decision is made by the Secretary of State to deprive a person of their citizenship, the person will be granted a right of appeal against that decision.

For Shamima, she now has 28 days to lodge an appeal against the decision because she is outside the UK.

Whether you agree or disagree with the decision to revoke Shamima’s citizenship, it is clear that the government is using the ‘deprivation of citizenship’ provision much more in recent years, and is likely to continue to do so.

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