Breaking the Mold: Brazil's Progressive Approach to Granting Nationality and Reducing Statelessness

Ana Raquel Menezes, Consultant and Lecturer in Statelessness and Migration
/ 6 mins read

Did you know that Brazil is renowned for its effective legal practices in eliminating statelessness? It is a remarkable fact considering the country's lack of issues associated with statelessness. This achievement is attributed to the comprehensive set of norms that comprise Brazil's nationality legislation, which greatly reduces the likelihood of new cases of statelessness arising in the country.

The book "Statelessness: Theory, Analysis, and Good Practices from Brazil'' explores this topic extensively, examining Brazilian nationality law to identify exemplary approaches endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons. The research resulted in a range of practices that can serve as models for other countries, as explored in this blog. 

Photo by Andrea Stewart

Brazil has implemented three legislative mechanisms to address the issue of statelessness. The first mechanism involves combining the principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis to grant nationality. This means that individuals who are born on Brazilian territory or are children of Brazilian citizens can acquire Brazilian nationality. In practical terms, anyone born in Brazil automatically becomes a Brazilian citizen. Furthermore, a child born outside of Brazil to Brazilian parents can be recognized as a Brazilian citizen after being registered at the embassy.

This legal framework is particularly significant for protecting the rights of children of Brazilian nationals who are born in countries that follow jus sanguinis principles. Countries like Japan and Germany, for instance, only consider children of their own nationals as their citizens. Consequently, children born in Japan or Germany to parents of other nationalities, are at risk of statelessness if they do not acquire the nationality of either of their parents at birth. By combining jus soli and jus sanguinis, Brazil's legislative approach significantly reduces the risk of statelessness for individuals in such situations. This approach has been recognized as a commendable practice by the UNHCR Handbook of Good Practices in Nationality Laws (No. 29) due to its effectiveness in ensuring that individuals born in Brazil or born elsewhere to a Brazilian parent acquire Brazilian nationality from birth.

The second procedure is a Statelessness Determination Procedure (SDP) - a specialized process carried out by the government, which involves investigating whether a person is recognized as a citizen under the laws of any country . In many cases, individuals themselves are unaware of their statelessness because they are unfamiliar with the nationality requirements of the country they were born in or their parents' countries of origin. The SDP implemented in Brazil is considered a best practice, primarily due to the concept of the shared burden of proof. This means that the responsibility of proving statelessness does not solely fall on the applicant. Instead, state examiners are encouraged to take a collaborative and non-adversarial approach when investigating a person's foreign citizenship or lack of nationality (UNHCR 2018, p. 21). Another element of good practice in the Brazilian SDP is   its accessibility to concerned populations regarding the decentralization of the operation of SDPs. The applications for the SDP will be filed in one of the 193 units of the Federal Police spread across the 27 Brazilian states. This decentralization, with an average of 7 units per state, indicates a distributed operation for the SDP (Menezes, 2021). Additionally, the Brazilian SDP can be considered a good practice due to its removal of practical and legal barriers, as the only legal requirement for the SDP application is the presentation of any documents that the applicant owns (BRAZIL, 2017a; Menezes, 2021).

Once statelessness is confirmed, the third mechanism—a streamlined procedure for granting nationality—enables stateless individuals to become Brazilian citizens under special requirements. The mechanism known as Facilitated Naturalization (FN) provides less rigid requirements and deadlines for the naturalisation of stateless persons (BRAZIL, 2017) than usual naturalization procedures. The list of documents required for stateless applicants demonstrates that their specific condition is taken into consideration. These documents can be obtained individually and from anywhere the applicant is located. Additionally, the required documents can be obtained online, or if necessary, they can be replaced by written justifications or statements.

Brazil has implemented a FN mechanism that sets forth reasonable documentary requirements for the naturalization of stateless individuals. According to the UNHCR Handbook No. 29, laws that waive or reduce application fees specifically for stateless persons are recognized as effective measures in the struggle against statelessness. The Ministry of Justice, through its website, clarifies that stateless individuals who are economically under-sufficient and unable to afford migratory regularization fees can be exempted from payment according to Ordinance n° 218 of 2018, ensuring that they are not required to pay fees for insufficiency (Menezes, 2021). In line with this, Brazil's adoption of the FN mechanism can be regarded as a commendable practice in addressing the issue of statelessness.

The inspiration for researching Brazil's practices stemmed from the compelling story of Maha Mamo, who experienced statelessness firsthand. Born in Lebanon to Syrian parents, Maha found herself in a stateless condition due to conflicting nationality laws. Due to the illegality of interreligious marriages in Syria, Maha's parents faced significant challenges in their union. Her mother, a Muslim, and her father, a Christian, had a marriage that was considered forbidden in the country. As a result, they were compelled to seek refuge in Lebanon, where Maha and her siblings were born.. However, jus sanguinis nationality laws in Lebanon prevented them from acquiring Lebanese nationality, while the non-registration of their parents' marriage in Syria left them unrecognized as Syrians. Consequently, Maha and her siblings were left stateless.

In 2017, Maha achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first person to obtain Brazilian citizenship through the simplified procedure for granting nationality. Her journey from statelessness to attaining Brazilian citizenship garnered international attention. Maha Mamo's inspiring story led her to become an ambassador for the UNHCR's #Ibelong campaign and a dedicated volunteer speaker advocating for the eradication of statelessness worldwide (UN 2018). Maha participated in the virtual launch of the book mentioned in this post.

Book cover

"Statelessness: Theory, Analysis, and Good Practices from Brazil" is an invaluable resource that serves researchers, policymakers, and advocates involved in addressing statelessness. This comprehensive work stimulates crucial discussions and motivates action toward a world where everyone possesses a nationality, eliminating statelessness altogether. It offers an evidence-based guide for parliamentarians, providing unprecedented information from the Brazilian government on domestic procedures related to statelessness. The resource caters to a wide audience, including professionals from international organizations, parliamentarians, academics, and students, making it an essential reference for anyone interested in the topic of statelessness.

The work was originally developed as a master's thesis for the European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations program, where it was nominated for the "Most Innovative Thesis Award." The work was written, evaluated, edited, and reviewed by women, and it was based on meticulous bibliographic research that prioritized female authors from around the world and authors from the global South.

The book is available in both physical and digital formats through various websites, including Amazon. You can find it here.


BRAZIL. 2017. National Congress. “Lei no 13.445 de 24 de Maio de 2017”. Diary of the Union, Section 1 (May): 1. 2018/2017/lei/l13445.htm#art125

BRAZIL. Decreto n° 9.199 de 20 de Novembro de 2017. 2017a. Diary of the Union, Brasília, DF, 20 Nov 2017. Section 1, p. 1. https://www2.

FEDERAL POLICE. Ministry of Justice and Public security. SuperintendĂŞncias e Delegacias. [2020?] Available at http://www. Accessed 6 Jun. 2020.

Menezes, Ana Raquel. 2021. Statelessness: Theory, Analysis, and Good Practices from Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Lumen Juris.

United Nations. 2018. “Fim da espera: apátrida recebe cidadania brasileira.” Accessed March 1, 2020.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2018. Statelessness and Citizenship in the East African Community. A Study by Bronwen Manby for UNHCR. September 2018.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2018a. Good Practices in Nationality Laws for the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness. Handbook for Parliamentarians N° 29. November 2018.