Philippines approves rules on facilitated naturalization for refugees, stateless persons

The Philippine Supreme Court has approved the Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Rule), a landmark development that streamlines the judicial naturalization process for refugees and stateless persons.

With the approval of the Rule, the Philippines becomes the first in the world to have a judiciary-led initiative to simplify and reduce legal and procedural hurdles in the naturalization procedure for refugees and stateless persons, facilitating access to durable solutions to their displacement or lack of nationality.

“With the plight of refugees and issue on statelessness getting worse all over the world due to the pandemic and political conflicts, among other reasons, it is important to have a system in place that improves the situation of these persons of concern. The Rule on Facilitated Naturalization of Refugees and Stateless Persons aims to do just that – it simplifies and reduces the legal hurdles that they may encounter when applying for Philippine citizenship,” said Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, Chair of the Special Committee on the Facilitated Naturalization for Refugees and Stateless Individuals.

A key feature of the Rule includes permission to publish naturalization petitions online instead of requiring publication in newspapers of general circulation, thus reducing the costs of application.

Under the Rule, courts are also ordered to hear petitions on an expedited and continuous basis to ensure the speedy resolution of cases.

The Rule also allows unaccompanied children to file petitions for naturalization with the assistance of government agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development or other relevant child-caring agencies. This is aligned with the Philippines’ international commitments to ensure the right of children to acquire a nationality.

In their petitions, refugees and stateless persons may also request to adopt a local name to ease social integration into their communities.

Explaining the Judiciary’s decision to approve the Rule, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said, “The Philippines has had a long history of providing a safe haven to those fearing persecution because of race, religion, and political ideology… By helping them regain a normal life, we reaffirm our commitment to uphold human dignity.”

Media launch

The Rule was formally launched during a press event at the Supreme Court on 25 March, during which the proponents of the initiative shared the development process and salient points of the new procedures.

Through a recorded message, a person of concern to UNHCR who wishes to remain anonymous also lauded the eased process for naturalization, which he believes would have a great impact on the lives of refugees and their families. He said, “Since the majority of persons of concern in the country cannot go back home and their country of origin, therefore, they’ll have [the] Philippines as their second home and they’ll have a legal bind to Philippines.”

UNHCR Philippines Head of National Office Maria Ermina Valdeavilla-Gallardo emphasized that the Rule offers solutions to refugees and stateless persons, who need assistance now more than ever.

“At the heart and center of our collective work are our persons of concern. It is our hope that this Rule gives them a chance to start again and live a life with dignity and security. This goal could only be achieved if we continue to work together to bring about more positive change and echo the voices of these vulnerable groups through our policies and laws,” she said.

Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo Gonzàlez said, “By providing means to make the acquisition of Philippine citizenship more accessible to refugees and stateless persons, the Rule contributes to the collective vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly the principle of leaving no one behind.”

Continued commitment to refugee protection

Prior to the issuance of the Rule, the Supreme Court had already taken steps to relax the interpretation of the Philippines’ naturalization law. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the naturalization case of former refugee Kamran Karbasi relaxed the qualification on income and stated that “naturalization laws must be read in light of the developments in international human rights law specifically the granting of nationality to refugees and stateless persons.”

In spite of the stricter procedure previously employed, eight former refugees were still able to petition for and be granted Philippine citizenship. More than 800 people will benefit from the new streamlined procedure.

The approval of the Rule contributes to the fulfillment of the Philippines’ pledges during the Global Refugee Forum and High-Level Segment on Statelessness to enhance the policy, legal, and operational framework for refugees and stateless persons.

UNHCR provides technical assistance to the Philippine Government, including the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, for the enhancement and expansion of refugees and stateless persons’ access to rights in line with the Philippines’ international commitments, including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.