01 Jun 2022
By: Ivania Carballo

Every person has the inalienable right to be recognized before the law. However, there are approximately one billion people in the world without access to legal identity (birth, marriage and death certificates, identity cards, among others).

A person without properly registered identification documents is invisible to the State and runs the risk of becoming stateless and isolated from the legal and administrative frameworks that exist to protect their rights. This hinders access to basic services, accentuates inequalities, and makes it impossible for people to participate in legal and contractual transactions with authorities and other individuals.

Access to legal identity is a critical factor in migration. Hence, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement adopted in 2018 by Member States at the United Nations General Assembly, proposes in its objective 4 "Ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation".

In line with this perspective, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in its Strategic Vision and Institutional Strategy on Legal Identity, seeks to intensify efforts to ensure that migrants have equal and non-discriminatory access to adequate documentation and civil registration documents, so as to facilitate practices for the regularization of migrants and the expansion of regular pathways for migration. This, in turn, enables the provision of protection, health care, education, and access to formal labor markets and banking services, among other activities that favor the full development of migrants and their contribution to host communities.

Based on this, this Strategy on Legal Identity, taking into consideration the objectives of the Global Compact, proposes a roadmap to support Member States in facilitating universal access to legal identity and documentation for migrants:

1. Support the development of consular services for the issuance of civil registration, citizenship certificates, identity and travel documents.

It is of great importance for migrants to keep their legal identity information up to date in order to access the rights and services offered both in their country of origin and in the host country. The immigration

status of a person residing in a host country may change due to events such as marriage, divorce1, birth, adoption or death, and this may affect the legal identity provided by their country of origin.

For this reason, the support of consular representation or the competent authorities of the migrant's country of origin is of great importance in providing assistance to detained migrants or those who need documentary proof of their nationality, among others. This assistance becomes crucial when dealing with smuggled migrants, victims of trafficking, or unaccompanied and separated minors.

2. Assistance to migrants without legal identity documents

Sometimes a migrant, whether a regular or irregular migrant, is unable to present legal identity documents because he or she has lost contact with his or her country of origin or because of a lack of services at the consular representation of his or her country. Without adequate documentation, the person may be hindered from voluntary return, emergency evacuations, readmission, or basic services such as access to health and justice. On many occasions, migrants are more likely not to go to medical centers because they may be denied services, and not to report situations of labor exploitation, abuse or mistreatment (including gender-based violence) for fear of being deported or detained.

To avoid rights-violating situations, assistance is needed in the provision of documentation services, proof of nationality or travel, regularization of residency status or, if necessary, support for migrants to register their identity information in the host country's legal identity system.

3. Effective national civil registration and identity management systems to facilitate migration and mobility.

Each State is responsible for providing adequate documentation of civil registration and legal identity to individuals in its territory and through its consular authorities for its nationals abroad. In this regard, the development of effective national legal identity systems based on national and international civil law of registration and identity is necessary for safe, orderly and regular migration.

States and competent authorities can help ensure adequate documentation of their nationals through the provision of passports or national identification or the digitized preservation and processing of recorded

life events of the individual and the digitization of paper records of legal identity from birth to death for easy access.

4. Highlight the relationship between migration, displacement and legal identity, including its impact on the protection of migrants.

It is imperative to develop and strengthen global policies that improve national legal identity systems, in line with international law, as well as bilateral and multilateral cross-border cooperation that allows States to record and share legal identity information of migrants, while respecting their right to privacy and protecting their personal data.

These are some ways aligned with the Global Compact to facilitate migrants' access to civil registration and legal identity. However, for their fulfillment, it is important that governments, international agencies and civil society make and fulfill concrete commitments to strengthen international cooperation around migration governance.

The International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), which took place from May 17-20, 2022, under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, considered this and the remaining 22 goals of the Global Compact and assessed progress and challenges in their implementation. Through the participation of member states, stakeholder representatives and the United Nations System (UNS), the Forum resulted in the adoption of the IMRF Declaration of Progress, which is expected to be endorsed by the General Assembly in the near future.

The Declaration recognizes the fundamental role of legal identity in meeting the objectives of the Global Compact, such as improving access to regular migration channels, preventing and reducing statelessness, and facilitating safe and dignified return and sustainable reintegration. It recognizes progress, among others, in the issuance of adequate documentation and civil registration to migrants, including unaccompanied and separated children. At the same time, it notes that challenges remain with regard to robust civil registration systems, international cooperation for the identification of nationals and the issuance of travel documents.

With this Declaration, States and stakeholders committed to accelerate efforts to ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation, as well as non-discriminatory access to proof of nationality and other relevant documents at all stages of the migration process.