With so many foreigners and Chinese getting married and having children in China, understanding the rules and reality of their children’s citizenship can be incredibly confusing.
China officially does not allow dual citizenships. This seemingly straightforward policy applies relatively neatly to native-born Chinese citizens. Chinatravelguide.com cites Article 9 of the China Nationality Law, which states “as soon as a Chinese takes a foreign citizenship, he will automatically lose his Chinese citizenship.”
However, things get confusing when you consider this law: “China considers a child born within its borders to hold Chinese citizenship if one parent is a Chinese national, even if the child applies for and receives a U.S. [or other foreign]passport while in China.”
So what, exactly, applies for kids born to a Chinese parent in China? Does this mean that children whose foreign parent registers their birth abroad at their local embassy and receives a foreign passport automatically forefeit their Chinese citizenship (and hukou, if they applied for one)?
Not exactly. The best explanation I found for this seeming contradiction is in this Wikipedia post:
“Some countries consider multiple citizenship undesirable and take measures to prevent it; this may take the form of an automatic loss of a citizenship if another citizenship is acquired voluntarily (e.g., in China, Denmark, Japan, Singapore and India) or criminal penalties for exercising another citizenship (e.g., for carrying a foreign passport in Saudi Arabia). Others may allow a citizen to have any number of nationalities. However, since each country decides for itself who its citizens are, based solely on its own laws and generally without regard for the laws of other countries, it is quite possible for a given individual to be considered a citizen by two or more countries even if some or all of these countries forbid dual or multiple citizenship.”
This situation applies to an increasing number of mixed-nationality families in Beijing (including mine), regardless of whether or not the country of origin (i.e. the United States, the UK, France, Canada and Australia) of the non-Chinese parent allows dual citizenships.
While this legal limbo has no real effect on day-to-day life here in China, things can get hairy when you want to take your de facto dual citizen child abroad (especially back to mom or dad’s country of origin).
We found this out firsthand when we recently took our Beijing-born daughter to the US, where I’m from. Wanting to play it safe (and for some very practical reasons), we applied for and received her Beijing hukou and US passport and birth certificate at the same time. But as we began planning to take her to the US earlier this year, the question of how, exactly, we were going to get her there became a burning issue.
Our main concern was the possibility of our daughter losing her Chinese citizenship and Beijing hukou if we were to leave (and reenter) China using her American passport, so we (rather naively) tried applying for a US visa in her Chinese passport. It didn’t work. The embassy took one look at our family situation and flatly refused the visa citing a law against American citizens entering the country on a foreign passport.
That left only Plan B, which (on the advice of the embassy) consisted of taking our daughter’s American passport to the PSB exit and entry administration bureau and seeing what could be done. I schlepped over there on a bitterly cold morning with the required documentation and materials, utterly convinced that a cancellation of my daughter’s hukou was imminent. To my surprise, it wasn’t.
Instead, we were given a travel document (lu xing zhen) – a blue booklet resembling a passport that serves as an exit and reentry visa good for one trip only – and what essentially amounted to a “nudge nudge, wink wink” admonishment from the PSB. A couple of junior officers gave me some lip about how “China does not allow dual citizenships yada yada yada,” but no one said a word about canceling my daughter’s Chinese citizenship now that she was “on the record” as having both a US passport and Beijing hukou. The closest we got was an apathetic shrug when I upped and asked if this was to be the case, and was merely told that the next time we wanted to travel overseas with our daughter, we’d have to go through the same process again (which is totally fine by me).
So there you have it – we made it the States and back without incident and thus I offer this post as the closest thing to an explication of the dual citizenship conditions for kids in my daughter’s situation.
I suppose at one point she may be obliged to choose, or better yet she can continue enjoying this de facto dual citizenship for the rest of her life (much like the hundreds of thousand “foreign passport holding Hong Kong citizens” who found themselves deemed in this new status after 1997). Perhaps the law may someday even change in response to popular necessity and China’s rising international status. One thing, however, is for sure – if your kid has a Chinese parent (especially one from Beijing), you might as well get her a hukou.