Back in 2008, when my wife and I had our first-born, I blogged about the issue of my daughter’s nationality. As dual-nationality parents (my wife is Chinese with a Beijing hukou and I’m American), we were unsure as to what this meant for our newborn’s citizenship status.
To make a long story short: according to US and PRC law our daughter qualifies for citizenship for both countries (or more precisely, in the case of China, she is "automatically considered a citizen" since her mother is Chinese and she was born in China), so we went ahead and got my daughter her American passport and a shenfenzheng (身份证), a hukou (户口) and a Chinese passport to boot.
But when the occasion arose for our first trip with her back to the US, we were obliged to inquire with the PSB (a.k.a. the Chu Ru Jing 出入境 near Xiaojie Qiao near Andingmen) as to what documents she would use to exit and re-enter China.
After some back and forth, we were issued a special passbook for exit and entry and told by a PSB officer that we could essentially wait for our daughter to turn 18 and let her choose her citizenship for herself. In the meantime we would have to apply for the special Exit and Entry permit each time we decided to take our daughter out of the country.
Although a bit of a hassle, we accepted this seemingly sensible arrangement and proceeded to travel several times with our daughter out of the country following this procedure. I must point out that this advice did not seem to be based on some sort of official policy – more of a "nudge-nudge-wink-wink" off-the-record piece of advice from a rather nice officer we consulted with.
Interestingly, other families we compared notes with (where one parent was from outside of Beijing) reported entirely different experiences from us. Most were refused any kind of help in Beijing and told that they would have to resolve the issue in the hometown of the Chinese parent. The result was usually a bureaucratic runaround in which the parents were obliged to renounce their child’s Chinese citizenship and then apply for a residence permit.
We presumed this exception was possible for us because my wife has the ever-important Beijing hukou – it seemed that whatever policy existed at that time was ambiguous at best, if not inconsistently applied in favor of Beijing hukou holders.
Recently we have discovered with our second child (born in 2012) that Beijing-hukou-holding parent or not, the policy has become simultaneously more stringent and even more ambiguous for families like ours.
The Global Times has an article describing this very conundrum for mixed nationality parents in Beijing:
Foreign-Chinese couples taking the plunge into parenthood in China often face trouble if they want to renounce their child’s Chinese citizenship in favor of adopting a foreign nationality. The process is particularly confusing because advice often differs between staff from hospitals, the police and foreign embassies in Beijing.
As with many families faced with this situation, there seems little choice for us but to renounce our son’s Chinese nationality. Unfortunately this is where things get painfully complicated:
Renunciation requires a child to have a hukou (household registration) from their Chinese parent’s hometown. This then needs to be taken to a public security bureau (PSB) branch in the Chinese parent’s hometown with other documents, including parents’ passports or ID card, marriage certificate if held and a signed declaration renouncing their child’s Chinese citizenship.
The GT article goes on to describe what an incredible hassle this has proven to be for families where one parent comes from outside of Beijing, but this doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk for Beijing-hukou-holding parents either. A Beijinger friend of my wife’s who is currently faced with the same situation tells us this process could take up to a year of red tape and hoop-jumping and she speculates that there is currently some in-fighting going on between the PSB and the Foreign Ministry (外交部) in these regards – as is often the case, these bureaus are having what appears to be a turf war of authority and influence and the pawns (and losers) appear to be the families.
For our family there is an additional rub: Since my son is our second child, he doesn’t even qualify for a hukou (or shenfenzheng) because of China’s increasingly archaic one-child policy – this means that in essence he is not recognized by China as a citizen even though authorities insist he is by birth.
We decided to have our second child in the first place under the mistaken presumption that he would simply be an American citizen and we simply wouldn’t bother with any hukou registration (much less any citizenship renunciation)*, but now it seems the burden is on us to lift him out of this legal limbo.
With no clear indication of any reform of this policy in sight, I am currently bracing for a barrage of bureaucratic BS in the coming months as I prepare to take my son and daughter for a visit to the US some time in 2013. With no hukou or shenfenzheng to show for my son, I have no idea what red tape horrors we will face when we instigate this process. One thing is certain, I can only assume the worst and am definitely dreading it, but visit our Stateside family we must.
This is not to say there were no bureaucratic hoops to jump through on the American side – I was obliged to produce documentation and a sworn affidavit to secure my son’s US citizenship – but at least the process was straightforward and timely. I only wish I could anticipate the same for straightening out things on the Chinese side.
More on this issue to come. If you have any insights or advice to share, please comment below and here.
*My company even called the PSB shortly after our son’s birth inquiring about getting him a visa under my own Z visa only to be curtly told by the operator that since his mother is Chinese, he is "automatically a Chinese citizen" (whether you choose it or not).