When we got back to Beijing, I went to our local police station to register our return as per instructions. The woman there processed both mine and Paz’s (my son’s). This is a little household registration paper that has to be re-printed every time I return to Beijing. Basically, it’s so they can keep track of us! Now that my son would be processing a visa (or residence permit) like mine, I knew this would be part of what we need to provide in terms of documentation. My daughter, however, doesn’t need one because she was born in China and doesn’t need a visa to be here.
At least, this was my thinking at that moment.
The next day, my partner Guo Jian and I took our son to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) to process his residency permit—the same kind of permit that I have as a foreigner here.
The smog was bad that week. I hated to bring him outside and away from the air filters that were cranked and rumbling with their full-time duty in our home. But, like with Canadian paperwork requirements, I was pretty sure he’d need to be present to complete his paperwork. I also had Guo Jian come with me because I wasn’t sure if I’d just be able to submit his identification as the father or if his face would be needed as well!
The line-ups were ridiculous. We had a number that was more than 30 people back in the line and the paperwork only took me a moment to fill out. That’s about when I realized that we had forgotten to get a photo for Paz. With his carry-out infant seat swinging between us as we walked, we found the photo area only to be told that he was too small to be photographed. They wouldn’t let him be held in the picture and they wouldn’t photograph him in the chair. They suggested we head down the street to a private photo place where they might be willing to print off a picture that we had on our phones, or else might be willing to photograph him and then edit our hands out of the picture. We sighed. It was yet another run around and we had hoped this would be a straightforward process.
On our way out of the building, I decided to ask one more time, just on the off chance that they might permit us to skip the baby photo step. Rules are rules, but in China they are often breakable if you ask the right person and flash the right kind of smile.
I stood in line at the information desk. The guy who eventually took my question complimented my Chinese almost immediately. Guo Jian came up behind me and plopped the baby seat up on the desk, much to the guy’s confusion, but I quickly explained that this was the child in question and this was also his father. Then the guy asked if Guo Jian had a Canadian passport. He doesn’t.
“Well, you’re not filling out the right form,” he said kindly. “You don’t need a form like this. This child is considered Chinese.”
He began to tell us about the entry/exit permits that we’d need to leave the country and, to avoid hearing more, I pulled out Echo’s documents and showed her most recent one to him. “Yes, that’s the one,” he said, and then, hearing that we weren’t planning to exit the country again until the summer, he just smiled and said we could go home. “The baby can stay as long as he likes,” he added, clicking his tongue at few times at Paz before taking the next person in line.
I wasn’t satisfied. They’d given him a foreigner’s visa in Canada and it said that it would need to be renewed within 30 days. What about when it would expire? Would someone come looking for me—or Paz, specifically—and accuse us of overstaying his visa? Let’s not even talk about how I was being told that Paz’s situation was the same as Echo’s, even though he was born in Canada!! I also was eager to ask if I would need to re-process Echo’s single use entry/exit visa for her the next time we left, or if I’d be able to just continue using her 2-year “travel document” that we’d been able to process through the Chinese consulate in Toronto during our chaotic extra two days in Canada.
There is another desk across the PSB’s large, open room that I had once gone to when I was originally asking about Echo’s situation two years earlier. I dragged Guo Jian to this counter to hopefully get even more, even clearer answers. Luckily, there was no one in line. It was the same woman from two years ago, as well. I recognized her immediately.
“This child is considered Chinese,” the woman said about Paz in rapid Chinese. “Unless he had stayed in Canada for at least two years before coming here, he’s Chinese. He has a Chinese father, so he’s Chinese.”
This was our subsequent conversation:
Me: “But they say my daughter is also Chinese, even though she has a foreign passport.”
Clerk: “She is. She could even get a hukou and an identity card.”
Me: “But he can’t?”
Clerk: “No, because China will only let Chinese people have one child.”
Me: “But I’m not Chinese.”
Clerk: “No, but he is.” (Pointing to Guo Jian)
Me: “So, my son wasn’t born here and has a foreign passport, but he is still considered Chinese by the Chinese government even though he is the second child and can’t be officially recognized as Chinese because of the one-child policy?
Me: “So, why can’t the government just officially recognize his Canadian citizenship then, especially if he can’t be officially recognized as Chinese?”
Clerk: “That can only happen if you rescind his Chinese citizenship. You have to do that in your husband’s hometown. We can’t do it here unless he’s from Beijing. It’s a whole other process.”
So, let me get this straight: the Chinese government won’t recognize my children as Canadian even though the government of Canada does, but they also won’t recognize my second child as Chinese because he’s the second child in a country where there is a one-child policy (that I previous thought would have nothing to do with us due to my nationality.) So both children are considered Canadian citizens by the Canadian government, and both children are considered Chinese children by the Chinese government. The only difference is that Echo is a legitimate Chinese child who is eligible for a hukou (household registration) and an identity card, whereas Paz is considered illegitimate and is not eligible for either of those things.
When I asked her what the advantages were to this in-between state and maintaining their Chinese citizenships, she cited the ease of attending local schools, for instance. At least, for Echo. Yet, I’ve also since learned that international schools will generally not accept children without visas in their foreign passports either. I can see it on the horizon: school registration is going to be another headache.
I felt stunned. It seems to get more and more complicated with every question. How grateful I was not to have walked down the street for photos only to find out that our son doesn’t need the residence permit! But, still, I wasn’t sure I felt any more relieved by these answers. I had just had a baby in my home country in part to avoid this paperwork confusion, and here it seems to have made little to no difference.
Also, when I showed the clerk Echo’s “travel document” that we’d processed in Toronto at the last minute, she looked it over thoughtfully. She then explained that this is the only means to avoid processing Echo’s single-use entry/exit permits that we have had to do with each departure.
“They’re the same document,” she said with a flat, bored voice, “But these can’t be processed from within the country” (she held up the 2-year document) “and these can’t be processed from outside the country,” (she held up the single-use document). I could tell she was tired of answering my questions.
One thing we’ve positively ascertained is that next time we’re in Canada, we should process a 2-year “travel document” for Paz and then we can avoid the constant return to Guo Jian’s hometown two months prior to every trip we make back to North America.
Guo Jian was jovial as we walked to the car. He feels our situation has just gotten easier. We will have to process the same document for Paz that we’ve processed several times already for Echo before returning to Canada in August, but we know the drill. We have experience. He is also relieved that both children are in (almost) the same situation.
Clipping him into the car seat base, driving home, and then shuttling him up the stairs and back into our house, the feeling of uneasiness never left me. Later that evening, I suggested to Guo Jian that we start the process for rescinding their Chinese citizenship sooner than later. He’s not eager to do that. He convinced me to wait until we’re looking to enroll Echo in schools.
“China changes its rules so often,” he said, “You never know if they won’t make dual citizenship legal in the next couple of years. If so, we’d have to reverse the process yet again to give them dual citizenship. As it stands, that’s sort of what they have already.”
I left it there. For now. I’ll let the curtain close on this particular act of this particular travelling (visa) circus. Next year, when we look to send Echo to nursery school, we’ll see what the result of her in-between status shall be.
Until then, we wait.
This post first appeared on Ember Swift’s site on March 7, 2014.
Ember Swift is a Canadian songwriter, musician, writer, cyclist, green thumb, cupcake fan and proud mom living in Beijing with her husband, Guo Jian, and their daughter Echo (born January 2012) and Paz (born December 2013). Ember writes professionally for several print and online publications (including beijingkids), as well as three blogs through her own site: www.emberswift.com. She is also an internationally touring musician and performs regularly in China with her all-girl local band. She has released 11 independent musical albums over the years but, these days, prefers to be with her family rather than on the road touring. She continues to release her music online and hopes to have completed her memoir project by the end of 2014.
Photo courtesy of Sam Hozwit (Flickr)