We popped into the admissions office of Fangcaodi International School during their International Day Fair this past Sunday and learned a very important bit of information from our friends, whose daughter had just been in an enrollment interview with the school that morning.
As they were picking up their daughter they witnessed a heated argument between a mother and administrators because the former was told that her child did not qualify for enrollment in the school’s international division because her daughter did not have a Chinese visa in her foreign passport.
This requirement has been enforced by local schools for some time now, but was news to us. Essentially it means that Beijing families with de facto "dual citizen" children – i.e. a child born to a Chinese/foreign couple holding both a foreign passport and a local hukou – must renounce their child’s Chinese citizenship in order for their children to be enrolled in any local school’s international division.
China does not officially recognize dual nationality and assumes automatic citizenship for children born to a Chinese parent in China, which can be extremely confusing for dual nationality families here in Beijing and even more so for parents from countries that have similar "birthright" laws.
For instance one local Polish father who is married to a Beijing woman told me that his country mandates that any child born to a parent from his country is automatically a citizen and only the child has the legal right to renounce his or her Polish citizenship.
Thus if he were to choose to send his child to a local Chinese school with an international section (or an international school, for that matter) he would effectively have no choice but to go through the bureaucratic hassle of renouncing his child’s Chinese citizenship to secure admission.
As I described in this earlier post my family is in the same situation – our oldest daughter has a US passport and a Beijing hukou, both by birthright. When we took our first trip back to the US a few years we presumed that we’d be obliged to renounce her Chinese citizenship, but were told by an agent at the PSB that she could effectively keep both and choose for herself when she turned 18. We were issued a one-time exit-and-entry passbook (or tongxingzheng, 通行证), which was good for one exit from and re-entry back into China.
This seemed like a pretty sensible approach and we’ve been able to travel this way with our daughter out of China numerous times since then, but with her enrollment in primary school impending we don’t anticipate being able to do this in the future – it seems likely that we will be obliged to renounce her Chinese citizenship in order to qualify for the international division of our desired school, Fangcaodi.
New reforms to Beijing’s visa regulations for foreigners are coming in June and you can fully expect even more stringent enforcement of all such regulations – if your family is in the same situation you should be prepared to face the same decision when it comes to enrolling your child in an international school or program at a local Chinese school. The gray areas and loopholes of years’ past are closing fast.
And so we will now begin diving into the red tape of renouncing our daughter’s Chinese citizenship (and this still leaves the matter of sorting out a Chinese visa for our 1-year-old son) – I will keep you posted on how things proceed.