Raising a Child In Chengdu: Nationality
This is the most recent in a series about having children in China. For a complete list of all of the articles in this series and others, please go here.
There was never a question that my son (I call him Little Man) would have American citizenship. Sure, the good ole’ USA is taking its knocks around the world, but that’s nothing new. An American passport still allows you access to pretty much any country in the world and the American government has a good track record of taking care of its own. Seeing as my wife is Chinese, Little Man also has the option to become a Chinese citizen. We never really considered this as the option, but only within the context of possible dual citizenship, even though it’s illegal for a Chinese citizen to hold another passport.
Illegal, but like most things Chinese, not impossible.
For Americans born abroad, the process is simple: go to your nearest Consulate and fill out an Application for a Passport and show them your baby’s birth certificate. The Consulate will give you a Birth Abroad certificate and within a few days, hand out a spanking new US Passport, good for five years. After that, there are a few technicalities, but your passport is perfectly legal and the Americans will completely forget about you until you come to renew a passport or get tossed in jail in Kunming.
Exit Visa and Chinese Visa
Because your baby is born abroad, he must receive an exit visa from the Chinese PSB and then travel anywhere and return on a regular Chinese visa. Only passports issued inside the US can be empty upon arrival in another country. The exit visa is a very simple document, obtained with a birth certificate, the parents identification and 20 yuan (pictured at right). The main difference I noticed between the Chinese exit visa process and the American passport process is amount of paperwork involved. Both sides are pretty efficient, but the Chinese require a bit more. Lets take a look:
- Application Form
- Birth Certificate/Report of Birth Abroad
Chinese Exit Visa
- My passport
- Wife’s ID card
- Wife’s hukou book
- Birth certificate
- My permit to live in China
- 20 yuan
- Application form
- Baby’s Passport
We went to Hong Kong and got Little Man a six-month visa in 48 hours. No problems.
Is Dual-Citizenship plausible?
To become a Chinese citizen, you must register a new hukou. This, again, requires a lot of paperwork and perhaps a few run-arounds, but in the end is not really a difficult thing to do. The paperwork needed includes: Baby’s Birth Certificate, Permission to Give Birth Certificate, Hukou Registration Book (this is obtained at the same office where you get the Permission to Give Birth Certificate), and both parents IDs. Take them to your local police office — not the yokel hut, but the closest real deal cop HQ — and wait a week or two for your brand new hukou book to show up.
Now, if the Chinese find out that you have an American passport, they will strip you of your Chinese hukou and possibly fine you. I personally know two Chinese born in Australia, with Australian passports, who have registered a hukou in their hometowns. Their parents are rich, gramps was in the government at some point, so it was no problem to get the hukou taken care of. We all know the name of the game: duplicity.
All I have to do is take the documents to the relevant authorities and omit the fact that he is already an American citizen. Now, the Chinese might be able to check against travel records and documents to make sure I am not up to any funny business, but 1) I don’t think the local hukou office will go that far and 2) my son has a Chinese name with which we would (if we decide to) register a hukou and an English name for his American passport, so, they couldn’t find him anyway. (Note: English names are to long for the entry software hospitals use here for birth certificates. Also, when you go to get your American passport, they are aware of this issue and allow you to write your baby’s name in the application form, so in effect, there are two different people, according to the paperwork.)
Unfortunately, I have friends in low places and my pockets got holes, so I have to consider the benefits and risks before I go and register the hukou. The benefits, basically, involve a bit of government insurance cash and a hedge bet that China will become a superpower with living standards on par with San Francisco and my descendants will want to take advantage of that dusty Chinese passport sneaky ole grampa got for them way back in 2010.
As for the benefits, the insurance is paltry by international standards, but helps here in China: The infant insurance costs 40 yuan per year and it covers hospital visits and most medical costs until the baby is 16 years old. Once in the system, there are several other government subsidized insurance policies that cost anywhere from 60 yuan to 120 yuan and cover anywhere from 15,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan in medical costs.
The risks are actually unclear, given China’s renowned bureaucratic flexibility, but they are sure to include a fine and most likely deportation for both me and my son. I might be able to cry my way out of it, but do you really stake the future of your family on a risk-benefit analysis that includes a few thousand yuan insurance and a shaky bet against a hefty fine and deportation? I think not.
I don’t really think a Chinese passport will be more desirable than a US passport anytime soon, no matter what happens. But I have to admit, what matters to me most are not the risks or benefits, but the fact that my son has the right to Chinese citizenship. Just because the government refuses to recognize a globalized world and a globalizing China, my son has to choose between two parts that make up his whole? I think not.
What do you think? Should I get dual citizenship? Is it worth it? Is there a risk I am not aware of?