Baby on board (with bureaucracy)

By Jack Aldane Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-11 20:45:06


Children born to Chinese-foreign parents automatically receive Chinese citizenship, which can prove difficult to renounce. Photo: CFP
Children born to Chinese-foreign parents automatically receive Chinese citizenship, which can prove difficult to renounce. Photo: CFP

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. 

On November 16, Briton Matthew Stuttard and his Chinese wife Liu Ning welcomed the birth of their son, Louie, at Yuquan Hospital in Shijingshan district. Originally, the couple's plan was for him to be born with British citizenship to get the paperwork "out of the way." But Louie, like all children born in China with at least one Chinese parent, received Chinese citizenship in accordance with the law.

Born into bureaucracy

China does not recognize dual citizenship, meaning renunciation is a necessary yet complicated step before emigration.

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.

Like many foreign parents faced with the same task, Stuttard soon became daunted by the process of giving up his son's Chinese citizenship.

"The fundamental problem is that there's a huge lack of information about what to do from the Chinese side. The PSB's English-language website only says that China doesn't recognize dual citizenship and if one parent is Chinese, the child is Chinese," Stuttard, a TV news editor, told Metro Beijing. "Some [couples] return to their [Chinese spouse's] hometown only to find they can't resolve it. It's like stabbing in the dark and embassies don't seem to be any wiser."

The process remained equally confusing when Liu, who is from Northeast China's Jilin Province, rang the local civil affairs bureau in her hometown Yitong only to learn officials there were unaware of how to handle citizenship renunciation.

"When I went to a PSB branch in Beijing, the woman who dealt with me was really unhelpful. Her only response was, 'go to Jilin,'" recalled Stuttard. "All I wanted was a letter we could pass on to Jilin instructing [PSB staff] what to do. It seems everyone wants to pass the buck, though."

Birth certificate problems

Aside from the problem of their son's citizenship, Stuttard and Liu also experienced problems during the birth certificate process. Despite the certificate displaying all fields in Chinese and English, limited space on the form meant the first-time father's surname was only shown as "Stuttar."

"After contacting the [British] embassy, I became concerned. They said we had to return to the hospital and redo the birth certificate. I'd heard it was against the law to reissue a birth certificate, so I thought we were stuck with it even though there was nothing linking me with our son," he explained.

"The thing that stressed me out most was going into a small room with one nurse and about 10 fathers, all standing around with their forms. It was like being on the subway, with everyone jostling to get to her first."

A female telephone operator surnamed Tang from Amcare Women's and Children's Hospital, a private hospital in Chaoyang district, told Metro Beijing parents must decide "one way or another whether their child will be Chinese or foreign" when filling out the birth certificate at the hospital.

"We've had cases in the past of parents choosing to put their child's English name on their birth certificate because they hadn't considered the consequences," Tang said.

Now, the hospital's birth certificates come with a disclaimer that warns parents choosing an English name for their child could lead them to be "rejected by the hukou registration department."

Utilizing the exit-entry permit

A short-term option for parents seeking to travel overseas with their children is acquiring an exit-entry permit, a process which takes at least seven working days and costs 100 yuan ($16.05). Mixed children with foreign citizenship do not need the permit, but are required to have the same travel documents as foreigners living in China.

Ember Swift, a Canadian singer-songwriter who has a 9-month-old daughter with her Chinese husband, is another parent who has struggled with officialdom, albeit from the foreign side.

Her daughter, Guo Ruyi Echo Swift, who has Chinese citizenship, has a combination of both her and her husband's surnames, as well as Chinese and English given names.

Swift, who has lived in Beijing since 2008, recalled the trouble she and her husband experienced with the Canadian consulate just days before returning to Canada with their daughter for a family visit in July.

The consulate refused to acknowledge their daughter's Chinese surname, saying it could only be recognized as a first name on her visa.

Swift noted children in China of mixed parentage are "born into a sort of gray zone," saying policies in the country "simply change too rapidly for anyone to keep up."

"The Canadian consulate just looked at her name and said, 'sorry, the surname can't come before the first name,' which was just ridiculous. This is China; they should know surnames come first," she said.

Mary Lombard (pseudonym), a French national in Beijing, has to travel to her Chinese spouse's hometown in South China every three months to renew her infant daughter's exit-entry permit - a process she described as "totally unrealistic."

"It's a pity we are being treated so badly by this system, given that children from abroad have so much to offer this country," she explained, noting the process had left her feeling "completely lost."

"I do not have the time or money to travel halfway across the country and back again just so I can visit relatives abroad for a couple of weeks," she said. "[Parents] need more information, more guidance. China needs to adopt rules that make traveling as a family easier so people aren't so nervous."

Greater coordination between the Chinese side and embassies could help foreign parents navigate the system with greater ease, added Stuttard.

"[The British embassy] is as in the dark as everybody else. They only acknowledge you will have problems leaving China and getting residency in China as a British citizen," he said.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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