Wednesday, December 31, 2014

baby passport and visa woes

This is a bit of a long post which details some of the issues surrounding having a baby in China and how it relates to passports, visas, and nationality. Hope this info and my experience might be helpful to others as there is not a lot of information online about this topic.

This past week I celebrated my birthday, which is sadly sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's. Having a birthday around the holidays means that presents and well-wishes are often lost in the shuffle. As a kid, I sometimes felt a bit bummed about being overlooked, but now that I'm an adult, I don't mind that much. I was actually shocked at the number of people who emailed/called/wechatted me on my birthday this year—I felt loved. Thanks guys!

Last year I spent my birthday celebrating by holding my annual Christmas party. This year, things were much different; the family took a last minute trip to the big city. This was not how I wanted to spend my birthday or any other day, really. I was hoping to avoid taking William to Beijing until he was a bit older, but the US Embassy had different plans for us.

Ping and William out to dinner in Beijing

I've been planning on taking both Ping and William to the US to visit for a few months now. Everyone is excited to meet them both and I am desperate for a visit. Ming has a big advocate for this trip as he thinks it best for baby William to spend Chinese New Year outside of China, or at the very least, away from Chengde. You see, the weeks leading up to and winding down from the Chinese New Year are very noisy here. Some days there are fireworks and firecrackers sounding from early morning until late at night. I have always hated the noise, but I'm sure it is exponentially more aggravating when caring for an infant.

So it was settled, the kids would go to America with me for a month over the holiday, as long as we could arrange their visas. Since they are both under the age of 14, they didn't have to interview for a tourist visa. In early December, I dropped off their applications and Chinese passports at a CITIC Bank (the embassy doesn't accept drop-offs directly) and crossed my fingers—with any luck the kids would have visas within a week. . . but when have I have been lucky when it comes to visas?

William at Fatburger
When Ming picked up their passports last week, they where empty. Instead of visas, Ping and William each got a piece of paper requesting an “interview with parents.” Great. We needed to take an eight-month-old in to the embassy for an interview. I tried to stay positive. At least we live close to Beijing. At least I'd get to go to Starbucks (I know, I'm pathetic). Still, the logistics of such a trip with a baby were tricky. We decided it would be easiest to take an unlicensed taxi to Beijing since we don't have a car. The taxi ended up being a van which I can now fully appreciate, being a mom. It was a comfortable ride (distance: 250 km, time: 2.5 hours, cost: 600 rmb or US$100). We got dropped off near the embassy and had a lunch (mmm, Fatburger, a stone's throw from the embassy) before our appointment time.

As always, the US Embassy was swarming with people. We skipped the entire line of locals while Ping commented loudly, “Wow! My mom is awesome! We can skip all these people!” I could feel the glares of a hundred pairs of eyes bearing into our backs while I said a little prayer that we wouldn't get sent to the end of the line. We weren't. And once we got inside we were allowed to skip the queue there as well. I'm not sure it was the power of my being a US citizen or the fact that we had a baby. It doesn't matter. It was awesome.

We interviewed briefly with an officer. It was not as I expected; I felt like I was at the bank talking to a teller. Ming said that when he had his K-1 visa interview in Guangzhou the situation was much more serious. He sat down with an officer and there were armed personnel around. I guess they don't bring out the big guns for tourist visas. Our experience in Beijing was pretty relaxed and we informed on the spot that the visas would be issued. But at this point you might be wondering, why did we even both getting William a US visa? Is he an American or what? Fair enough, William's nationality is a frequent topic of conversation. In case you are interested, I will lay the details out here—this could be of use for anyone who is thinking of having children in China.

William, currently, is Chinese. China DOES NOT recognize dual citizenship (although the US and many, MANY other countries do—why China?! Why????). Since he was born in China, William is a de facto Chinese citizen. We applied for his Chinese hukou (household registration) shortly after his birth. Having a Chinese hukou will allow William to have access to public schooling and certain health care benefits should we stay in China longterm. This fall, we also applied for his Chinese passport. Both his hukou and passport list his Chinese name, though his birth certificate holds his English name. Some hospitals will agree to this, but if they don't and insist on a Chinese name, no fear. There is a form you can fill out (with the US Embassy and I'd assume other countries have something similar) requesting the child's non-Chinese name on his or her non-Chinese passport.

William's first subway ride 
Since we had to take a trip to the embassy, we decided we might as well try to get William a US passport. I wasn't sure of there would be an issue considering we were also there to apply for his US visa, but the workers at the embassy were compassionate and helpful (as always). Now the next burning question, Why didn't you just get William a US passport and circumvent all this US visa business?

The answer is complicated and definitely something you should give some thought to if you happen to give birth in China. Firstly, our local PSB (a branch of the police) have been somewhat adamant in their stance that they will not recognize William's foreign passport. According to them, any person born to a Chinese citizen, no matter where in the world they are born, is Chinese. Why a country with such a huge over-population problem would be so rigid in this belief is beyond me. Regardless, I have been assured by the US Embassy in Beijing, they do actually have to recognize his foreign passport—but I don't want to kick up a fuss with the local police until I know we are out of here for good. Most likely, other PSBs are more well-versed to dealing with these matters and won't put up such a stink.

The next, related issue is that if we want William to exit China using that passport, we have to apply for an exit visa. William cannot leave China on an empty US passport and we must obtain the exit visa from the PSB where my husband's hukou is registered (in our case, Chengde). Moreover, William cannot return to China on an American passport without a special travel permit. That permit has to be obtained at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in the foreign parent's region. In our case, it would be in Chicago. In the end, we decided it would cause less trouble if we had William travel on a Chinese passport for now. I had to laugh when the officer interviewing us at the embassy pondered, “I don't know whose bureaucracy is worse, China or America?” To me, the answer is obvious.

If you, by chance, do have a baby in China and this topic is a matter of concern for you, there are some great posts by Ember Swift (check out Traveling Visa Circus: Part One and Part Two) and on nama mama's blog. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you need any more information.

Anyone care to air their visa grievances? Please do share!


Linda said...

You baby boy is sooo adorable! Love his light hair and beautiful eyes!

Sarah - Diariesofayangxifu said...

Hi Rosie,

This really is very useful. Circumstances a little different with us but nevertheless I'm sure we'll encounter similar issues and frustrations!

Bookmarked! xx

rosieinbj said...

@Linda, thanks! We think he's pretty cute. ;)

@Sarah, it is so complicated. Everyone's circumstances are a little different, but I hope this can help. If your baby is born in Britain, you should definitely check out Ember Swift's post on her son Paz (if you haven't already). I know she talks about what she had to do for him since he was born in Canada.

Jocelyn Eikenburg said...

This is a really fascinating post. Never realized all of the weird bureaucracy you have to face when you have kids here (and make certain choices about their citizenship)! I'm glad everything turned out OK for you and the kids.

Constance - Foreign Sanctuary said...

I think all governments are alike. I remember my Canadian friend telling me that he had to bring his 2 month old child, who was born in Taiwan, all the way to Taipei to apply for her Canadian citizenship (I guess to prove that she existed). Then it took nearly a year for her to get her citizenship card. However, she now has dual citizenship as her mom is Taiwanese.

Taiwanese can hold dual citizenship but if you want to become a Taiwanese citizen, you need to give up your other passport. So, I am quite happy having a visa under my husband's name as I am NOT giving up my Canadian citizenship.

Glad everything worked out for you !!:) Your son is a real cutie pie! :)

Charlotte said...

I was shocked that dual citizenship wasn't an option when I first found out. We got US citizenship for both kids, but the local govt. still considers them CHinese due to being born here so when we leave the country have to get those exit visas. Then in the US have to get special travel booklets. And if the Chinese parent isn't with you in the US, you get the runaround with requests for proof that your husband's employer gives permission for the kids to come to China! Seriously. That happened to us. So my kids have empty US passports, two for my oldest.

My son is in public school here; as long as you pay enough, they accept you! But this might be short-lived since the homework is insane. He's six and three months and does homework until nearly 9:30 each night.

As for Spring Festival, these half-Chinese babies sleep through the fireworks just fine. :) After nine years, I still have trouble but both kids sleep through them and wake up fully rested.

HOpe you have a good time in the USA!

rosieinbj said...

@Jocelyn, yeah, it's a lot to deal with! But I've had enough issues with my own visas that I guess I shouldn't be surprised (just annoyed).

@Constance, I agree, all governments are somewhat alike/have bureaucracy. The problem with China is that the rules are often unclear or unable to be found or change at the drop of a dime. I think in the US, at least, it's more straight forward.

@Charlotte, Thank you so much for posting your experiences. The info about public schools and getting a travel permit (in your home country) without your husband is very useful.

My husband claims his daughter didn't do well as a baby with the fireworks, though I believe that most Chinese babies are probably okay. Our dog is totally unfazed, but they make me a nervous wreck!

I know what it's like with the homework. My step-daughter used to get mountains of it. For some reason, now that she is in 5th grade, the homework is less or maybe she is just more efficient at getting it done.

Yocelyn said...

Your son is adorable. I ran into your blog through "Speaking of China". This was an interesting post. Going through the visa process sounds like such a struggle. It's sad that China won't allow anyone to have a dual citizenship. My boyfriend recently became a US citizen. It was a hard decision to make having to give up his citizenship with China.

rosieinbj said...

@Yocelyn, Thanks for your comment and compliment. :) Visas are often a pain in the butt, at least for us. I'm pretty used to it. It is unfortunate that the PRC doesn't allow dual citizenship. I'm hoping one day this will change so that my son and step-daughter will be able to enjoy both. I think my husband intends to get American citizenship one day. . . we'll see.

Ruth said...

Our son was born in Austria and has Austrian citizenship. He's still considered a Chinese citizen in China because his father is Chinese.

We got him a Chinese travel document at the Chinese embassy in Austria to enter China (we used his Austrian passport to exit Austria and the Chinese travel document to enter China). We thought it great that we didn't have to give up his right to apply for Chinese citizenship, because, well, you never know. If he didn't get the travel permit, but a normal residence permit for China (like you'd get if the Chinese father had a residence permit for Austria, which my husband doesn't), we'd have had to give up this right.

Even though he was born in Austria, it was possible to get him registered in his father's hukou with the travel permit. We didn't know it was possible, so we are very happy about this because it means he can visit public school and get social insurance in China.

rosieinbj said...

@Ruth, thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experience. That's great that your son can still get a hukou. I didn't know that was possible for children born outside of China and that is really important for parents who may want to settle in China while their child is growing up.

K.O. said...

Adding to the comments that William is uber-adorable. You're blessed.

Did you get him the passport? It's not only a matter of practicality (ie. using it to travel), which can be tricky in a place that does not recognize dual-cititzenship, as you are aware. But it's important for those moments where tangibly displaying US citizenship gives you access to the privileges of being a US citizen. Bypassing the long queue at the American Embassy? Yes, that's nice. Worst-case scenario: You need life/death assistance or evacuation assistance via the Embassy. You're set, but you want to make sure your family is as well by having their issued US passports. Glad to hear you decided to get one for the family.

Your blog is amazing, by the way. :)

rosieinbj said...

@KO Thanks for the compliments! Yes, he was issued a US passport and Proof of Birth Abroad. He will also be getting a Social Security Number but that takes several months to receive.