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Should I trade my Chinese citizenship for a US one?
April 25, 2010 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Should I give up my Chinese citizenship for a US one? If so, any tips or advice on going about it? Details and background inside.

I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons, and I just wanted to see the hive mind's opinion. Some background on me: I've basically grown up fully american from a young age, and visiting China has been a bit of a culture shock - I definitely identify as American.

I have a pretty good white collar job currently, and will probably end up going to business school soon. There is a moderate chance that, with China's booming economy, I will at some point in the future like to work there, at least for a while.

The pros and cons I'm seeing so far:

Pros:
- No risk of random deportation. I occasionally enjoy some recreational substances and attend events where some police harassment is the norm. I am a little scared that I will at some point do something stupid/unlucky and get caught and deported.

- If I get in trouble traveling abroad somewhere, my gut feeling is that the US will help out more than China. I have no data for this though, anyone have any idea if this is true?

Cons:
- I've read that working and owning property in China is very difficult for non-citizens

- I feel that China will likely equal or surpass the US economically within the next few decades, and that having the citizenship may afford me greater opportunities there. Not sure about what exactly, this is more of a fuzzy feeling.

Also, if I do decide to get my US citizenship, anyone have any tips on doing it that I might otherwise overlook?

Any input would be greatly appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Becoming an American citizen is a no-brainer. What is the benefit of property rights in China if there is no rule of law? What is the benefit of citizenship if there is no habeus corpus?

Talk of China surpassing the United States economically is sort of meaningless for average citizens, anyway. Besides, being a Chinese citizen doesn't automatically confer economic advantages, anyway, which depend on personal, professional, and political connections. Either you inherit these connections as part of your family's social capital, or you have to work like hell over 10 years or so to somehow build them up.

Both of my sons hold dual Canadian/Japanese citizenship, and when they're 20 they'll have to choose a country. Canada is a no-brainer, at least for me.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


why can't you keep both?
posted by k8t at 7:41 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


(China does not recognize dual citizenship. Chinese citizenship must be revoked to take citizenship of another country.)
posted by meerkatty at 7:46 PM on April 25, 2010


Just my opinion...I would suggest you become a US citizen. Like you said (I am assuming you are now a permanent resident of the US), once you are a citizen, you cannot be deported for felony offenses (there are a few reasons you could be denationalized but that is very rare). Traveling on a US vs Chinese passport would be easier I assume. Also as a US citizen you will be eligible to work for the US government. Unfortunately, China does not allow for dual nationality, once you become a US citizen you will forfeit your Chinese citizenship. Another thing I thought of is that if the Chinese economy does boom and you want to live/work there, working there as a Chinese citizen at Chinese rates will not make you a lot of money whereas if a US company sends you to China to work, you can make bank. To get your US citizenship is fairly straight forward--assuming you have been a permanent resident for five years (three if you obtained your residency through marriage to a US citizen) simply go to www.uscis.gov, click on forms, then fill out form N 400 and pay the fee. You will get an appointment for fingerprints then an interview some months later. When you send the N 400 in, make sure to check the N 400 document checklist so you don't forget anything, also, to study for the citizenship test, search the USCIS website for civics materials.
posted by MsKim at 7:52 PM on April 25, 2010


Do ordinary Chinese citizens even enjoy the right of freedom of movement? I thought that Chinese citizens must apply for an exit visa, and that not all countries recognize Chinese visas, or even if they do, it's difficult and time-consuming for Chinese nationals to enter other countries.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:56 PM on April 25, 2010


I would agree that getting US citizenship is a no-brainer.

IMHO China's governmental system is utterly and fundamentally corrupt. I believe this more than anything will actually hold them back from truly surpassing the US anytime soon. If they ever transform into a free society then they will be a huge force to be reckoned with (just look at Taiwan!). In that case the advantages of doing business in China as a citizen may not be so great. In any case, I think language skills, cultural and local knowledge as well as political connections are probably worth far more to doing business in China than just citizenship.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:16 PM on April 25, 2010


I would agree with the above. I would also question the assumption that China will overtake the US economy.
posted by dfriedman at 8:18 PM on April 25, 2010


It's a tough one. I totally agree with your reasoning (unlike the other posters, I think that it's quite clear that China will overtake the US).

However, I'm not sure what real benefits there are to Chinese citizenship, how hard it is to regain, if China is likely to allow dual citizenship in the future, etc. etc. I think you should talk to a lawyer in China.

There are more American citizens on here than Chinese citizens. You're likely to get an answer that skews that way.
posted by metametababe at 8:24 PM on April 25, 2010


Well, I think I'm kind of biased. I'm sure if you asked this on a Chinese website, they would all say you should China is great... But I wonder, that might be a good question to ask.

It's true that China's economy is booming, but the thing is Americans can still get jobs there. You still have that option even with a U.S. passport. Maybe it's not as easy.

The benefits of citizenship, I think, way outweigh the downsides of not being a Chinese citizen.
- I feel that China will likely equal or surpass the US economically within the next few decades, and that having the citizenship may afford me greater opportunities there. Not sure about what exactly, this is more of a fuzzy feeling.
The economy might do better, but buying Chinese property is a terrible, terrible investment. Definitely check out This charlie Rose interview with James Chanos. Basically, Chinese real estate is in a huge classical bubble right now, and there's a really good change that it will collapse at some point. Chanos is one of the worlds best short sellers.

That doesn't mean investing in the Chinese economy is a bad idea, but real estate is way overvalued. But there are lots of ways to do that without being there.
Do ordinary Chinese citizens even enjoy the right of freedom of movement? I thought that Chinese citizens must apply for an exit visa, and that not all countries recognize Chinese visas, or even if they do, it's difficult and time-consuming for Chinese nationals to enter other countries.
That's a good question, a U.S. passport will get you to most places without too much trouble.
posted by delmoi at 8:24 PM on April 25, 2010


(China does not recognize dual citizenship. Chinese citizenship must be revoked to take citizenship of another country.)


Yeah, but it's not like anyone checks. Countries don't talk to each other about these matters, and they certainly don't maintain any sort of shared database of citizens. You can take the US oath and hold onto your Chinese passport no problem.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:26 PM on April 25, 2010


Given their traditional attempts to encourage native-born Chinese to return to the country, I think you would probably be allowed to resume Chinese nationality later if you decided -- as is true with any country without rule of law, quoting the statutes isn't that useful, but I found an English copy of the Nationality Law of the PRC here. It provides for resumption of citizenship.

Decisions right now (this is a broad guess) tend to be made on economic grounds, although that could change in the future; if you're not politically active or a member of a problematic group (i.e. religion, rights activist), and if you have some money, it seems reasonable to me that they would take you back any time you wanted, especially if you were looking for/had found business opportunities.

I sent you a mefimail about some other considerations.
posted by Valet at 8:49 PM on April 25, 2010


Oops. Scratch that last sentence.
posted by Valet at 8:50 PM on April 25, 2010


I just wanted to respond to this...

Yeah, but it's not like anyone checks. Countries don't talk to each other about these matters, and they certainly don't maintain any sort of shared database of citizens. You can take the US oath and hold onto your Chinese passport no problem.

It's true that countries do not talk to each other about this, but China definitely checks if you have dual citizenship. A friend of mine who immigrated to the States very early on, didn't even realize that she still had Chinese citizenship, had to go back to her hometown and essentially denounce her Chinese citizenship within 48 hours after her dual citizenship was discovered when renewing her work visa in her American passport.

- I feel that China will likely equal or surpass the US economically within the next few decades, and that having the citizenship may afford me greater opportunities there. Not sure about what exactly, this is more of a fuzzy feeling.

I've been living in China for a few years now, and what will really offer you greater opportunities is not necessarily the passport you hold but your Chinese language abilities, your levels of connection, your understanding of how Chinese personal and business relationships, and your own willingness to put in a lot of work and overlook the bullshit. There are definitely expats here who arrived to teach English and parlayed that experience into their own businesses and success stories.
posted by so much modern time at 8:55 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


If China was a culture shock, the legal issues and visa issues will be the *least* of your issues if you decide to movie there.

Also? Even if China surpasses the US economically, there will still be plenty of opportunities in the US, probably more for you here than there if this is the culture you know. Sure, Denmark isn't the economic capital or the world, but plenty of people enjoy a very high quality of life there. You don't have to live in the richest country to be very comfortable.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:33 PM on April 25, 2010


I feel that China will likely equal or surpass the US economically within the next few decades, and that having the citizenship may afford me greater opportunities there. Not sure about what exactly, this is more of a fuzzy feeling.

That depends on how you define "surpassing economically." China's GDP in 2009 was estimated to be about $6,000 per person.

China could overtake the US GDP quite easily by virtue of the fact alone that it has a population of 1.3 billion people (a little under a billion more than the US). Any comments about the status of the Chinese government or society aside, it would be historically unprecedented for China to grow its per-capita GDP to match the US within your lifetime. It couldn't happen even under the best of circumstances for China.
posted by schmod at 9:54 PM on April 25, 2010


If you take US citizenship you will have to pay US income taxes on worldwide income for the rest of your life even if you no longer live in the US. There is an income tax exemption on some of your foreign EARNED income but you still have to pay 15.3% for social security and Medicare.

The US is one of the only countries in the world to have this requirement, and it totally sucks for expats.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:58 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jacqueline: there is an income tax exemption on some of your foreign EARNED income

That exemption, for the record, is $91,400.
posted by Valet at 10:39 PM on April 25, 2010


IANAL. I can't say much about Chinese citizenship, but here are some thoughts about U.S. citizenship. You also might want to check out this list of advantages and requirements.
  • Voting is pretty cool.
  • If you plan on traveling, US citizenship will ensure that you can return to the US.
  • Traveling will make it less convenient to naturalize in the future. For example, if you worked in China for a year, you would have to move back to the US and wait four years and a day before you can apply to naturalize.
  • US citizenship may make it easier to get visas to some countries (although if you are a US resident, you may already get the same benefit).
  • If by "recreational substances" you mean drugs, you are taking more risk than you may realize. Immigration laws are especially unforgiving about drug use. A drug conviction will complicate things, but merely admitting to using drugs--whether convicted or not--can affect admissibility (for example, this would be an issue if you needed to adjust status). See 8 USC ยง 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II).
Here are some red flags. If you answer yes to any of these, you should talk to an attorney:
  • Have you ever been arrested, even if the charges were dropped?
  • Have you ever been fingerprinted, been before a judge, had an attorney, etc?
  • Have you been outside the U.S. for extended periods of time, such as more than half a year? Of the past five years, have you been absent for more than half the time?
  • Have you been married? (Marriage history may indicate marriage or divorce fraud)
  • Do you have any kids who are not living with you? (failure to pay child support payments)
  • If you are a male living in the US between ages 18-26, did you not register for selective service? (doesn't apply if you were a lawful nonimmigrant, e.g. F-1 student)
  • Have you voted before? (you would be surprised...)
  • Have you failed to pay taxes as a resident?
> If you take US citizenship you will have to pay US income taxes on worldwide income for the rest of your life even if you no longer live in the US.

If you file as a resident, you pay taxes on worldwide income anyway. More info here. Becoming a citizen doesn't change that directly, but I don't know much about filing taxes as a resident alien.
posted by stop sign at 10:55 PM on April 25, 2010


It might be worth it for you to choose Chinese citizenship or maintain both citizenships if you are intent on living and working in China for the rest of your life; otherwise, I would go with the American citizenship for the many absolute and relative benefits it offers and will continue to offer well into the future. I say this as an American citizen living in Japan.

It's true that countries do not talk to each other about this, but China definitely checks if you have dual citizenship. A friend of mine who immigrated to the States very early on, didn't even realize that she still had Chinese citizenship, had to go back to her hometown and essentially denounce her Chinese citizenship within 48 hours after her dual citizenship was discovered when renewing her work visa in her American passport.

Which, among other reasons, is why the general rule is that when entering a country of which you are a citizen, you use that country's passport.

posted by armage at 11:38 PM on April 25, 2010


China does not recognize dual citizenship -- but as far as I know, you also don't lose your Chinese citizenship when taking another. As far as the Chinese gov't is concerned, you are simply Chinese. Or at least that was how it appeared to be for a dual Canadian-Chinese citizen who was arrested several years ago in China. The Chinese gov't treated him as a Chinese citizen (no extradition), and the Canadians said their hands were tied because he was dual.
posted by jb at 11:46 PM on April 25, 2010


Re: working in China for non citizens: As an American citizen, I lived and worked in China for nearly 6 years and I can tell you that my American passport made it VERY easy to find jobs (my white face too, but that's another matter). Actually it was much easier for me to find relatively high-paying jobs because of my Western background and native English, which are both in demand in all kinds of industries in China. I easily got teaching, editing, and voice recording jobs, and I know other people who were hired basically for being non-Chinese.

Actually, it'd be HARDER for you if you keep your Chinese citizenship there, in terms of finding a job. If you look Chinese and have Chinese citizenship, you will have a very hard time convincing Chinese people that you have native-level English and an American background. (it's hard enough for Asian Us-passport holders, but still possible). Also, I imagine your Chinese is not as good as that of a person who grew up in China, so this would make it even harder for you to find a job (if you were not a US citizen) There are tons of Chinese people competing for jobs now. Your US citizenship would be an advantage, not a disadvantage.
posted by bearette at 4:11 AM on April 26, 2010


Actually, I should add that if you have an MBA from an American university, this will put you ahead in the job market even with Chinese citizenship. But I still think it's an advantage to have American citizenship. The only slight hassle would be getting a visa, but any legitimate company/organization that hires you will be able to provide that.
posted by bearette at 5:58 AM on April 26, 2010


On the tax issue, here is a timely article from the New York Times:
More American Expatriates Give Up Citizenship
posted by Jacqueline at 8:14 AM on April 26, 2010


Most of the major points have already been discussed but there are a couple of points that nobody has brought up.

1. In terms of business, the difference between an American citizenship and a Chinese citizenship will not matter in most instances. The only time where it will matter is if you are planning on starting an entrepeneurial venture in China without any Chinese partners. This will be much more difficult for you if you are not a Chinese citizen, but will probably still be very difficult for you if you're not familiar with how business is done in China.

2. There are a handful of countries (mostly in Africa) where it is easier to do business / travel with a Chinese passport vs. an American one. Again, this is for a very small number of countries, but it's something worth taking into consideration if you are planning on working in Africa or (possibly) the Middle East.

As someone who's dealt with a similar situation (HK SAR passport but not PRC, also a long-term US Permanent Resident) I wound up making the switch mostly for self-identification purposes. I hold some marginal loyalty to HK, but none towards the Mainland, and honestly I was uncomfortable with the idea of my permanent residency somehow lapsing and being forced to permanently relocate back to HK. Since I only spent my early years there, it's not where I'd consider home.

Also, I made the decision during the Bush years, where it seemed like they were tightening the restrictions on permanent residency and renewals. While I don't think there's a big fear of that kind of stuff happening in the Obama administration, keep in mind that you may encounter this kind of problem again in the future.
posted by C^3 at 9:59 AM on April 26, 2010


I've not read all the responses, so apologies if someone has already pointed this out. Are your parents/family still in China? If you renounce your Chinese citizenship and need to go back for a protracted period of time to care for them, or wrap up their affairs then not being a citizen may cause problems for you.
posted by poissonrouge at 10:06 AM on April 26, 2010


Actually, it'd be HARDER for you if you keep your Chinese citizenship there, in terms of finding a job

I only have anecdotal evidence. Just recently did a series of interviews of people of Chinese heritage (or citizenship) who've returned to China after years or an entire lifetime working and living abroad. All of them expressed extreme disappointment with the way business is run here in China, but all of them were optimistic about some future opportunity that being in China and being Chinese and having foreign experience would give them. In one case, a manager at a big foreign car company explained his difficulty with the business culture. He's Taiwanese working in mainland China after many years working in the US. The Chinese people get paid the least and have the worst working conditions. The foreigners have the best situation (pay, working conditions, business culture). He, as Taiwanese, was stuck between the two worlds. He wasn't as well off as the North Americans and Europeans at the company, but he was better off than the mainland Chinese employees. But, because he was culturally somewhat close to the mainlanders and because he had extensive experience abroad, he was stuck in the middle of it all, having to put up with a bunch of the Chinese style of business that he loathed and having to act as a go-between for the foreigners while not getting quite as many benefits as the foreigners. He didn't seem too happy. The other people I interviewed--a couple in academia, a couple of 20-somethings trying to chase "business opportunities"--were having a really difficult time adjusting to life in China, despite having quite a bit of experience in the country. One person seemed to really enjoy the transition back to life in China after 15 or so years outside the country, but she seemed really taken with everything about Chinese culture. She wanted her daughter to have a formal Chinese education (because she felt the Canadian education system was too casual) and learn to appreciate classical literature and opera. The lesson I took from it was that the only people who enjoy coming back to China after many years away are those who are in love with the culture and everything else about contemporary China.
posted by msbrauer at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2010


Do you realize that many extremely wealthy Chinese citizens are trying to enter expensive, but valid invest for visa schemes or illegal marry a U.S. Citizen schemes just to gain permanent U.S. residency?

I am a Chinese American U.S. citizen. I think you should have your head checked (by several doctors) if you're willing to forego U.S. citizenship to become a subject of the People's Republic of China just to make money or, as you call it, have more "opportunity." You have the opportunity to bribe government officials in China to earn your millions, sure. There are ways to profit off China's development without becoming its "citizen."
posted by KimikoPi at 1:37 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


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