Choosing Between U.S. and Chinese Citizenship: Pros and Cons

Are you in a position where you need to choose between U.S. and Chinese citizenship? For example, are you a U.S. green card holder from China considering applying for naturalization in the U.S.? Or are you a person who automatically acquired both Chinese and U.S. citizenship at birth but is now considering renouncing Chinese citizenship? The below table lists some specific factors to consider. Feel free to add additional ideas in the below comments section, and I’ll integrate them into the table.

Factor

U.S. Citizenship

Chinese Citizenship

Dual Nationality The U.S. does recognize dual nationality in the sense that holding another country’s passport will not lead to revocation of U.S. citizenship. See 7 FAM 080(e), 082. China does not recognize dual nationality for Chinese citizens. A Chinese citizen who acquires foreign citizenship of his own free will automatically lose Chinese citizenship. See PRC Nationality Law, arts. 3, 9.
Helping Family Members to Immigrate U.S. citizens can sponsor for immigration their single children under 21 years of age, spouses, and parents, all of whom are considered “immediate relatives,” meaning that there is no waiting list to immigrate. In addition, citizens can petition for siblings, married sons and daughters, and single sons and daughters over 21 years of age. And a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen will usually qualify automatically for U.S. citizenship. In contrast, a lawful permanent resident (LPR) can only petition for spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age, and in either case there are waiting lists to immigrate. (In addition, a child born abroad to an LPR may be granted LPR status if the child is under 2 years old and enters the U.S. accompanied by a parent upon the first return of the parent to the U.S. after the birth.) Chinese citizens can sponsor close relatives for residence permits in China and other relatives to visit China. In practice, it can be relatively difficult for a foreigner to qualify for permanent residence status in China. Categories of relatives who may apply include, in relevant part: 1. The spouse of a Chinese citizen or of an alien with permanent residence status in China, in a marriage relationship for at least five years, with at least five successive years of residence in China and at least nine months of residence in China each year, and having stable source of subsistence and a dwelling place. 2. The unmarried child under 18 years of age dependent on his or her PRC citizen parents. 3. A person at the age of 60 years or older with no direct relatives overseas but sponsored by direct relatives in China, having stayed in China for at least five successive years with at least nine-month residence in China each year, and having stable source of subsistence and a dwelling place.
“Citizenship Premium” A study by Migration Policy Institute has found that “naturalized citizens earn more than their noncitizen counterparts, are less likely to be unemployed, and are better represented in highly skilled jobs.”Naturalized citizens earn 50-70 percent more than noncitizens, have higher employment rates, and are less likely to live below the poverty line. Of course, this may not be all due to cause and effect. For example, people who apply for naturalization may have better education, English, and work experience than people who do not. However, the study indicates that in addition to those factors, there is a “citizenship premium,” meaning there is an economic benefit obtained from naturalization.
 “Returnee Premium” Having U.S. citizenship may allow a returnee to China to bargain for a privileged economic status or for a so-called “expatriate compensation package” which is usually far better than local-level payments. Expatriates with western nationalities dominate top positions
and their salary levels are far higher than those of local employees or returning
Chinese students who did not change their citizenship, according to Liu Lisong, Mobility, Community, and Identity: Chinese Student/Professional Migration to the United States since 1978 and Transnational Citizenship.
Citizenship of Children

A child born in the U.S. will be a citizen regardless of the parents’ nationality.

In most cases, a child born outside the U.S. to a U.S. citizen parent is automatically a U.S. citizen. See Guide to Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship by Birth Abroad.

A child born in China will be a foreigner if neither parent is a PRC citizen. The child will then lack certain government benefits available to Chinese children. For one thing, public school tuition will be charged at a higher rate. Nationality Law, art. 4. A child born outside China will be a Chinese citizen if both parents are Chinese nationals or one parent is a Chinese national. But a person whose parents are both Chinese nationals and have both settled abroad, or one of whose parents is a Chinese national and has settled abroad, and who has acquired foreign nationality at birth shall not have Chinese nationality. Nationality Law, art. 5.
Visa-Free International Travel U.S. citizens can travel visa-free to over 170 countries. http://lawandborder.com/?p=1641. Chinese citizens can travel visa-free to about 40 countries. http://lawandborder.com/?p=1641.
Loss of Permanent Resident Status U.S. citizens are not subject to the laws regarding loss of lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. A citizen can’t be deported from the U.S. Also, an LPR–unlike a citizen–can lose LPR status by residing abroad. So an LPR returning to China for a prolonged stay will need to maintain ties in the U.S. (e.g., keeping real estate in the United States
rather than selling it, keeping U.S. credit cards and driver’s license, and maintaining bank accounts in the United
States.) See Green Card Holders Who Stay Abroad Over 6 Months Risk Abandonment.To deal with the risk of abandonment, some Chinese couples will use a “one family, two nationalities strategy.” The wife will naturalize in the U.S. and the husband will retain PRC citizenship so that he can reimmigrate to the U.S. on the basis of the marriage if he is deemed to have abandon his LPR status. See Liu (supra).
Chinese citizens can enter China visa-free and live in China without time limitations. For noncitizens, procedures for visa applications and renewals may be complicated and expensive. In particular, most foreigners do not qualify for permanent resident (green card) status in China. And those who do qualify are subject to “duration of stay” requirements limiting the time they can stay abroad without losing their permanent resident status.
Social Welfare Benefits A person who is not a U.S. citizen is prohibited from receiving Social Security payments if he or she has been outside the U.S. for more than 6 months unless the person’s country has a social security or pension system that reciprocates for U.S. citizens (totalization agreement). China does not have such an agreement with the U.S. Also, permanent residents who are deported from the U.S. may lose their Social Security benefits.U.S. citizens are entitled to some government benefits for which certain LPRs are not eligible. Chinese citizens employed in PRC are entitled to social welfare benefits, including medical, housing, pension, unemployment insurance, etc. Foreigners may or may not be eligible for these benefits, depending on their PRC immigration status, qualifications and local government policies.
Voting U.S. citizens are permitted to vote in elections for public office, and certain public offices may be held only by U.S. citizens.
Government Jobs Certain government jobs are open only to U.S. citizens. This includes some jobs requiring security clearances. Most government jobs are open only to Chinese citizens.
The Requirement to Carry ID and Register One’s Residence U.S. citizens do not need to carry proof of citizenship in the U.S. In contrast, permanent residents are required by law to carry their green cards.  In China, foreigners above age 16 must carry their passports at all times. Both citizens and noncitizens must register their residence with the public security bureau.
Green Cards Must Be Renewed Permanent residents need to renew their green cards every 10 years (exceptions: conditional resident cards are valid for 2 years and children’s cards expire at age 14). In contrast, U.S. citizens never have to renew their certificates of naturalization. Chinese permanent residence cards are valid for 5 (if under age 18) or 10 years (if age 18 or older), and must be renewed upon expiration.
Jury Duty  U.S. citizens are required to perform jury duty when called by the courts.
Taxes

Both lawful permanent residents (see here) and U.S. citizens are subject to U.S. taxes on their worldwide income, even if they don’t live in the U.S. The U.S. is only one of a few countries to take such an interest in expats’ foreign-earned income.

Tax obligations may include compliance with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) rules.

Estate Tax Laws Certain U.S. estate tax laws may benefit U.S. citizens over noncitizens.
Real Estate Ownership  Foreigners face certain restrictions on real estate purchases. See here and here.
Attending Elementary and Secondary Schools in China In some Chinese cities, according to local Education Commission rules, foreign citizenship (and sometimes a Chinese residence permit) is necessary for a child to attend an international school. In some Chinese cities, a hukou (residence registration booklet) reflecting Chinese citizenship is necessary to attend a government school, with the exception of specific schools authorized by the Education Commission to enroll foreign students.
Re-acquiring Chinese Citizenship PRC citizens who naturalize in the U.S. (or any other country) lose their PRC citizenship. It may be difficult or impossible to re-acquire Chinese citizenship in the future.
One-child Policy Family planning laws vary at the regional level, but probably don’t apply if both parents are foreigners, and may not apply if one parent is a foreigner, depending in part on whether the child is born in China or abroad.
U.S. Consular Services and Political Protection in China

U.S. citizens who enter other foreign countries with their U.S. passports are eligible for services from the American Citizen Services units of U.S. Embassies and Consulates.

Some migrants returning to China see U.S. citizenship “as a shelter protecting them from political uncertainty in mainland China,” according to Liu (supra).

Note that a U.S. citizen who enters China using a PRC passport will not be able to access U.S. consular assistance. See the exchange of letters accompanying the U.S.-China Consular Convention. The history of extraterritoriality agreements in China makes this issue politically sensitive.

 —
Subjective Factors Some people would rather have citizenship where they feel they most “belong” for social, political, patriotic, or cultural reasons. For some people, that’s the U.S. Other people feel they most “belong”in China so keep PRC citizenship.
Application Fee for Naturalization $680
Nobel Prizes “All eight Nobel Prize winners in science who are of Chinese descent either were or subsequently became American citizens.”–Speech by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at the Central Party School in Beijing.

 

6 Replies to “Choosing Between U.S. and Chinese Citizenship: Pros and Cons”

  1. There may be intangible benefits to U.S. naturalization.

    A study by Migration Policy Institute has found that “naturalized citizens earn more than their noncitizen counterparts, are less likely to be unemployed, and are better represented in highly skilled jobs.”

    Naturalized citizens earn 50-70 percent more than noncitizens, have higher employment rates, and are less likely to live below the poverty line.

    Of course, this may not be all due to cause and effect. For example, people who apply for naturalization may have better education, English, and work experience than people who do not.

    However, the study indicates that in addition to those factors, there is a “citizenship premium,” meaning there is an economic benefit obtained from naturalization.

    http://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Publications/mpi_econ_value_citizenship_01.pdf

  2. A note on pensions: Article 16 of the PRC Social Security Law provides that people are entitled to receive pension funds monthly as long as they have participated in and paid for the pension funds for a cumulative 15 years by the time they reach the legal retirement age (60 for men and 55 for women). There is no provision stipulating that the retired person must be a PRC citizen in order to receive the benefit or prohibiting a foreign national from receiving pension.

    In practice, the retired person may be required to show her Chinese identification documents when she applies for the pension payment. If the person shows her foreign passport instead of a Chinese ID at the time of application, the pension office may have to verify whether the person on the foreign passport is the one who is entitled to receive the benefit. That could trigger a lot of uncertainty and even long verification process due to the complicated administrative hierarchy in China. I feel there can be risks if a person cannot present a Chinese ID document at the time when she applies for the pension benefit.

Comments are closed.