Several media outlets reported this week on two teenagers who applied for mainland Chinese visas in Toronto but were denied. The Chinese Consulate did not explain the denials, but apparently the reason was that although the teenagers were born in Canada and hold Canadian passports, they had acquired Chinese nationality at birth through their parents born in Hong Kong, so should travel on Chinese travel documents.
Reactions to this news seem disproportionate. South China Morning Post described this news as “discomfiting.” Reuters called this a potential “encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy.” And the Canadian Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship says it’s inquiring with the Chinese authorities about the issue.
Canadian member of parliament Jenny Kwan, herself a Hong Kong-born Canadian, said:
When I travel I take comfort knowing that I’m travelling as a Canadian, no matter what country, whether it’s China or anywhere else…. I take comfort knowing that I hold my Canadian passport [and] I would not want my children travelling anywhere as anything other than Canadians.
Kwan’s point is that she would want her family, if traveling in China, to be able to access Canadian consular services. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an international treaty, says that consular officers shall have access to nationals of their country and shall be free to communicate with them (for example, visit them in prison and correspond with them). If nationals are arrested or detained, authorities shall inform them of those rights.
Canada has a consular agreement with China under which anyone who enters China under a Canadian passport, having been issued a Chinese visa, is entitled to consular access and protection from Canada during the validity of the visa and Canadian passport, even if the individual may be a dual Canada-Chinese national.
Kwan’s point is understandable. But the Chinese Consulate’s visa denials don’t appear scandalous. In fact, many children born in Canada to parents born in Hong Kong would be pleased to learn that they are dual Canada-Chinese citizens and would welcome the opportunity to travel to China on Chinese travel documents instead of a visa. The good news is that they have the ability to choose.
Chinese Nationality Law As Applied to Hong Kong Residents
The Hong Kong Basic Law, which serves as the constitutional document of the Special Administrative Region, was adopted by the China’s National People’s Congress and went into effect on July 1, 1997, when the former British colony was handed over to the People’s Republic of China. The Basic Law recognizes that the PRC Nationality Law applies to Hong Kong residents since the handover.
Applying the Nationality Law, Article 5, the Canadian-born teenagers would have automatically acquired Chinese nationality at birth if their Chinese parent(s) had not settled (i.e., become permanent residents) in Canada at the time of the birth:
Any person born abroad whose parents are both Chinese nationals or one of whose parents is a Chinese national shall have Chinese nationality. 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.
Further, if the teenagers’ parents are Hong Kong permanent residents based on birth there and Chinese nationality, then the teenagers born abroad are also Hong Kong permanent residents, according to the Basic Law, Article 24.
The Chinese Consulate in Vancouver has stated that children born in Canada to Chinese parents may sometimes need to provide additional information to the Consulate so a determination can be made whether they are Chinese citizens (because their parents had not yet become permanent residents at the time of the child’s birth) or not.
If teenagers wish to renounce their Chinese nationality, they may apply to the Hong Kong Immigration Department. That is according to the Explanations of Some Questions by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Concerning the Implementation of the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Article 5, adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. You can mail in the application, and the Hong Kong Immigration Department states that confirmation letters of declaration of change of nationality are issued to 100% of applicants on the same day for a fee of less than USD 20.
Whether or Not to Renounce Chinese Nationality
MP Kwan’s above remarks highlight the benefits of renouncing Chinese nationality. Once that’s done, an individual can obtain a PRC visa to travel to China. There, consular officers will have access to and be free to communicate with the individual.
In contrast, another commenter points out the benefits of retaining Chinese nationality:
Many Canadians might laugh at the phrase “benefits of Chinese citizenship”. But at the same time, it’s clear that many would also enjoy the opportunity to study or work in Hong Kong for a few years…. If you do decide to live in Hong Kong, you’ll enjoy both professional and personal advantages if you can visit mainland China without needing to applying for a visa. These are two concrete “benefits of Chinese citizenship” which many people would be interested to know they had inherited. They come with drawbacks, but they are benefits nonetheless. And most importantly, the drawbacks are co-extensive with the benefits; they don’t have any implication for your ordinary life in Canada, and will only affect you if you go to Hong Kong or mainland China.
Hong Kongers who give up Chinese citizenship suffer few consequences for exercising the human right to change nationalities. Though they have to obtain visas for traveling to mainland China in the future and could theoretically be denied such visas, mainland China was never their home in the first place. They are not threatened with exile from their home or their parents’ home, no matter what they say about their reasons for giving up Chinese citizenship: they retain the right to live and work in Hong Kong regardless of their Chinese citizenship, though they lose the right to take up high-level Hong Kong government jobs and a few other odd things, and might lose the right to vote if they have been away from Hong Kong for a long time (though they can regain it after seven years’ residence). They still get a Hong Kong ID card and can still use the fast immigration lane at the airport.
Hong Kong residents with dual PRC and foreign nationality can make this choice whether to keep Chinese nationality (traveling to the mainland with a Chinese travel document) or renounce it (to travel with a visa).