If you were born in Mainland China and are applying for a U.S. green card, you will need to submit a China birth certificate. That’s true regardless of whether you are filing a Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status, with USCIS or are applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.
Both agencies look at specifications in the State Department’s Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country for what type of birth certificate is required. This guide was was just updated on May 13, 2019.
The Updated Guidelines for Birth Certificates
The State Department’s guide now states, in relevant part:
Document Name: Notarial certificate (Gong Zheng Shu)
Issuing Authority: Local Notary Public Office (Gong Zheng Chu)
Special Seal(s) / Color / Format: A notarial birth certificate normally contains a watermark, seal, and red stamp. It indicates the applicant’s name, gender, date of birth, ID number, place of birth, and both parents’ names. NOTE: Notarial birth certificates issued prior to 2012 may not list the ID number. All notarial documents must have an English translation, and be attached with a certificate stating that the English translation is in conformity with the Chinese original.
Issuing Authority Personnel Title: Notary Public (Gong Zheng Yuan)
- A National ID and household registration (Hu Kou Bu). If the applicant lives abroad, a copy of his or her passport is also required.
- One of the following three documents:
- Birth certificate (Chu Sheng Zheng Ming Shu) or medical certificate of birth (Chu Sheng Yi Xue Zheng Ming) issued by the hospital
- Initial Birth Record issued by the Household Registration Department of the local Public Security Bureau
- Proof of birth issued by the sub-district office or the Personnel Department of Work Unit
- Photographs – at least two.
- A signed affidavit or authorization certificate from the applicant if someone other than the applicant applies for the certificate on his or her behalf. The authorized person also needs to provide his/her national ID.
- Documentation of both parents’ identification. If deceased, a death certificate is required.
- Other documents requested by the Notary Public (Gong Zheng Yuan).
Procedure for Obtaining:
- Complete an application and submit all relevant documents to the Notary Public Office (Gong Zheng Chu).
- The Notary Public then examines the documents. If the application is accepted, the applicant pays all related notary fees.
- Once the review of the submitted documentation is completed, the notarial birth certificate is issued….
Comments: Applicants should check the website or contact their local Notary Public Office to obtain specific information regarding required fees and supporting documents.
An article from the China Notary Association emphasizes that there are two acceptable types of notarial certificate (gong zheng shu 公证书) that describe the circumstances of a person’s birth:
Type 1: Birth certificate notarization (出生证公证 chushengzheng gongzheng):
For people born starting 1996, the original medical certificate of birth (出生医学证明 chusheng yixue zhengming) should be available in a standardized format. That certificate should be issued by the hospital or medical clinic where the individual was born. Issuance of such certificates is mandated by the Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care, article 23 (1994).
The first type of notarial certificate is a “birth certificate notarization,” meaning a photocopy of the medical certificate of birth with an attestation by the notary that the photocopy “confirms to the original, and that the original document is authentic.” The notarial certificate lists the “issue under notarization” (公证事项) as “birth certificate” (出生医学证明):
Type 2: Birth notarization (出生公证 chusheng gongzheng):
- For people born before 1996, there was no standardized format for medical certificates of birth. Therefore, a “birth certificate notarization” cannot be issued, according to the China Notarization Association article.
- Instead, the second type of notarial certificate is issued based on the alternative evidence listed above in the State Department’s guide.
- This type of certificate lists the “issue under notarization” (公证事项) as “birth” (出生):
An older birth notarization may have the title “birth certificate” (出生公证书 or 出生证明书), as mentioned in the State Department’s guide through at least 2016.
Requests for Additional Evidence of Birth
These days, the State Department’s guide expresses a pretty high level of confidence in the accuracy of notarial birth certificates:
By regulation, notaries are empowered to issue certificates only after they conclude that the applicant’s claims are true. Although these certificates are secondary evidence, they are used because primary evidence is not standardized, is easily forged, and can be difficult to evaluate. Notarial certificates are easier to interpret than primary evidence and in principle represent an expert judgment on the part of the notary official as to the facts documented. Generally notarial certificates issued in China are reliable; However, in rare cases we have seen evidence of fraud.
Despite this characterization of notarial birth certificates being generally reliable, a U.S. Consulate or USCIS may request additional evidence of birth. This could include the household register (户口 hukou), family planning service certificate (计划生育服务证 jihua shengyu fuwu zheng) from the family planning bureau, old photographs, school records, religious records (e.g., a baptismal record), and medical records. Look at the USCIS files of family members to see if they reflect the claimed parental relationship. Declarations from the parents and third parties who knew the family at or near the time of birth may be helpful.
And, for earlier births (e.g., 1958 or beforehand), a genealogist may be able to hunt down additional evidence of the birth. For example, My China Roots is a leading genealogy research company specializing in helping Overseas Chinese trace their ancestry in China. Based in China, their native researchers can travel to the applicant’s hometown on your behalf to search for secondary evidence of a birth, such as family tree books (jiapu 家谱), ancestral graves, ancestral tablets, temples, and testimonies of relatives.
Unobtainable Birth Certificates
A birth certificate should show the applicant’s date and place of birth and the names of both parents. INA § 222(b); 22 C.F.R § 42.65(c)(4). If a an applicant claims a birth certificate is unobtainable, they must prove it to the officer’s satisfaction. 22 C.F.R. § 42.65(d)(1). To do so, the applicant should provide a certified statement from the appropriate government authority explaining, for example, that
- the applicant’s birth was never officially recorded;
- the applicant’s birth records have been destroyed; or
- the appropriate government authority will not issue one.
8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(2); 9 FAM 504.4-4(F). The applicant must also provide additional evidence of the circumstances of their birth, as described above.
About Chodorow Law Offices
Our law firm helps clients worldwide with U.S. visas, permanent residence, and citizenship. This includes helping clients with difficulty obtaining China birth certificates, proving they are unobtainable, or gathering additional evidence of birth.
Who is Quoting This Article?
An earlier version of this article is cited extensively by the Canadian government’s Immigration and Refugee Board.