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 guidelines in the State Department’s Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country for what type of birth certificate is required.
This article covers:
The U.S. State Department Guidelines for Birth Certificates
The State Department’s guidelines were last updated on May 13, 2019. They explain that what is required is a document called a notarial certificate (公证书), issued by the local notary public office (公证处).
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 (公证员)
- A National ID and household registration (户口簿). If the applicant lives abroad, a copy of his or her passport is also required.
- One of the following three documents evidencing the circumstances of birth:
- Birth certificate (出生证明书) or medical certificate of birth (出生医学证明) 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 (街道办事处) 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 (公证员).
Procedure for Obtaining:
- Complete an application and submit all relevant documents to the Notary Public Office (公证处).
- 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.
Two Types of Certificates the Notary Can Provide
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.
Solutions for Difficult Cases
The most common difficulty is that a birth certificate meeting the State Department’s guidelines may be unobtainable. That must be proven to the officer’s satisfaction. 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(2); 22 C.F.R. § 42.65(d)(1).
To prove that a China birth certificate is unobtainable, it is almost always necessary to actually apply and be denied. If the refusal is because you lack a required document, such as evidence of the circumstances of birth from the hospital, public security bureau, sub-district office, or work unit, you need to show that you unsuccessfully attempted to get such evidence from any entity that could have it.
If you cannot get the notarial birth certificate or evidence of circumstances of birth, you also should submit to USCIS 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.
If that certified statement cannot be obtained, an applicant should submit evidence that repeated good faith attempts were made to obtain it. 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(2).
Even if the birth certificate is unobtainable, still the applicant must provide secondary evidence of the circumstances of their birth. This could include, for example:
- the household register (户口 hukou)
- family planning 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)
- medical records
- If the applicant left China at a young age to a third country or region, that place’s immigration records may also be helpful (e.g., Hong Kong Certificate of Registered Particulars).
- USCIS files of family members to that reflect the claimed parental relationship
- Declarations from the parents and third parties who knew the family at or near the time of birth
For earlier births (e.g., 1958 or beforehand), a genealogist may be able to hunt down secondary evidence of birth, My China Roots, a leading genealogy research company specializing in helping Overseas Chinese trace their ancestry in China, can have their native researchers travel to the applicant’s hometown to search for family tree books (jiapu 家谱), ancestral graves, ancestral tablets, temples, and testimonies of relatives.
Working with Chodorow Law Offices
To schedule an initial consultation with our firm to discuss how we can help with solutions for your hard-to-get birth certificate, please schedule a consultation with our firm.
Who is Quoting This Article?
An earlier version of this article is cited by the Canadian government’s Immigration and Refugee Board.