For much of the last decade, Chinese mothers have been heading to the US to give birth to their children. The number of Chinese children claiming US citizenship has been steadily rising.
Before recent reforms to China’s family planning policies, many moms headed abroad to escape restrictions on second children. During the last year, it became clear many mothers were heading to America for another reason: for their children’s citizenship.
It seems that for some parents the Chinese Dream is actually to pursue the American Dream through their children. They see a brighter future and better opportunities abroad.
The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution ratified in 1868 states, “All persons born or naturalized in the US, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the US and of the state wherein they reside.”
While the amendment was intended to settle the issue of citizenship for America’s recently freed slaves, it also opened the door to citizenship for families passing through or aiming to settle rapidly in the US.
Children born to Chinese citizen parents while in the US gain access to free public education and greatly reduced college tuition costs. The child also opens a road for the family’s migration through the US Green Card program.
In the US, every citizen is required to pay taxes. Those who earn too little may not be required to pay, but may still draw benefits from the government. Children born to Chinese citizen parents could theoretically be eligible, although as dependent children that eligibility often hinges on their parents.
Agencies that help arrange the trip advertise giving birth abroad as an investment. “You even can imagine your child being the next president,” one advertisement reads.
But having a child abroad can carry unplanned consequences for Chinese parents. According to Article 3 of Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China, “China does not recognize dual nationality and multiple citizenship.”
Children do have the chance, according to law, to regain their Chinese citizenship when both parents are Chinese nationals. But that requires abandoning US citizenship, making the trip abroad meaningless.
But choosing to keep the child’s US citizenship presents other problems.
“These children can never obtain hukou, and that makes it difficult for them to enroll in China’s compulsory education,” Aimeile Agency said.
Additionally, Article 97 of the Social Insurance Law of the People’s Republic of China states that only “foreigners working within the territory of China shall participate in social insurance by reference to the provisions of this law,” meaning the US citizen children of Chinese nationals are excluded from all national insurance.
Chinese People Abroad
Chinese parents began having more American babies in the late 1990s.
A man surnamed Cao was one of many international students in US when China opened to the world in 1978. He chose to stay at US when he finished his studies, and had a family with two sons who fit the dream Chinese agencies hope to sell.
They completed their kindergarten through high school education for free in the US public school system, paid the reduced tuition fee for citizens when going to college and were recognized as natural citizens.
But his two children have their own shortcomings.
“I was surprised when I realized my two sons couldn’t write Chinese characters!” Cao said. “They spent their childhood in China and learned basic reading and writing. But as they grew up they lost those skills and any interest.”
Cao’s older son, Tom, speaks fluent Mandarin but cannot read or write. His younger son, Jasper, is completely unable to communicate in Chinese.
“I feel I have responsibility to learn Mandarin, because deep down I am a Chinese,” Tom said. His brother disagrees and sees no value in pursuing his linguistic roots.
From 2007 to 2014, the number of Chinese nationals giving birth abroad rose from 600 people to 40,000. When China abandoned its “One-Child Policy” in 2015, the number had reached nearly 60,000 people.
Some 80,000 Chinese nationals gave birth to their babies while abroad in 2017, a decade after the trend began.