Posted by: thelocaldialect | December 2, 2008


Up until about a week ago, my son was state-less. While he had a birth certificate, he had no documentation proving either Chinese or American citizenship. This was due partially to negligence and partially to foolishness, as I assumed getting my son’s American passport would be a huge hassle. Granted, I had my reasons for this misguided belief, since the forms on the embassy website basically say you have to bring physical evidence that you lived in America for over 5 consecutive years, at least 2 of which had to be over the age of 14.

If you’d lived in America for all of about 23 years, give or take a week here and there, it seems like this would not be a huge problem. But it was! I had surprisingly little proof of my life in America lying around in Beijing, but I had a solution, or so I thought. I asked my parents, who, as you may recall, came and visited in July, to bring over some documents. I was told that transcripts from school would work, so I asked them to go over to my old high school and procure my transcripts, and bring anything else they thought might help. Surely, I thought, this would be easy with my parents helping.

Except again, it wasn’t. My parents brought over a truly unique assortment of “documents,” such as my high school honor roll certificate, a letter stating I’d been admitted to a creative writing program, my financial aid receipts, vaccination records, and even a middle school report card. These had dates, some of them even had addresses, but none of them proved I’d lived in America for five straight years. I knew my parents had meant well, but I was worried that the documents they’d brought would prove useless.

And so I procrastinated. In the middle of moving and changing jobs, it was also hard to find a weekday afternoon free. Finally, it was my husband who put his foot down and said that our son couldn’t just go stateless forever, and that we had to do something. And so I made an appointment with the embassy to apply for his passport. I figured that if the documents I had weren’t good enough, then at the very least the embassy would be able to point me in the right direction and let me know exactly what more I needed.

So last Wednesday we went to the embassy, the day before Thanksgiving, which I think had the officers in good spirits. It took us ages to find the embassy (which, I know right? How can an embassy be so freaking hard to find? But it took us about a half an hour of driving in circles because the thing had moved earlier in the year and damned if we couldn’t find the new one), and we were afraid we’d missed our appointment. Luckily they let us in, and things went pretty smoothly from there on out. Our photos were too small, but my husband was able to take Dylan to a place across the street and get new ones made while I worked on the paperwork. I was a bit worried that my husband would be mistaken for one of the hundreds of Chinese citizens lined up outside the embassy waiting for visas to the States, but apparently our son was pretty good proof otherwise and he was allowed back in the embassy, proper pictures in hand.

Although everything had been going smoothly, the real moment of truth was yet to come. The consular officer called us into a small room for the interview. This was where I would be asked to sign my affadavit of physical presence in the US, and present my “proof.” Except I wasn’t. I signed the documents. The officer mildly chided me for having waited so long, but I explained that I’d lived in Kunming, which was far from Beijing, and that frankly I’d had some trouble with the documents. She nodded, and then asked me whether I grew up in Georgia, where I was born, and where I went to high school. I’m sure these questions were probably part of some sort of a test. Maybe if I had faltered on the answers, she might have asked for that proof, but instead she didn’t. Instead, she wished me a happy Thanksgiving and said I would be notified by e-mail when my son’s passport was ready. My folder full of documents never left my bag.

As I left the embassy I wondered if I’d just experienced some form of white privilege. If I hadn’t looked so American, if I’d spoken with a “foreign” accent, might things had gone differently? Frankly, at that point I was simply relieved that things went so easily, although if I had known it was that easy I would have applied for Dylan’s passport sooner. Although as a one-year-old he hasn’t needed photo ID so far, I figure it is good to have a nationality, and this is at least one less thing to worry about should we decide to go back to America at any point. So whether it was white privilege or the Thanksgiving spirit that made it possible, my son is no longer stateless, and is the proud owner of a blue passport. I’m sure it’ll come in handy someday!


  1. congrats little D!!

    And what a great time to “become” an American!
    Glad things worked out well for you!!

  2. Congrats to Dylan! I’m an American citizen too (dual American and Australian) and I hadn’t realised that you needed to live there for 5 consecutive years after the age of 14 to pass on citizenship. I’m not sure if little A will qualify. 😦

  3. Yay Dylan! It’s so exciting to get that passport of your homeland for your child, especially when living abroad. I’m sure the photo was really cute too. My son has changed soooo much since the photo taken when he was two months old!

  4. Glad to hear that getting his paperwork sorted out wasn’t too much of a problem. Will he be able to hold duel citizenship with China, or is an either/or situation?

    India doesn’t have duel citizenship, so my husband’s brother’s son, who was born here in the US, only has an American citizenship. He will have a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card soon, which is sort of like an Indian Green Card.

  5. Hi Gori! Yeah, it is an either/or situation here, no dual citizenship allowed. I actually only recently discovered that if we do apply for a Chinese residence card (hukou) for my son, then the Chinese government will always treat him as Chinese, despite his American passport, at least while he is still a minor. This could mean issues for me if I wanted to travel with him on my own. Since there aren’t really any advantages that come with Chinese citizenship (legal/political I mean, obviously), I probably won’t bother and he’ll just stay an American unless things change.

  6. Here in Shanghai there’s a little coupon attached to the birth certificate that you would need for the hukou application process. But it gets torn off during the passport application process too, so once you have an American passport you can’t apply for a hukou.

    At the consulate in Shanghai it was the same story: brought a bunch of papers, but after a quick glance at my face and a question or two they just asked me to sign and Charlotte got her passport.

  7. I’m glad it was so easy for you to get your son’s passport!

    My son was born in India, almost three weeks late and I had serious complications following the c-section which I won’t get into.. but

    We had to go to the US before he was three months old because my husband’s entry visa expired then..

    So, we took a 14 hour train journey to Chennai to apply for the baby’s passport.. we checked online to make sure the consulate would be open, etc.. got there 8:45am only to be told that the US Citizen Services Dept was closed until 2pm for staff meetings..

    We decided to site-see a little until then.. returned at 2pm only to be told to return the next day because they had admitted everyone they were able to process for the day.

    So.. back to the hotel. Bright and early the next morning, we arrived. I went through with the baby and my husband had the diaper bag with the formula in it.. he had to drink the formula otherwise they’d dump it! haha..

    So, everything went okay.. the guy at the counter was friendly, even though we were the last people to be served.. he made an inappropriate joke “Well.. as white as the kid is, I know he is YOUR son, so he is surely American.. but can you prove he is Indian?” Said while my husband (Indian with very dark complexion) is standing there holding the baby. (the baby did darken up a bit but he is still pretty fair)

    But when they asked for proof that I’d been in the US for a certain amount of time (the same thing they asked you..) I figured I had a good answer.. YES I CAN PROVE IT, because I never applied for a passport until I was 18 years old..

    Well, he said he COULD in fact look it up on the computer and see where my current passport was issued.. but he couldn’t see if I’d ever had other passports issued..

    He asked for high school transcripts.. well.. I was homeschooled!

    I had NO proof I’d lived in the US for any length of time.

    He made us sit down for another hour while he went into another room..

    Then he came back and said everything was finished, the baby’s passport should arrive in 2 weeks.. !

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