Number of Chinese becoming US citizens declines

Updated: 2013-04-03 11:27

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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The number of Chinese who became US citizens has declined annually over the last five years to 31,868 in 2012 from 40,017 in 2008, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

In a report on naturalization issued this month, the agency says caution should be used in drawing conclusions from the data about trends in the demand to naturalize, but Tao Lin, a New York-based immigration law expert, said naturalization for Chinese appears to be changing.

"It's not like the old-fashioned way when Chinese immigrants would come to the US, gain their citizenship, stay and assimilate to US culture," said Lin, managing attorney of T. Lin & Associates. "You're seeing more Chinese people returning to China."

China ranked fifth after Mexico, the Philippines, India and the Dominican Republic in the number of new US citizens each country produced in 2012, according to the March 2013 Annual Flow Report by the Office of Immigration Statistics of Homeland Security.

China was second after Mexico in the number of immigrants receiving US green cards in 2012. Out of 1,031,631 people who became legal permanent residents, 7.9 percent or 81,784 were from China.

"Those Chinese who would like to return to China at some point will not apply for naturalization because in China you cannot have dual citizenship," Lin said. "For practical reasons, Chinese people prefer to get a green card."

Immigration has become a game of strategy, particularly for families in which it's common to find one parent who is a US citizen while the other chooses to keep a green card, or permanent residency, according to Lin.

Xiaoyu Duan, an IT programmer at a bank in San Francisco who has lived in the US for nearly five years, is content with his green card, which he said took him six years to obtain due to the volume of applications coming out of China.

"I don't really have the urge to apply for full US citizenship," Duan said. "I like the freedom I have to travel back and forth between China."

The IT programmer said he also has been deterred from getting citizenship by frustrated friends whose US citizenship makes buying real estate in China more difficult and also requires them to pay taxes on their overseas businesses.

According to Lin, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which seeks to curtail offshore tax evasion, is also a factor in the decline of Chinese seeking naturalization.

"It's a law that's very well known in the Chinese community," Lin said. "People are really concerned about the implications."

Under the new law, US taxpayers holding financial assets abroad must report those assets to the Internal Revenue Service if assets exceed $50,000.

Failure to report those assets may result in a $10,000 to $50,000 penalty..

The law also requires foreign banks and financial entities to find any American account holders and disclose their balances, receipts and withdrawals to the IRS or be subject to a 30 percent withholding tax on income from US financial assets held by the banks or financial entities.

(China Daily 04/03/2013 page8)