FAQ: Can you study in China if you are a former Chinese citizen?

For students who were born in China then relocated to another country and got new citizenship, studying in China is a great opportunity to connect with their roots and heritage. Lately, some former Chinese national students have asked China Admissions for help applying to Chinese universities, so we will answer questions about this process in this article.

Disclaimer: This article is not binding legal advice and may be subject to change. For further questions about this issue and the most recent advice, please contact the Chinese embassy in your home country.

Who are former Chinese nationals?

There are a few students who fit this category.

  • Students who were born in China and then moved to another country, or were adopted into another country. They have applied for and received citizenship in their new country.
  • Students who were born to Chinese national parents in a foreign country, and continue to live and have citizenship in that foreign country.
  • Students who are not citizens of another country yet, but have renounced their Chinese citizenship anyways.

China does not recognize dual citizenship, which is the practice of having citizenship for two different countries. China recognizes citizenship by birth: People born in China to at least one Chinese parent (or to stateless parents, i.e. refugees) acquire Chinese citizenship at birth. China also recognizes citizenship by descent: People born abroad to at least one Chinese parent may be Chinese citizens as long as the Chinese parent has not “settled” in the foreign country.

Why do Chinese universities care about this?

Chinese national and international students have different enrollment tracks to Chinese universities. Chinese national students must take the gaokao, or college entrance exam (some students may also be personally recommended to a university and get to skip the exam, but this is very uncommon and only for some top students). International non-Chinese citizen students do not need to take the gaokao. They apply by submitting personal statements, test scores from their home countries, and other documents to universities.

Chinese universities want to make sure that each type of student applies through the appropriate channels. So they want to make sure former Chinese nationals are indeed “former” and not current Chinese citizens trying to avoid the gaokao.

According to the Notice of the Ministry of Education on Regulating the Acceptance of International Students in Our Colleges and Universities (Chinese), which took effect on January 1, 2021, “Institutions of higher learning should strictly examine the nationality status and qualifications of international students applying for admission in accordance with the law. If there is any doubt about the nationality status, they should take the initiative to verify the applicant’s nationality status with the entry-exit management department of the local public security organ at or above the districted city.”

How can former Chinese nationals apply to Chinese universities?

You may need to present proof that you are not a current Chinese national citizen.

If this is your situation, we recommend you register on China Admissions, upload required documents to our system, and then send us a message from the system or contact us by filling out this form so that we can help you figure out any additional documentation. We can help communicate with the Chinese university and clarify what proof they need.

There is an application process to formally renounce your Chinese citizenship. According to the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China (read it in English here):

  • “Any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.”
  • If you do not fit this category, “Nationality applications at home [in the PRC] shall be handled by the public security bureaus of the municipalities or counties where the applicants reside; nationality applications abroad shall be handled by China’s diplomatic representative agencies and consular offices.”
  • If you are under 18, the application may be filed by your parents or other legal representatives.

According to the same Ministry of Education notice as above (Chinese),

  • Beginning in 2021, former Chinese nationals should “also hold a valid foreign passport or nationality certificate for more than 4 years.”
  • For the most recent 4 years, students must have “have a record of actual residence in a foreign country for more than 2 years.” For the purposes of this law, 9 months spent in a foreign country will count as a year. Universities will determine this by looking at entry/exit stamps on passports.
  • “Residents of the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan who apply for admission to our colleges and universities as international students after immigrating and obtaining foreign nationality shall meet the first requirement of this notice.”

What documents might you need to prepare?

These are a few documents that universities have asked former Chinese national students for in the past:

  • Proof of cancellation of Chinese nationality
  • Proof of living/attending school in a foreign country for the past four years
  • Proof of parent’s nationalities

We strongly recommend applying with China Admissions if you are a former Chinese national. We may also recommend you contact the Chinese embassy or a lawyer in your home country.

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman

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