The American with a dream of becoming a Chinese citizen

‘I don’t hate America or dislike America,’ new Chinese green card holder Brent W says. ‘I just love China and Chinese people a lot more’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 1:46pm

Wealthy Chinese may be lining up to emigrate to the United States, but an American man named “Brent W” is heading in the opposite direction.

Eight years ago, he moved to China from the southeastern US state of Florida to take a job as a chief representative with an online Hong Kong company.

Today, he lives happily in Dongguan, an industrial city in central Guangdong province, with his wife, whom he met in Dongguan in 2010 and married a year later, and her daughter from a previous marriage.

Last month, Brent W – he declined to disclose his full name because of his online work combating financial fraud – achieved an important milestone: he obtained the vaunted “green card” that is emblematic of his status as a permanent resident and his right to live and work permanently in China.

It also put him on track towards achieving his ultimate goal: becoming a Chinese citizen.

“Although America is a great place, different things appeal to different people,” Brent W said.

His pursuit of Chinese citizenship comes as Beijing doubles down on a policy of zero tolerance for dual passport holders – an action left unexplained by the central government.

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Brent W said he would have no problem renouncing his American citizenship if he could obtain Chinese citizenship.

“I don’t hate America or dislike America,” he said. “I just found I love China and Chinese people a lot more.

“If giving up one’s American nationality can automatically allow the person to get Chinese nationality, I would have become a Chinese citizen years ago.”

Brent W’s success in getting permanent residency status is noteworthy, given that a high application threshold and strict controls have made China’s green card possibly the hardest in the world to get.

In the decade following the green card’s introduction in China in 2004, just 7,356 foreigners were granted permanent residency – a minuscule 1.2 per cent of the estimated 600,000 foreigners who lived in the country during that period.

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Getting a green card in China remains a daunting task even with some loosening of the process in recent years.

In 2016, the Ministry of Public Security, the only government body to approve green card applications, said it granted 1,576 foreigners permanent residency – a 163 per cent jump over the previous year. Figures for last year have not been released.

Foreigners in high-level positions with government departments or major national laboratories are qualified to apply for a green card in China.

So are individuals who invest at least US$500,000 in western China or poorer regions, US$1 million in the central part of the country or US$2 million in other areas for three straight years.

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Green card applications also are open to foreign expats who have been married to Chinese citizens for five years.

As a member of the latter group, Brent W said it made sense for him apply for a green card because renewing his working visa every year was time consuming.

Also, “my goal is to become a Chinese citizen”, the 54-year-old said.

“Local police officers told me that to be a Chinese citizen, I needed to get the green card first.”

Despite hearing inaccurately that “you need to be a Nobel Prize laureate or an NBA star” to get a Chinese green card, he persevered in his bid for permanent residency status.

“I [had] read Chinese laws and [wanted] to try,” he said.

The likelihood that he would eventually seek permanent residency status – and someday citizenship – grew after his marriage.

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He met his wife Tu Hui, a divorced Jiangxi native with an 11-year-old daughter, eight years ago in Dongguan and married her in 2011.

In April 2016, after the couple marked its fifth wedding anniversary, Brent W submitted an application for permanent residency to the Dongguan public security bureau. On May 31, after a 25-month wait, he learned his application had been approved.

“I kept thinking I was dreaming,” he said. “I kept taking it out of my pocket and looking at it to make certain it was real. After three days, I finally determined it really happened.”

Brent W said he loved working and living in Dongguan, an industrial hub.

He embraces the opportunity to meet people from across the country and to try cuisine from a variety of local restaurants.

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“I am exceptionally fond of Hunan food and I actually love super spicy things,” he said.

Although he speaks little Mandarin, he has managed to make many Chinese friends.

Every year, he joins locals in training for and competing in the annual Dragon Boat Festival races that mark the summer solstice and usher in a new season of health and well-being.

He and his wife both are board members with MilliCharity, one of Dongguan’s oldest charity groups. The couple donate around 40,000 yuan (US$6,159) each year to the cause and have sponsored 11 students from poor regions across the country.

“Overall, although Americans are generally nice people, I found Chinese people, in general, tend to have a higher level of kindness,” he said.

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“A few times I was lost, but somebody was there – even despite a terrible language communication problem – at least trying to help me get the right direction.”

The former Floridian said he spent half a year preparing documents for his green card application, including proof of criminal background checks both in the US and in China.

“The hardest part of preparing materials is to get documents from outside China since I was here,” he said. He used two US-based agencies to help him produce the criminal background document from America.

He discovered a quirk in US law while preparing the application, he said.

“The same company that can get the criminal background check processed by the FBI is not allowed to take that check and get it processed by the State Department and the Chinese embassy in Washington,” he said.

With the green card now in hand, Brent W said he was set to apply for Chinese citizenship next year. He also plans with his wife to continue sponsoring poor Chinese children and travelling across China.

His path is a contrast to the many Chinese citizens heading in the opposite direction – often marrying Americans and then immigrating to the US.

“My daughter went to an exchange programme at a high school in the US last year,” Brent W said.

“When we asked her if she wanted to study at an American university, she said no. She said she hated American food.”