Wednesday, 27 April 2011

President Obama I Know How You Feel

I am not Chinese.  Neither genetically nor culturally the teeniest weeniest bit.  I've been sewing a Union Jack tea-cosy today for goodness sake!  And yet my Brazilian ID card insists that I'm from the People's Republic In China.  It's for the same reason that Americans are getting their knickers in a twist about exactly where President Obama was born.  The concept that place of birth dictates nationality is shared by Brazilians too.  For me, who happened to be born in Hong Kong (which at the time was a British Territory) it's a totally bizarre concept.

For Brits, it's all about where your parents and your grandparents were born.  With my father and paternal grandfather born outside of the UK (but still in British colonies), I get citizenship by the skin of my teeth.  My own children got Brazilian passports automatically (since they were born here) and their British ones by descent, mostly due to the fact that my  "Brazilian" husband was born to a British mum, in London.  If my kids in turn have their children outside of the UK,  I believe that my grand children might not get British passports, at least not down our 'line', since British citizenship by descent only stretches to one generation born abroad.

It makes me wonder what would happen to a baby if it were born in another country that does not grant automatic citizenship based on birth (Germany for instance) to British parents who, due to a random set of birth circumstances, can't pass on British nationality.  Anyone know? 

Turns out that understanding citizenship and nationality is so complex that speaking Chinese might have helped after all...


  1. Dear Tasha,

    What I can you as a general rule, European countries use a law based on a concept called "Jus sanguinis" from the latin "justice from blood" sort of speak, here is a wikipedia link explaining "jus sanguinis" in details :
    The United States, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Australia and other "new world" countries, follow the principal of "Jus Soli" which in latin means "Justice by soil".

    Here is a link for definitions on "Jus soli" :

    Long story short, European countries will give you citizenship based on your "RACE", blood line, last name, where your family originated. So, the Turks living in Germany, even if their grandparents were born in Germany are still NOT considered Germans, they will always be Turkish.
    On the other hand, Brazilians and Americans born outside of Brazil or the US will never be considered Brazilian or American, regardless of how many generation of their decendants were born in the US or Brazil.
    Because the US and Brazil follow the "land" where you were born.
    That is why for Brazilians you will always be Chinese, no matter what, once you were born in the "land" where China is located.
    On the other hand, a "Chinese" baby born in Sao Paulo or Los Angeles will always be considered a Brazilian or an American.
    The laws are slowing changing in many countries, so what I said is not written in stone, but it's a general reference to help you understand how you or your kids might be perceived in Brazil or Europe.
    I hope the information helped you.


  2. @Gil and RayThanks, very interesting comment!

  3. Ray, great explanation. I think what Natasha was asking is what happens to an American born in German soil. He is not German (jus sanguinis). And he is not American (jus soli). What is he then?

  4. Bussab, if the American was born to American parents, they will be American. My children are automatic Americans because I am. Their children, however, have no right to American citizenship until they are born on American soil or their Mother is American.

  5. Well, my children were born in Holland and I still do not have a clue whether they could have Brazilian citizenship (in case they wish to work for the Brazilian government or attend a public universtiy in Brazil). Anyway, I know for sure that Dutch couples having kids abroad do not get automatically the Dutch citizenship for their babies. Holland is exceptional on that.

  6. Rachel,

    I think your kids don't get automatic citizenship. You have to register them at the American Embassy when they are born. You will most likely have to apply for them if they ever move to the US.


  7. Bussab,

    It depends, if the American kids are born inside an American Military Base in Germany, they are automatic American citizens, no need to pay fees and go thru the naturalization process, their birth certificate will give them American citizenship status, John McCain for example was born in a Military base in Panama, he is automatic an American, even with rights to run for the presidency.
    If the American Kid is born on German soil, like Rachel's kids were born in Brazil, they have to be registered with the American Embassy in Germany and start the naturalization process, pay the fees and become citizens, they automatically have the right to citizenship, but they still have to initiate the process and follow up with the bureocratic steps.
    I have an American friend in Recife who had 3 children born in Brazil, she registered all 3 at the American Consulate in Recife and when they moved back to Texas they had to file and apply for citizenship for all 3.


  8. Anika,

    The sooner you register your children with the Brazilian Embassy the easier it will be to get them Brazilian citizenship.
    These rights have a time limit, if you loose the registration period, they might loose their rights to Brazilian citizenship.
    It's the same in many European countries, in Spain for example, you have to register your Spanish children born abroad until they complete 21, if you do before they complete 21, they get automatic Spanish citizenship, if you don't, they have to live in Spain for 1 year to recuperate the right for a Spanish passport.



  9. Ray, I do have to register them and prove that I lived in the US directly for 5 years before the age of 18 yrs old. But basically, with a little paperwork on Mom, they are given citizenship without too much question.

    I don't have to apply for anything anymore. They have American birth certificates, passports, and social security cards. Hell, there's probably an American credit card company trying to send a credit card to them

  10. Ha! You are right! I am sure there credit card companies with their names written all over it by now.
    I think my New Yorker friend from Recife must have done something different than you then...
    Good to know!
    Less paperwork sounds great!

  11. Thanks for the post an comments. My husband and I (both American Citizens) will be moving to Brazil soon and will have our first child there. I know they will have American Citizenship ala Rachel's last post. I've also been wondering about Brazilian citizenship. So it sounds like, being born in Brazil will give them citizenship, at least according to Brazil. Is that right?

  12. Nice site. First time commenter here. I just have to weigh in on this topic, although it's quite a bit late to the party.

    The comparison you make to President Obama's "birther" controversies doesn't quite fit, because Hawai'i is very much a state of the United States. It would be more like if you were born in Wales and having ignorant racist people in Scotland, England, or Northern Ireland doubting your belonging to the UK. It's ridiculous, really.