What’s your passport? What country is it from? Do you carry one or two passports?
On my resume, I often write something confusing: born in Hong Kong, US citizen by birth. Few people can understand that. It’s something like this: my maternal grandparents migrated to Seattle, from Shantou, China in 1905 or thereabouts, and my mother was born in Seattle, USA, and therefore American by birth on US soil. That part is pretty straightforward. However, you might, or might not, have heard that children born of US citizens, born anywhere in the world, are US citizens by birth, at birth. So, therefore I was indeed registered at birth as a US citizen, even though I was born in Hong Kong, which at that time was a British colony. My passport therefore could be a US passport, just like my mother’s.
In the past, by being born outside the USA, however, even if I had US citizenship and carried a US passport, I was not considered exactly equal to those born on US soil. For example, the official thinking was that being born overseas, I could not run for the US presidency! Only “natural born US citizens” could run for the position, and it was understood that meant the person had to be physically born in the USA. But, the laws were “re-interpreted” later that, believe it or not, “natural born” US citizens included those born of US citizens, even outside USA, and not just USA born, so I could run for the job (in theory)! And be a full “American.” Are you confused enough?
When I was 15 years old, my family allowed me to travel on my own in Southeast Asia, and decided that I should take out a British passport. In those days, since I was born in a British colony, I could claim British citizenship, which allowed me to travel quite conveniently to many parts of the world. It sounds kind of strange for a US citizen, born in Hong Kong, to travel on a British passport, but that’s the way life goes. The Brits were still doing well globally, so the passport was really quite well received everywhere.
However, at some point in my life I had to declare my “allegiance” to a country. There were some provisions for “dual citizenship” which included some restrictions such as serving in the army of one or the other country. So, some people could carry two passports, and in theory, I could. Before the age of 18 (or was it 21, the rules kept changing), I was supposed to go back to the USA to claim my citizenship officially and definitively. By that time however I had a girlfriend (who became my wife, see uncle Reggie stories: Making an Impression) and the decision between a committed girlfriend and bureaucratic US citizenship/ passport was not a difficult one!
In 1965, my committed girl friend and I decided to marry in June of the following year, 1966. Shortly after the ceremony, we planned to “move back” to the USA. But then the complexity of the situation came on us. My wife-to-be had a Thai passport, and I had a British one, and my US citizenship had lapsed. So what was the right category that I should be in when applying to the US consulate?
Since I exceeded my stay outside the USA, I learned that the best way was to start afresh and apply as an immigrant, carrying a British passport, and sponsored by my US citizen mother, as her dependent. But immigration quotas are funny things. Even though I was technically a British citizen, each area of the world had a separate quota, and my quota was not the United Kingdom, but Hong Kong.
Plus, the quota for Hong Kong was very small compared with the huge population waiting to immigrate. We were likely going to be mixed in with a very long waiting list. In fact, in those days, Hong Kong was not so much a political entity but a staging ground for masses of people waiting to immigrate somewhere else. In the meantime, I had been accepted by the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago for my pediatric internship, and was due to arrive before July 1, 1966, so I was getting worried.
另外，香港的配额对于大量等候的移民而言简直微不足道，我们会被淹没在长长的等候队伍里。其实在那个时候香港对于很多等候移民的人不是一个政治存在，而是一个移民他国的跳板。同时我被芝加哥的Michael Reese 医院录用为儿科实习生，1966年7月1日前就得到位，我因此变得焦躁了。
In a stroke of genius from above, while I was an intern at the Queen Mary hospital in Hong Kong, six months before the expected travel date, the patient I was looking after “happened to be” the consul from the American Embassy in Hong Kong. As we were chatting, I mentioned my travel and immigration uncertainty. He instantly came up with a brilliant idea.
The immigration quota from Thailand was actually large compared with the number of potential immigrants. He advised me to do the following: the day after our wedding in June, which was just five days before our departure date, we should carry the marriage certificate to see him. He would then switch me from the Hong Kong immigration quota to my new wife’s Thai quota, while my wife would be attached to my immigration status as son of an American citizen. Complicated, no? It was bureaucratically complicated, but simple in execution and it worked beautifully. We got our official papers during our short 5-day honeymoon period in Hong Kong, just barely, before we left. Bureaucrats can be non-bureaucratic.
As many know, after five years on an immigrant visa, technically labeled as a permanent resident, one can go on to full citizenship after a citizenship examination. I passed the examination easily, since my mother had made sure I was fully indoctrinated in Americana from childhood. I was facing the immigration officer to swear the Oath of Allegiance, when the officer, who was only an interim officer, looked carefully at my folder. He exclaimed “you are already a US citizen, so you don’t need to go through this!” So I explained to him about my delay in returning to the USA.
But, he said “Aha, the rules have changed; the new rule is that you could delay your return until age 29 (I can’t remember exactly, and the rules have changed often). Since you came over at age 25, we cannot go through this change from immigrant to citizen, because you are already a citizen! So please give me back our immigration card.”
At this point, I was not impressed. I exclaimed, “No way! I’m keeping my immigration card; otherwise I do not have a status; let’s fix my status before I return this card to you. Especially since I am going to the USSR on a British passport in a few months, and I certainly don’t want to travel with uncertain citizenship!” To which he kindly agreed.
But I had to redo the entire citizenship process. Since now I had to prove my birth citizenship all over again, and include much more information about my childhood, schooling, and various residences, which took another six months, before I “reclaimed” my full citizenship, and my clearly USA passport.
National passports are pretty complex matters and governments pass all kinds of laws about them. My passport to heaven is actually much simpler compared to all of this bureaucracy. As Christ used to say, “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and it will be opened to you.” And it doesn’t matter where I was born, where I grew up, and when I moved where. Also, I don’t really need to carry it around, or keep it in a safety box, and I can’t lose it. What’s your passport is a good question, and it’s good to know the answer.