Hi, everyone. Thanks for all of the feedback. I've included my responses (and more questions) below.
Quote: Is your spouse a US citizen or green card holder? If she is green card, if she intends on naturaizing and becoming a US citizen, the tine away from the states will affect when she can naturalize.
No, she's a permanent resident. We haven't been in a rush to look into citizenship, but may consider it sooner rather than later for reasons listed below. If we decide that she'll leave the US (for 10 months) as a permanent resident, does she need any special paperwork?
An i-131 Advance Parole document would help establish her intent to return to the U.S. Stays of longer than six months may be questioned on her return.
Ask your PSB what they can do for you. A new visa from them would be cheaper than the trips.
Great idea. Can you please clarify what you mean by "your PSB"? Will any PSB suffice, or must we return to the PSB in Harbin, where her hukou is from? We don't plan on returning to Harbin and would like to avoid any unnecessary trips. The bureaucracy to get my kids exit documents was a nightmare. (Long story short: one lady in charge, corrupt, wouldn't entertain processing any paperwork without a bribe. This was back in 2014.)
You will need to register where you are staying. Ask at the PSB Entry and Exit Bureau, but I expect that the one where you are staying will be able to help.
A Q2 "family reunion" visa, purchased from the consulate in the U.S., would allow up to a 180 day stay (extendable at the PSB), and be good for up to 10 years.
These are purchased at the US consulate in the PRC?
No, they are purchased at the Chinese consulate in the U.S.
Does it matter what visa one enters in?
For example, can I enter on a research visa and then get one of these?
Check with whoever is coordinating your program in the U.S., but I expect you will need the research visa. The Q2 may be more useful for your children, but you MIGHT be able to purchase one in addition to your research visa.
If your children were born in China, or were born outside of China and your wife did not have foreign permanent residence at the time the children were born, then they are Chinese citizens according to Chinese law, and you should apply for Chinese Travel Documents for them, not Chinese visas.
This is what I'm afraid of. Both were born in China before my wife was a permanent resident. Questions:
1. Is there *anyway* I can get them in and out as Americans with their US passport? I do NOT want to have to go through the hassle of returning to Harbin to get them exit documents again.
Again, we have NOT heard of ANY American citizen being required to purchase a travel document to enter China - DO NOT ask for travel documents. Ask for visas. Purchasing a travel document could keep that can of worms open with the Chinese authorities. The Chinese consulate in the U.S. will tell you which they are eligible for.
2. If they *must* be treated as Chinese citizens, what are my options? Can I deal with a PSB in Beijing, where this type of situation is more common? Friends dealing with this situation in Beijing have been successful with the very straightforward bureaucracy there.
The worst case is that you will need to renounce their Chinese citizenship. This can take several months to a year.
3. If my wife becomes a US citizen before we leave, does that disqualify the children as Chinese citizens? Both of my boys have US passports, etc.
No. See # 2 above. But once they have ENTERED China using their American passports, you will know that they are out of that loop.
Lastly, communication in Mandarin isn't a problem. I lived in Harbin for eight years and am doing a PhD in modern Chinese history. The problem is the bureaucracy and corruption we faced when leaving the country in 2014. Had it not been for extensive guanxi and bribes, I'm afraid I may not have gotten them out of the country.
Thanks again for all your help. As I've done for my wife's immigration paperwork, I'll keep copious notes on this process and create a "guide" once finished to post here for posterity.