2015 Press Releases

National Declassification Center Opens Records of Shanghai Diaspora Communities
Press Release · Thursday, November 20, 2014

Washington, DC

Shanghai Visa investigation records from 1946-1951 open to the public for the first time

The National Archives National Declassification Center (NDC) has opened to the public Visa Investigation Records of the Shanghai Diaspora Communities, 1946-1951. For the first time, researchers can explore visa files of the American Consulate General in Shanghai, China and view case files that include photos and detailed information about the individuals and families who sought refuge there.

This first digital release includes 113 of the estimated 1,300 case files, as well as an applicant name index to all the materials. NDC will continue to post online digital copies of case files as they become available. NDC staff have also provided an in-depth historical overview and web resource of links to libraries and repositories whose collections include similar records, finding aids and topic guides on Shanghai refugees.

Shanghai as a safehaven for refugees

These Visa records reflect the unique diversity of Shanghai's culturally dynamic population. The many visa applicants embody the worldwide displaced and stateless persons population migration.

Shanghai was the only city in the world that did not require a visa for entry and was thus open to Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution in Europe. From 1938 on, an estimated 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escaped to Shanghai, the only place in the world that did not require a visa to enter. Between 1939 and 1940, nearly 2,000 Polish Jews escaped to Shanghai, avoiding certain death. This collection adds to the extensive Holocaust-related records holdings at the National Archives.

The Jews were only one part of Shanghai’s multinational population. Visa applicants included Soviet, German, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Armenian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, French, Portuguese, Hungarian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, American and British. Applicants were categorized as stateless, displaced person (“DP” or “non-DP”), refugees, aliens, and foreign nationals.

About the records

After the war, from 1946 to 1951, the Visa Division of the re-opened American Consulate General in Shanghai created case files that included visa and passport applicant records and subject files. Visa Division staff interviewed applicants and reviewed information from background investigations to confirm the applicants’ identity, check the credibility of their personal history, and ensure that they met the requirements of the Immigration Act of 1924 and later, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and its 1950 revision.

Case files range in size from as a single index card or cross-reference sheet with a name only, to a large file including the visa application, required documentation and memoranda, summary reports of their personal history, photographs of the applicant(s) and family members, personal letters to the visa officers or consul, refusal letters, certificates of identity, affidavits of support, a personal biography or resume, and notes or transcripts of officer-applicant interviews. Letters reveal personal stories in the words of the applicants themselves, as well as stories told by friends, neighbors and employers who vouched for them, or by anonymous voices who tried to warn visa officers about specific applicants.

Additional records from this series provide a “bird's eye view” into internal Visa Office discussion and deliberation on visa cases. Records include correspondence between Visa officers and other American and foreign embassies, consulates and posts, as well as numerous American government and non-government organizations. The records detail issues affecting applicants, and address concerns about medical conditions and problems of fraudulent visas and unlawful stowaways. Some memoranda include informal or off-the-cuff comments by visa officers about applicants, the results of their investigation and trustworthiness.

Accessing the Series

Original documents in the collection are available to researchers at the National Archives at College Park. Reference assistance is available at the Research Room from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except legal holidays.

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