Birth tourism is the practice of traveling to another country for the purpose of giving birth in that country. The main reason for birth tourism is to obtain citizenship for the child in a country with birthright citizenship (jus soli). Such a child is sometimes called an “anchor baby” if their citizenship is intended to help their parents obtain permanent residency in the country. Other reasons for birth tourism include access to public schooling, healthcare, sponsorship for the parents in the future, or circumvention of China’s two-child policy that, in 2015, replaced Beijing’s more draconian one-child per-couple policy. Popular destinations for birth tourism include the United States and Canada.
According to The Washington Times, some pregnant foreign women pay as much as $100,000 to be ferried into the U.S. on a visitor’s visa, arriving just in time to give birth on American soil and instantly make their baby a U.S. citizen.
President Trump is putting an end to birth tourism.
Yesterday, Jan. 23, 2020, the Trump administration announced a policy that takes effect today, under which State Department consular officials will now be able to refuse to grant short-term tourism or business visas to women they believe are attempting to travel solely for the purpose of birth tourism.
The Trump administration called birth tourism “a threat to the security of the United States” because the very integrity of U.S. citizenship is at stake if people are able to trick their way into obtaining legal status and its benefits for their newborns. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “The birth tourism industry threatens to overburden valuable hospital resources and is rife with criminal activity. Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice.”
Carl C. Risch, assistant secretary at the State Department, said:
- The rules need to take effect immediately, without public hearings or comment, because of the national security implications: “Permitting short-term visitors with no demonstrable ties to the United States to obtain visas to travel to the United States primarily to obtain U.S. citizenship for a child creates a potential long-term vulnerability for national security. Foreign governments or entities, including entities of concern to the United States, may seek to benefit from birth tourism for purposes that would threaten the security of the United States.”
- Under current law, there is nothing specifically illegal in asking for a visa to come to the U.S. to give birth. In fact, U.S. embassies and consulates report a growing number of people who list giving birth as their stated reason for asking for a visa.
- Only women believed to be traveling specifically to give birth on tourist visas will be denied. Women seeking visas for other purposes but who are still likely to give birth will continue to be eligible for approval; women coming to the U.S. for specialized medical care for their pregnancies will be able to argue the merits of their cases.
A Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report last month calculated that about 33,000 women on short-term business or tourism passes, known as B visas, give birth in the U.S. each year. Another 39,000 foreign women on other visas, such as student or work visas, also give birth in the U.S. They would not be subject to the new rule. Neither would the hundreds of thousands of births to illegal immigrant women.
Jessica Vaughan, a former State Department officer and now policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the new rule is a first step in fixing a big problem, but border officers should be empowered along with State Department employees. Under the U.S. system, the State Department approved the visas, but it’s Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection officers who have final say on admitting people at ports of entry.
Predictably, immigrant rights activists complain that the new rule may lead to overreach by officers who will strain to figure out who should be barred. Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at the Immigration Hub, said: “It is absurd that the Trump administration is turning embassy employees into reproductive policemen. Women will have to conceal their pregnancies just to get a tourist visa to visit the United States.”
Of course, the most permanent solution to birth tourism is to change the U.S.’s “birthright citizenship” policy where almost anyone born on American soil is automatically deemed a citizen. President Trump has talked about attempting to change the policy through executive action but has not followed through. Legal analysts doubt he has the power to change it. There’s a larger debate over whether Congress could change it or whether it would require amending the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
China is a major source of birthright tourism.
Last year, 19 people were accused of running birth tourism operations in Southern California, aimed at wealthy Chinese women who paid up to $100,000 each and were coached on how to get visas and how to conceal their pregnancies from consular officials and border officers. After they entered the U.S., the women were kept in apartments for the final months of their pregnancies so they could deliver on U.S. soil and trigger the automatic citizenship policy.
Last September, one of the 19 pleaded guilty. Her operation, You Win USA Vacation Services Corp., was responsible for 500 birth tourists, and she collected $3 million in fees over two years. But the women who gave birth were not sanctioned because coming to the U.S. to give birth was not against the law. Nor can the citizenship of their born-in-the-USA children be revoked.
In addition to China, Russia is another major source of birth tourism. Ironically, according to news outlets, President Trump’s hotel properties are frequent destinations for Russian birth tourists.