Business is booming in China for companies that coach pregnant women on how to get through U.S. immigration so they can enter the United States for the sole purpose of giving birth to American citizens who also have Chinese nationality.
More than 500 agents offer birth tourism services in China and while there are no official statistics, the number of Chinese citizens heading to the USA to give birth likely is in the tens of thousands each year. The cost of a trip, including medical expenses, runs from $20,000 to $80,000.
The business is legal in China, but the tactics for entering the USA are in a grey area. The women get a visa by claiming that the purpose of their visit is tourism- which when they are visiting relatives in the huge Chinese population within the USA, is true. Where the grey legal area happens is that agencies advise them not to reveal that they are pregnant if the real purpose is to have a baby in the USA.
However distasteful some Americans and Chinese find the practice, and however many military style raids US immigration authorities make on US clinics and hospitals-prosecutions are rare and very hard to succeed- as effectively the authorities have to try and prove that the Chinese woman is not a tourist visiting relatives.
It is not illegal to travel to the USA or illegal to have a baby born there if you live in China. The only hope the authorities have is catching out women who lie about their purpose for visit- and as agencies help with the paperwork and coach customers, it is almost impossible.
California authorities have taken a new approach by raiding dozens of maternity hotels for Chinese women in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties on the assumption that the businesses are committing tax and/or immigration fraud. The tactic failed as it led to no prosecutions and has o not stopped the inflow of pregnant Chinese women.
There are legitimate reasons for Chinese citizens to travel to the United States to give birth; such as if one parent is American or a high-risk pregnancy requires medical care from a specialist. There is no law barring foreigners from travelling to the U.S. for the purpose of giving birth. The tourism visa they usually travel on, known as a B-2 visa, allows foreigners to enter the USA for medical treatment.
As long as applicants are truthful about their intentions, prove they can afford their medical care, explain why they cannot have the procedure done in their home country and assert that they will abide by the time restrictions of their visa, travel is allowed under U.S. law, according to the State Department.
With Los Angeles hospitals seeking to attract medical tourists from Chine and California businesses keen on strengthening business links with China, the heavy handed failures of the immigration authorities are upsetting heavyweight local politicians, local businesses and the large local Chinese community. With the USA already having problems on how officials deal with racial groups-there are even allegations of racial bias as the authorities are not taking the same approach to other nationalities.
Birth tourism is set to keep growing as when children born in the United States turn 21, they can sponsor their parents to become legal USA residents so the family can emigrate to America. Most who participate in birth tourism seek a better education and environment for their children, while hoping to evade China’s “one child” policy. Expectant mothers typically arrive two months before birth and stay one more for recovery. Then they return to China, where government officials no longer punish the parents for violating birth control rules because the second child is considered an American.