SEATTLE – The United States grants citizenship to any person born in its territory, a constitutional provision that in recent years has promoted the creation and expansion of a new business: maternity tourism.
With a neatly organized network of agencies and hotels, maternity tourism targets pregnant women, most of them Chinese, who want to give birth in the United States so their child will be a natural-born U.S. citizen.
“Many benefits come from being a U.S. citizen,” the Shanghai-based Star Baby Care firm, which specializes in maternity tourism in Southern California, advertises on its Web site.
“You will have free access to an elementary and high school education, and you will be entitled to apply for scholarships and student loans to attend colleges that are exclusive for U.S. citizens,” the company says.
The company highlights additional advantages of U.S. citizenship, like being able to travel without a visa to all countries that have bilateral visa waiver agreements with the United States, access to medical benefits provided to retirees and the fact that once the child becomes an adult, he or she will be able to apply for permanent residence for the parents under family reunification provisions.
Tens of agencies like Star Baby Care, both in the United States, as well as in China and other countries, offer “full packages” to would-be mothers that include advice for obtaining visas, trips to the United States, lodging in luxurious homes or hotels, and care for the newborn and the mother.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit organization focusing on migration issues, estimates that roughly 40,000 people travel to the United States each year with the sole purpose of having a baby born in the country.
Most “maternity tourists” are from China, South Korea, Taiwan, Nigeria and Turkey.
Although decried by some in the United States, maternity tourism is not illegal and law enforcement actions aimed at it do not focus on the trip to the United States but on possible tax and migration fraud by agencies and their clients.
California and New York are the two main destinations for maternity tourists, although several agencies advise clients not to fly directly from their country to major airports, such as Los Angeles, since immigration officials there are more alert about this business.
Agencies recommend clients instead fly to secondary airports in Hawaii or Las Vegas.