Birth Tourism Fraud from China: 'The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank'

By Jon Feere on June 16, 2011

A Chinese news article titled "China's 'Born in the USA' Frenzy" highlights the effort of one of its nationals engaging in birth tourism fraud in the United States. The practice is so troubling that even the Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, Marshall Fitz, recently said the following on CNN in a debate with CIS's Executive Director Mark Krikorian:

Frankly, right now if you're asked by a visa officer what your intention is to come to the United States, and your intention is, in fact, to give birth to a U.S. citizen child, and you don't say that – you say your intention is to come for some other reason – you are committing fraud. And that in of itself should be enough to prevent you from getting the visa and/or to be prosecuted for it later.

Perhaps the most relevant statute is titled "False Statement in Application and Use of Passport" (18 U.S.C. § 1542), though a number of other statutes may be applicable, depending on the situation. Passport and visa fraud are felonies and the first offense can result in a fine and/or imprisonment up to 10 years.

The Chinese news article begins with the birth tourist's fraudulent presentation:

When Liu Li boarded a plane for the United States, she had a little bit of makeup on, was wearing a loose dress, and had her hair up. She tried to hold her handbag in front of her belly in a natural way, just as the middleman had taught her. She was trying to look as calm as any wealthy Chinese lady would look when travelling abroad. But Liu Li couldn't help feeling terribly nervous: she was six months pregnant when she left for the United States, where she wanted to give birth to an American citizen.

Liu Li knew that going through customs would be a lot easier than obtaining a U.S. visa. In order to obtain the tourist visa that enabled her to go to America for the delivery, she had to carefully choose her clothes, and spend a lot of time practicing her walking and interview techniques. She memorized a host of details about her hotel booking and about famous sight-seeing spots so as to convince the Embassy officer that she was just another Chinese woman going shopping in the States.

In other words, Ms. Li was deceiving U.S. officials and engaging in fraud. According to the article, this is a practice that's becoming more and more common in China despite the efforts of some media outlets to characterize birth tourism as something only for "wealthy" families:

Giving birth to a child abroad is not a privilege reserved to the stars and the very wealthy. An increasing number of expectant middle-class parents also fancy giving their children passports that they can feel proud of.

The article notes the benefits sought by birth tourists, including the ability of the child to eventually provide long-term legal status to the parent. The newspaper interviewed an agent who arranges birth tourism, and he framed the issue quite succinctly: "The return on investment is higher than robbing a bank."

Perhaps this is why even the usually open-border Center for American Progress described birth tourism as "a deeply-objectionable practice… that we should take a closer look at and try to shut down."

CIS has explored the issue of birth tourism here, here, and here.