Birth Tourism, Belts, and Braces

By David North on January 22, 2020

A news story about the likelihood of a crackdown on birth tourism by the current administration got me thinking about birth tourism as a challenge, in and of itself, and how its management is complicated by the number of migration screenings experienced by a pregnant alien woman.

Birth tourism, as my colleagues and I have argued over the years, is a problem because it not only allows instant citizenship for the infant involved, it grants immigration benefits to that child's parents 21 years later — all without any governmental control, and all beyond the numerical ceilings that control most legal immigration. CIS has estimated that there are about 33,000 such births a year.

The news story reports that the State Department has announced that it is contemplating issuing a new regulation that a tourist visa should not be used in connection with birth tourism, and that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may being doing the same.

Were both State and CBP to come up with such policies, how would they be enforced? This leads to my comments about the varying number of screenings that a pregnant alien could experience on her way to becoming a birth tourism mother. The more processes, the more likely the pregnancy would be noticed.

The number of barriers that an expecting mother faces would vary, to some extent, by the likelihood of her giving birth in the United States. Women arriving from China, Russia, and Nigeria, often mentioned in this connection, would have a harder time bringing this off than, say, a Canadian, but it's unlikely that a Canadian would be interested in birthright citizenship for her expected child. (Aliens from the first three countries need visas to enter the United States; Canadians do not.)

In some cases, to use a British metaphor, there would be a single barrier (or belt) to birth citizenship, and in others there could be as many as one belt and two pairs of braces; here are the variations:

  • One belt: The mother in question is from a visa-waiver country, so she would not need a visa, she simply has to get past the immigration officer at the U.S. airport where her plane lands.
  • One belt: The mother is Canadian and needs to be admitted at a port of entry; she might be a passenger in a car, at night, with her body shape hidden in clothing.
  • One belt plus one set of braces: The mother's nation of origin is such, say Peru, that she needs a visa to come to the United States, so she is screened once at the embassy and again at the airport.
  • One belt plus two sets of braces: That visa-bearing Peruvian woman is in China when she finds out she is pregnant; she chooses to fly to Guam to see her sister, is inspected there, and inspected again in Hawaii on her way to California, another birth tourism hot spot.

The reader will note that the proposed control of birthright citizenship is confined to people with tourist visas. Other longer-term visas are not involved. Some tourist visas are issued for multiple years, and the visa-issuance process regarding birth tourists would not be effective in those cases.

My musing about the number of barriers erected by policymakers is not just a matter of immigration trivia because one of the prime centers of birth tourism is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, just north of Guam. Chinese nationals, while needing a visa to come to the Mainland or Hawaii do not need one to go to CNMI; so there is only the CBP officer at the Saipan airport between them and birth tourism.

Birth Tourism Is Not for Everyone. The baby's parents have to be financially strong enough to pay the bills, young enough to be parents, and farsighted enough to go through this whole maneuver; though my colleagues may disagree, this is not a bad combination.

Birth tourism, like the movement of immigrant investors in the EB-5 program, attracts well-to-do migrants, as family migration, generally, does not. And both birth tourism and EB-5 are apparently very attractive to well-to-do, but nervous, people from China.

EB-5 is limited to 10,000 visas a year, but there are no limits to birth tourism.