New Estimate: 72,000 Births Annually to Tourists, Foreign Students and Other Visitors

By CIS on December 11, 2019

Two new analyses by the Center for Immigration Studies estimate that there are 39,000 births a year to foreign students, guest workers and others on long-term temporary visa, plus an additional 33,000 births annually to tourists – 72,000 in total. Those born to these "non-immigrants," as the government refers to them, are awarded U.S. citizenship because they were born in United States and not because a parent was a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holders). These births are in addition to the nearly 300,000 births each year to illegal immigrants.

There May Be 33,000 Birth Tourists Annually

72,000 Births Annually to Tourists, Foreign Students and Other Visitors

Our analysis does not address the controversial question of whether the U.S. Constitution actually requires "birthright citizenship," as it is often called, to anyone born in the United States regardless of the parents' immigration status. Rather, our estimates inform that discussion by estimating the scale of births to non-immigrants, which is one part of the birthright citizenship controversy that is seldom considered.

"Our analysis makes clear that the number of children born to visitors is not trivial; and over time the numbers are substantial," said Steven Camarota, the report's lead author and the Center's Director of Research. "It seems doubtful that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment could have anticipated that tens of thousands of people each year would automatically be granted citizenship simply because their parents were on a temporary visit to the United States at the time of their birth."

Births to Long-Term Temporary Visitors

  • The government estimates that in 2016 there were 800,000 women age 18 to 44 in the country on long-term non-immigrant visas, primarily foreign students, guest workers, and exchange visitors.
  • Based on a comparable population of women in Census Bureau data, we estimate there are 49 births per thousand to these women for a total of 39,000 births annually or 390,000 each decade.
  • The birth rate for non-immigrants aged 18-44 is relatively low compared to the 77 births per-thousand for immigrant women generally. However the total number of births to temporary visitors is still large because so many foreign students, guest workers and exchange visitors have been allowed into the country.
  • We estimate that at least 90 percent of the fathers of children born to non-immigrant women were not U.S. citizens, almost all them on temporary visa themselves or illegal immigrants. This means at least 35,000 children were born to a non-immigrant mother and were awarded U.S. citizenship at birth solely because they were born on U.S. soil and not because their parents were citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders).

Birth Tourism

  • Many news stories in recent years have focused on "birth tourism," which describes the phenomenon of pregnant women coming to America shortly before their due dates so their children are born in the United States and are awarded U.S. citizenship.
  • Based on a comparison of birth records and Census Bureau data, we estimate there were 33,000 births to women on tourist visas in the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. This translates to perhaps 330,000 such births each decade.
  • While there is significant uncertainty around this number, our new estimate is very similar to our prior estimate for second half of 2011 and first half of 2012.
  • It should be emphasized that the small number of mothers who provide a foreign address on birth documents are probably not birth tourists, as those engaged in birth tourism likely list a U.S. address so they can receive birth certificates and passports before returning to their home countries. These addresses are typically a relative's or a residence arranged by those "selling" birth tourism services.