Undercover Investigation into Shady Chinese AgenciesPromoting U.S. Birth Tourism

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A new undercover investigation by Yicai.com takes a look at shady Chinese agencies thatpromote travel to America for purposes of giving birth to a US citizen baby. I’ve included an English translation of the September 5, 2012, article below.

According to the article, these agencies help expecting mothers get US visitors’ visas onfalse pretenses while hiding their pregnancy. The industry also operates unlicensed“postpartum care centers” in the US, where mothers are crowded into homes inresidential neighborhoods for 4 months to give birth and then recover. Several centershave been shut down based on complaints of zoning violations and operating without alicense. The mothers pay out of pocket for medical care or are coached by the centers onhow to lie about their immigration status (and finances) to qualify for Medicaid.

One of the things which may come as a surprise to Americans who use the pejorativeterm “anchor baby” is that these usually middle class or wealthy Chinese parents aren’ttrying to use their child to immigrate to the US. As the article mentions, China doesn’trecognize dual citizenship. Nevertheless, the parents usually return to China, where theygo to great lengths to hide the child’s US citizenship. If the child’s US citizenship isknown, the child doesn’t qualify for government medical insurance and can’t attend localschools at the same tuition as Chinese citizens.

Why then give birth in the US? The article mentions that the parent are often motivatedby wanting their children to have U.S. citizenship so they can be educated abroad. It’salso not uncommon for parents to want a child to have a foreign passport just for protection in case China isn’t stable in the future. And maybe some parents see a foreignchild as a status symbol.

As a US immigration lawyer, I’m disappointed that the article doesn’t emphasize theillegal nature of the agenciy schemes to mislead the U.S. Embassy and Consulates inChina. They coach the expectant mothers to lie in their visa applications about thepurpose of their trip to the US, then lie again when speaking with the US Customs andBorder Protection inspector at the airport. Misrepresentation is a permanent ground ofinadmissibility (except in narrow circumstances), and I’ve had multiple parents in myoffice who’ve been caught after lying. The result is that their child is a US citizen but theparents are permanently barred from going to the US.

Another question the article doesn’t address is, if the expectant mother tells the truth thatshe is going to the US to deliver a baby, can she be issued a visa? The key requirementsto qualify for a visitor’s (B1/B2) visa to travel to the US for medical treatment are thatthe applicant must have a clear medical diagnosis, a detailed treatment plan at a USmedical facility, and the financial resources to pay for the costs estimated by that facilityfor the treatment. The applicant must also prove to the consular officer’s satisfaction thatshe intends to return to a permanent home abroad after a temporary stay in the US.Some Chinese expectant mothers can meet these requirements. Consistent with that, anofficial at the US Embassy in Beijing told the Washington Post, “You don’t deny someonebecause you know they’re going to the U.S. to have children.” US Customs and BorderProtection (CBP), the agency that posts officers at the airports, used to state on their incongruously states on its website that “[c]oming to the US for the purpose of childbirthis not a valid reason for travel.” More recently, however, they’ve updated the website toaccurately reflect the key legal requirements mentioned above.

Inbound international medical tourism is a billion dollar per year industry according tothe US Commerce Department. Patients are drawn by the high standard of care atpremier American hospitals like Cleveland Clinic, Harvard, UCLA Medical Center, JohnsHopkins, and Mayo Clinic. The hospitals find this business to be disproportionately profitable. As a lawyer practicing in this area, I see the US government’s role asimplementing a policy for internaitonal patients, including expectant mothers, thatserves national and humanitarian interests.

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