Expectant mothers from China, Russia, and other nations often come to the United States to give birth and thereby gain U.S. citizenship for their children even though it is against the law, according to a new Senate report.
“This report exposes an industry abusing U.S. birthright citizenship by helping foreign nationals buy U.S. citizenship for their children,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs (SCHSGA).
“Birth tourism short circuits and demeans the U.S. naturalization process by monetizing the privilege of U.S. citizenship sometimes even at American taxpayers’ expense,” Portman said in a statement accompanying the public release of the report that was prepared by Republican staff investigators on the SCHSGA.
“Birthright citizenship” is embodied in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and guarantees U.S. citizenship to all individuals born within the geographic limits of the country, regardless of where their parents were born.
“Birth tourism refers to expecting mothers traveling to the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children. These tourists often cite the superior educational and professional opportunities available in the United States as their justification for making such a trip.
“Obtaining U.S. citizenship for their children is a hedged bet—a rainy day fund for a better life,” the report said.
“The benefits of U.S. citizenship require little explanation and should be cherished by all who are presented with such a unique privilege. Birth tourists surely understand the benefits, but fail to comprehend the privilege of U.S. citizenship.
“Birth tourism is problematic because it short circuits and demeans the U.S. naturalization process. U.S. citizenship is not a backup plan,” the report continued.
A big obstacle to the committee’s efforts to measure the full scope of the birth tourism problem is the fact the State Department does not specifically tabulate how many such individuals are allowed entry to the United States in any given year, according to a senior congressional aide who asked not to be named.
The report did note that the State Department acknowledged that “thousands of children are born to B-visa visitors on an annual basis. This estimate is based on reports from U.S. embassies and consulates which have observed an increasing number of B-visa applicants listing childbirth as their primary purpose for travel to the United States.”
The B Visa allows non-citizens to enter the United States temporarily for purposes of conducting business or tourism. The report said State Department officials also acknowledged that allowing non-citizens “to obtain visas to travel to the United States primarily to obtain U.S. citizenship for a child creates a potential long-term vulnerability for national security.”
Russian and Chinese nationals have been especially active in taking advantage of the U.S. system for birth tourism purposes. Two of the major companies in the birth tourism industry are profiled extensively, including Miami Mama of which the report observed:
“Miami Mama claimed to work with renowned Florida doctors who delivered the children of ‘American and Russian movie and sports stars and other world-famous celebrities.’
“The company helped customers select a hospital satisfying their preferences and recommended a doctor based on their pregnancy. According to the website, several doctors were also Russian speakers.”
A State Department notice in 2015 opened the floodgates for birth tourism in which the mothers pay private companies based in the United States to arrange their medical care and associated costs.
The notice claimed that such visits to the United States were legal and instructed U.S. consular officials not to deny visas for the purpose. “This meant that birth tourists no longer had to misrepresent the purpose of their visit to the United States,” according to the report.
A cottage industry quickly sprang up in the United States to assist expectant mothers seeking to give birth in America. But the State Department revised its notice in 2020 after the SCHSGA initiated the investigation that led to the present report.
But even under the revised 2020 notice, U.S. consular officials “are instructed not to directly ‘ask a visa applicant whether they are pregnant unless [they] have a specific articulable reason to believe [the applicant] may be pregnant and planning to give birth in the United States,’” the report noted.
After reviewing data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Senate investigators identified three significant trends.
“Birth tourists often made significant cash declarations upon entry to the United States. These declarations ranged from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars.
“While most cash declarations ranged between $20,000 and $50,000, the [CBP data] for one birth tourist from 2019 reported a $301,400 cash declaration for medical expenses,” the report said.
“Birth tourists often traveled to the United States several times to secure citizenship for numerous children. It was common for those tourists to cite the educational and professional opportunities in the United States as their reason for doing so,” the report continued.
“In several instances, the committee identified tourists who received adjustments exceeding $25,000. As a result, in some cases, the state where the child was born was left to pay the outstanding difference on the total costs incurred by the birth tourist,” according to the report.
In one such case, the birth tourist paid only $4,000 of a total hospital bill of $34,000, leaving the balance to be covered by California officials.
The report offered two recommendations.
First, that the “State Department and [CBP] should strengthen their partnership to more comprehensively track birth tourism activity in the United States,” and, second, that “Congress should clarify in law that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not authorize the issuance of visas to temporary visitors for pleasure who only travel to the United States to obtain citizenship for their child.”