A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The End of Birth Tourism in the United States

Anyone that is born in the United States is an American citizen, regardless of the parent's immigration status. This so-called birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Unfortunately, some foreigners abuse this law by using it as an easy way for their child to attain citizenship. This practice is called birth tourism. Birth tourism is when a mother enters the country on a visitor tourist visa for the primary purpose of securing American citizenship for her child. The child automatically gains many rights and privileges as a citizen.  Some foreigners also overstay and some neglect to pay their hospital bills.

Last week, the Department of State published a rule on B visitor visas that addresses the above issue. This rule has been in effect since January 24, 2020.

Changes were made regarding the B visa, which is a visa for temporary visitors for business or pleasure. 'Pleasure' is now defined specifically to exclude those entering the country primarily to secure citizenship for their child through birth.

It is important to note that pregnant women who genuinely need to enter the country for specialized medical treatment are not part of this exclusion. These B visa applicants must be able to provide the following:
(1) A legitimate reason to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment.
(2) Proof that a doctor or hospital in the country agreed to provide treatment.
(3) The projected duration and cost of treatment and expenses.
(4) Ability to pay for the medical cost and expenses, either with pre-arranged assistance or by herself. 

Birth tourism has even spawned an industry catering to rich foreign mothers wanting to give birth in the United States. Companies offer "maternity hotels" to those paying upwards of $50,000 for services to give birth in America. They even coach their clients on how to answer questions from consular officers. 

Arrests have been made over this fraudulent practice. Last year, three people that ran companies providing these services in California were arrested. They faced criminal charges -- a first for birth tourism. The charges were for immigration fraud, money laundering, and identity theft. Custom Enforcement investigators say there are around 300 other people running birth tourism businesses in Los Angeles. Most of their clients are Chinese nationals.

Consular officers can question or deny a B visa if the applicant is unable to prove the above requirements. These stricter standards could make it more difficult for pregnant women wanting to enter the U.S. for reasons other than birth tourism. For some, this could mean losing access to specialized medical care in America. It is recommended that any B visa applicants affected by these new requirements consult an experienced U.S. immigration attorney.

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