It’s not new, but ‘birth tourism’ is a growing CNMI industry
Saipan— Birth tourism is a hot issue once again after the Federal Bureau of Investigation was tipped off by a local doctor to an alleged large scale operation on the island.
Birth tourism has long been an underground industry in the CNMI, with pregnant Chinese women flocking to Saipan to give birth that automatically provides U.S. citizenship to their new-born child. Most of these women leave the CNMI after childbirth and receipt of their baby’s U.S. passport.
Early in the morning or late in the afternoon, groups of pregnant Chinese women can be seen walking along the Beach Road Pathway to exercise their legs since this is one of the prenatal activities that helps in having an easier childbirth.
It has allegedly become a lucrative business in China where travel agencies were reportedly even offering tour packages to Saipan. From the airport, pregnant Chinese women are picked up and housed in an apartment already reserved for them. During their stay on Saipan, they will be helped by caretakers who cook their meals, clean their rooms and wash their clothes. These caretakers, usually employed by the party who picks up them up at the airport, are reportedly paid $1,000 a month.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, just being on the verge of giving birth is not a basis for denying entry to any state or territory since no U.S. immigration laws or regulations bar this. Chinese tourists enjoy a visa waiver under U.S. immigration but are allowed to stay in any U.S. state or territory for only 45 days.
“Coming to the U.S. in order to give birth does not, in and of itself, render an individual inadmissible,” said U.S. CBP San Francisco Field Office program manager and public affairs liaison Frank Falcon. “There is no inadmissibility ground within the U.S. immigration law that prohibits the birth of a child in the U.S.”
Falcon added that CBP officers determine the admissibility of a traveler or any individual who are applying as a temporary visitor based on their inspections but must first overcome all grounds of inadmissibility. Foreign nationals can also get medical care and other treatment, provided that they can pay their own bills.
“As with any traveler, CBP will examine whether or not the traveler is admissible. The intent to enter the U.S. must be consistent with the visa/entry documents presented for entry. Including the requirement that the traveler not [to] abandon foreign residence, has no intent to return, will be able to maintain status while in the U.S. and be able to provide for all attendant costs while in the U.S. (including medical and personal costs) and for return.”
Airlines also have a policy of not allowing heavily pregnant women or those who are due to give birth to travel due to safety issues. Women who are 32 weeks pregnant are allowed by air carriers to board while asking for medical certificates from those who are 35 weeks into their pregnancy.
Last year’s statistics
Last year’s numbers alone, from the Commonwealth Health Center, show an increasing trend of tourists giving birth in the CNMI growing from only 314 in 2014 to 383 in 2016. Back in 2009, there were only eight recorded child births from Chinese parents and that number jumped to 282 in 2012, a 3,000 percent increase. Based on current data, the numbers have spiked another 150 percent since.
Foreign parents gave birth to 715 babies from Jan. 2015 to Sept. 2016 where 692 of the total number were by Chinese women. The 2015 calendar year also had 379 childbirths by Chinese nationals. There were also 15 babies born from Korean parents, five from Filipinos, two Japanese, and one Russian during a 22-month period. All of these babies are now U.S. passport holders and their numbers could possibly increase as the 2017 calendar year is about to end next month.
The increasing numbers had the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. implementing a new policy of not processing the documents of newborn babies until all medical bills are settled by their parents. There were some incidents that women who gave birth allegedly left the CNMI without settling their medical bills after getting their child’s U.S. passport.
CHCC is following the provisions of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act—a federal law requiring patients, including women who are in labor, who are admitted to emergency care to be treated regardless of status or ability to pay the medical bills.
Last month, the FBI uncovered a large scale birth tourism network on Saipan based on an anonymous tip that led to the investigation of supposedly overstaying tourist Sen Sun’s alleged operations. Sun’s operation allegedly accepts pregnant women wanting to give birth on Saipan, housing them in an apartment in Garapan.
The Chinese women want U.S. citizenship for their children and in return expect to become a U.S. citizen themselves after their child becomes eligible to petition them at age 21. They are paying thousands of dollars to a birth tourism ring that has connections in mainland China, offering the chance of a Saipan birth.
Sun has been bringing most of his clients to the Marianas Medical Clinic near downtown Garapan for regular prenatal checkups and childbirths. He’s been allegedly operating an unlicensed business that offers package trips to pregnant Chinese women to give birth on Saipan to have their babies obtain an automatic U.S. citizenship.