Writing for Rolling Stone, in this long read Benjamin Carlson describes the birth tourism odyssey of one Beijing couple, Peter and Ellie Yang.
In a sense, the couple are foreigners in Beijing. Born outside the capital, they lack local IDs and are concerned that their future child would have difficulty enrolling in the city’s public schools. So giving birth abroad didn’t seem like such a leap. The couple decided to stay in Rowland Heights on the outskirts of Los Angeles. They chose to rent an apartment at a complex, Pheasant Ridge Luxury Apartment Homes, which was the precise target of an investigation into birth tourism agents by the IRS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I won’t give away the plot line.
The reporter cites my disappointment with the government’s scattershot effort to deter birth tourism. My concern is that the State Department’s website, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Beijing’s website, fail to warn expectant mothers that if they seek a B1/B2 visitor’s visa to give birth in the U.S. they should follow the rules regarding visitors for medical treatment and avoid misrepresentation. Such warnings would benefit expectant parents. Many have fallen victims to birth tourism agents whose business model is to coach expectant mothers to lie about the purpose of their trip to the U.S. consular officer when applying for a B1/B2 visitor’s visa, then again to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector at the airport. This violates U.S. criminal and immigration laws.
A visa applicant is required by law to reply truthfully to a consular or CBP officer’s questions regarding the purpose of their trip. 8 C.F.R. 214.1(f); 22 C.F.R. 41.103(b)(2). Misrepresentation, if discovered, makes a person permanently ineligible for future visas (except in narrow circumstances). See INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i) (making permanently inadmissible to the U.S. “any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure … a visa … or admission into the United States”). Misrepresentation by a birth tourist may also constitute federal crimes such as perjury, immigration fraud, and making a false statement to the U.S. Government.
The parents are often devastated when they learn they are permanently barred from the U.S. due to misrepresentations. They may own houses or businesses in the U.S. that they will never see again. And, if their children are already studying in the U.S. and there’s a medical emergency, the parents are unable to go to the U.S. to be by their side.
You can judge for yourself the propriety of Peter and Ellie Yang’s actions. But I find it difficult to understand the State Department’s failure to publicly warn expectant parents away from birth tourism agents’ illegal schemes.
To learn more about why some Chinese couples seek to give birth in the U.S., the birth tourism industry’s growth, how Chinese birth tourism agencies train couples to misrepresent the purpose of their U.S. travel, what steps the U.S. government should take to warn the public and step up enforcement, and our law firm’s advice for couples, see here.