A tiny U.S. territory in the western Pacific has become known as the latest hot spot for birth tourism, where women can give birth to babies who are born as U.S. citizens regardless of their mother’s country of origin.
The trend in the Northern Marianas, an island chain that includes Saipan, is particularly popular among Chinese women who are permitted to visit there without a visa. A 2009 change in U.S. immigration policy allowed Chinese and Russian tourists visa-free entry for up to 45 days.
“It’s just like if God opened a window for you,” said a Chinese father who came to Saipan several years ago to ensure that his child would be born a U.S. citizen.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the visa waiver was awarded to the Northern Marianas in support of their economy, which is reliant on tourism.
Tourism accounts for 72 percent of the economy in Saipan. Since 2009, the number of Chinese visitors to the island has risen substantially and now represents 36 percent of tourists.
The Northern Marianas government reported that the number of American babies born to Chinese women who entered Saipan as tourists followed suit — rising from eight in 2009 to 472 in 2016. A milestone was reached last year when, for the first time, more Chinese tourists gave birth in Saipan than did American women.
“As long as you have birthright citizenship, it’s true this is something that can be exploited,” said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “This is the first I’ve heard of Saipan,” she said. “That’s actually quite clever.”
Jaime Ruiz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that birth tourism is not illegal, provided that the visitor is capable of paying for required medical procedures and does not overstay their visit.
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