Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) introduced a new bill to stop foreigners from traveling to the United States with the intention of obtaining U.S. citizenship for their children, an act commonly known as “birth tourism.”
“Over the last two decades, birth tourism has grown to be a sizable industry. Each year tens of thousands of people exploit this immigration law loophole. Our nation’s citizenship is not for sale to those who pay to come here and give birth,” stated Blackburn in a July 6 press release from her office.
Chinese and Russian nationals especially engage in this behavior, with roughly 10,000 birth tourists from China in 2012, according to the press release, citing an estimate by an online platform for monitoring and rating confinement centers for Chinese women giving birth in the United States.
According to the senators, the new bill would codify a rule change put forth by the U.S. State Department back in January.
The rule change, which went into effect on Jan. 24, stated that birth tourism is not a legitimate reason for obtaining the B nonimmigrant visa, which is typically for travelers wishing to visit the United States temporarily for pleasure or recreational activities. Consular officers were instructed to deny temporary visas to aliens whom they believe are visiting the United States for such purposes.
“Citizenship is for those who love our great country and want to contribute to and preserve freedom–not those parachuting in to obtain a second citizenship so they may come back whenever they please,” Blackburn added.
In March, Steven A. Camarota, director of Research for the Washington-based institute Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) wrote that an estimated 20,000 to 26,000 birth tourists come to the United States annually.
U.S. authorities have sought to crack down on businesses that profit off birth tourism schemes. In January 2019, federal prosecutors unsealed indictments against 19 people in connection with “birth tourism” businesses in California, according to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ). Their charges included immigration fraud, money laundering, and identity theft.
One of the charged individuals was Deng Wenrui, a former Irvine resident believed to be in China, who operated a business called Star Baby Care in Los Angeles County, offering services to about 8,000 pregnant women, including about 4,000 from China, since it was established in 1999.
Some of Deng’s clients were alleged to be Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, including some associated with China’s state-run companies: broadcaster CCTV, mobile operator China Telecom, and Bank of China, according to the DOJ press release.
Li, who ran a birth tourism company called “You Win USA Vacation Services Corp.” that was active in both China and Irvine, charged each customer between $40,000 and $80,000 for her services, including coaching customers on how to make false statements on their visa applications, and providing the pregnant women with apartments to live in Irvine.
From 2013 until March 2015, Li netted $3 million in international wire transfers from China, according to the press release.
Li was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison in December 2019.
Most recently, another defendant, Chen Chao, a partner in Li’s You Win USA business scheme, was sentenced in absentia on June 30 to 37 months in federal prison. He pleaded guilty to visa fraud, marriage fraud, and filing a false tax return in June 2016. After pleading guilty, he fled to China and is now a fugitive.
Chen, whose You Win USA business was based in Orange County, admitted that he served at least 60 customers, including Chinese government employees. One of Chen’s customers was Liu Xiaoyan, who according to the DOJ, wrote on her visa application that she was a chief physician at a hospital in Shangqiu city, in eastern China’s Henan Province. Liu was indicted on charges of visa fraud and lying to federal law enforcement.