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What is birth tourism and is it legal?

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Birth tourism isn’t a term we hear everyday, but it is in actual fact a real thing! Want to learn all about it? Read on…

What is birth tourism?

As the name suggests, birth tourism is the action of travelling to a different destination for the purpose of giving birth. There are various reasons as to why pregnant people decide to take this course of action, which I will go into below. It is not a new phenomenon, nor is it something which people are particularly secretive about when they engage in it. It is more common in the US, Canada and Mexico as these countries famously offer birthright citizenship.

It is worth nothing that birth tourism is completely unrelated to the concept of a babymoon, which you can read about here!

What is birth tourism and is it legal?

Why does birth tourism happen?

So, why does birth tourism exist? One reason is that people may want to give birth where it’s free or at least much cheaper than their home country. They also may feel like other countries are able to provide better (and/or safer) medical care during and immediately after the birth. Childbirth is a terrifying process for many, and people want to feel as confident as possible as they bring a new life into the world.

But the main reason for birth tourism is citizenship purposes. People will travel to a different country to give birth there so that the child has birthright citizenship, also known as jus soli. There are many reasons why someone may want their child to have citizenship in a different country…

Anchor babies

An anchor baby is a child born in this country for the purpose of helping their parents obtain permanent residency in this country. Due to the baby having birthright citizenship, it should then be easier for the parents and other family members such as siblings to gain legal and permanent residency. This term is considered to be offensive by some. It often comes into play during immigration arguments, especially in the US.

Canadians use the term ‘passport baby’ in the same way.

Future life improvement

Another reason for giving birth to a child in a foreign country, therefore giving them birthright citizenship, is in order to ensure they have access to solid healthcare and a good education in the future. This is to benefit the child themselves.

Two-child policy

In the past, people have engaged in birth tourism to get around the Chinese two-child policy – and the one-child policy before it. China now actually has a three-child policy, due to falling birth rates (presumably because of the two-child policy in place). Iran, Singapore and Vietnam have also all had two-child policies in place at one time or another. Birth tourism was a way of circumventing this issue.

Right of abode

This relates specifically to Chinese citizens travelling to Hong Kong to give birth. Doing so gives the child ‘right of abode’ – also known as permanent residence – to live and work in Hong Kong in the future. They would have all the same rights as anyone else born in Hong Kong. This phenomenon has led to tensions between the people of China and the people of Hong Kong, with the latter even taking to the streets to protest the rise in birth tourism.

What is birth tourism and is it legal?

Is birth tourism illegal?

For the most part, globally, there are no actual laws against travelling to a different country to give birth there. And the reasons which people do it aren’t technically illegal either. This is not to say that it isn’t legally tricky, or frowned upon by the law…

Birth tourism scrutiny in the US

During the Trump administration in 2020, the president imposed new visa rules for pregnant women travelling to the US to give birth there. This did not stop all heavily pregnant women being able to gain visa entry into the US, because they might be travelling to visit an ‘ailing relative’ or for work purposes. 

The rule will not apply to foreign travelers coming from any of the 39 mainly European and Asian countries enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of those countries to come to the U.S. without a visa for temporary stays. The rule will only apply to applicants for so-called “B” class visas that permit short-term stays for business or pleasure, said AP News.

They went on to say: The practice of traveling to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

The State Department “does not believe that visiting the United States for the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child, by giving birth in the United States — an activity commonly referred to as ‘birth tourism’ — is a legitimate activity for pleasure or of a recreational nature,” according to the new rules.

Changing citizenship laws

Because of the rise in birth tourism, some countries have changed their citizenship laws. Instead of birthright citizenship being offered to anyone born in the country, the following nations only grant this at birth if at least one parent is a citizen themselves or a legal permanent resident who has lived there for a number of years:

Jus sanguinis 

As opposed to jus soli, the concept of jus sanguinis relates to citizenship being designated by the nationality or ethnicity of one or both parents – despite where the child is born. So for example, a couple who are British and French respectively could give birth to a child in neither of these countries. If the country of birth operated under jus soli, the baby would automatically be a citizen of this country. However, if the birth country uses the process of jus sanguinis then the child would take either British or French citizenship. Originally this would automatically be the same as the father’s – but with equality on the rise, it is now that of either parent.

I have already touched on some of the common places for birth tourism, but below you’ll find some more detail…

Birth tourism in North America

As mentioned earlier, the North American countries all offer automatic birthright citizenship, with dual citizenship also allowed. However, this may not always be a positive thing. For example, citizens of the United States are taxed worldwide even if you are not a resident. So you could be born in the US, either through birth tourism or perhaps a premature birth, then leave as a baby and never set foot in the US. You would, in the future, still be liable to pay taxes in the US unless you pay the eye-watering $2350 renunciation fee.

The Center for Immigration Studies say they estimate that there are 33,000 births annually as a result of birth tourism in the US. They also say that the most common countries people travel from for birth tourism are China, Taiwan, Korea, Nigeria, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, and Mexico.


People also travel to Brazil for birth tourism purposes. Children born here, in the largest country in South America, are granted Brazilian citizenship at birth under jus soli – meaning they are Brazilian regardless of their parents’ nationalities. Parents can then apply for ‘residency of the indefinite term’ due to the child having Brazilian citizenship.

International Wealth say: After obtaining residency by submitting your child’s birth certificate and copies of passports, you will be eligible to apply for citizenship after one year. 

This fast-track naturalization process is desirable for a parent to obtain a relatively “cheap” second citizenship for you and your family. Your child will benefit from being a citizen of the Mercosur region, allowing them to live, study and work anywhere in the area. 

Birth tourism in Hong Kong

Of course, I touched upon this earlier – but many Chinese parents travel to Hong Kong to give birth so their children can enjoy ‘right of abode’ in the future. This came as a result of the 2003 Individual Visit Scheme which allowed people from Mainland China to visit Hong Kong on an individual basis. Before this, residents could only visit as part of a group tour or on a business visa.

This new rule provided an opportunity for pregnant people to head to Hong Kong and give birth there, thus securing ‘right of abode’ for their offspring. But of course, this resulted in a shortage of resources (hospital beds, midwives, medical equipment and so on) for local residents. They did not take kindly to this, with protests and potential policy changes occurring in more recent years.

Birth tourism- further reading

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