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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Birth tourism on the upswing

The home page of saipanbaby.com At least three websites and one unnamed agency in China are marketing the CNMI among Chinese women as a good destination to give birth if they want automatic U.S. citizenship for their children—all for a minimum service charge of $11,000, on top of hospital fees.

The fees being charged for Saipan or the U.S. mainland have become a lot more attractive for mainland Chinese because these charges are cheaper than giving birth in Hong Kong nowadays.

The websites, in Chinese language, show pictures of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s facilities on Saipan where clients from China are supposed to give birth.

They also carry photos of some Saipan apartments/housing rentals where clients could stay, some Saipan tourist spots, links to CNMI and federal agencies’ websites, and a list of benefits of having a U.S. citizen baby, among other articles.

The websites include saipanbaby.com, which shut down a few years back after local media reported about it but is now active again.

The other one is saipanbb.com, which could also be accessed by visiting pacificweekly.net.

The websites also list the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and birthright citizenship as reasons to have babies in the CNMI, whose capital is Saipan.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees U.S. citizenship to those born on its territory, provided the person is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.

For years, Saipan has been host not only to pregnant Chinese tourists but also Korean tourists who come to the CNMI to give birth to U.S. citizen children and leave after they get their children’s U.S. passport.

This so-called “birth tourism,” a term for traveling to a country that practices birthright citizenship in order to give birth there so that the child will be a citizen of the destination country, has been well documented.

The website advertising the CNMI as a destination for giving birth lists the CNMI and China contact numbers.

One of the websites says the best time to come to Saipan is if a woman is six to eight months pregnant.

It also recommends staying on Saipan for three to six months.

It says it charges $2,000 for airport pickup, escort in health checkups, translation service, help in finding an apartment, among other things. Other expenses such as apartment rental, power and water services, hospital fees, birth certificate, U.S. passport, and other fees and expenses are also shouldered by the visitor.

A Feb. 7, 2012, South China Morning Post article titled “Mainland mums look West after Hong Kong backlash” quotes a staffer from an agency that specializes in helping women from mainland China deliver babies on Saipan and charges just 70,000 yuan or $11,000 for roundtrip tickets to the U.S. island, medical services, and two months’ food and accommodation.

Hong Kong now charges higher fees for delivering babies there, and now has a cap on the number of non-locals who can give birth in the city, South China Morning Post said. It added that fees for non-local mothers giving birth in Hong Kong have surged in the past year. The Hong Kong passport is different from a China mainland passport. Holders of Hong Kong passports are allowed to travel to many countries.

“The staffer said several hundred mainland women had flown to the island each year since 2009 to have their babies,” the Hong Kong-based paper said.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted visa waiver for Chinese and Russian tourists.

One Chinese citizen on Saipan said yesterday that in a way, the so-called “birth tourism” is helping to boost the CNMI economy in terms of apartment rental, car rental, availing of services at CHC, food, and other services.

The Chinese citizen said that only rich Chinese women or couple could afford giving birth in the CNMI because, among other things, they wouldn’t be able to get their child’s U.S. passport without first settling all their hospital bills.

“They don’t stay here. They spend their money here, give birth, and then leave,” the citizen said.

One of the websites said normal delivery could cost about $11,000 on Saipan.

The Fitial administration has yet to comment about the issue as of press time but Gov. Benigno R. Fitial earlier said matters such as these should be addressed by the federal government since it has already taken control of CNMI immigration since 2009.

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