eyes on the U.S.

The Risks Of Chinese 'Birth Tourism' In North America

An entire industry has been built to exploit Chinese couples desperate desire for their children to obtain U.S. or Canadian passports. But because the process requires both operators and clients to distort the truth, homeland security has launched a crack

The Risks Of Chinese 'Birth Tourism' In North America
Tao Duanfang

BEIJING — Swarms of federal homeland security agents from California's Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties recently raided 37 maternity care centers, known in Chinese as "month-sitting centers." The establishments in question recruit and serve Chinese clients trying to find a way for their babies to be born in North America so they can obtain citizenship.

To understand why these operations are being targeted, some background is in order. Although these centers claim to serve locals, their true target clients are couples from China, where it is believed that women should be confined to the house for a month of rest and recuperation after a delivery.

But of course the reason why so many Chinese and other Asian parents-to-be are there in the first place, sparing no expense to travel and stay to the United States or Canada for delivery, is what's come to be known as "birth tourism."

Advertisements by agencies running such services are quite explicit: For 200,000 RMB $32,000, I'll fulfill your American or Canadian dream.

Many Chinese parents want their children to be born in North American because the United States and Canada both link citizenship to place of birth, and seen as having excellent social benefits and quality education opportunities. After 2007, when Canada raised its immigration threshold and Chinese no longer had any real hope to enter as skilled migrants, the so-called "maternity industry" suddenly boomed.

Such an industry turns out to be largely built on lies, essentially composed of three layers. There are the people who provide lodging, usually in an ordinary apartment complex or somebody's home. Above them are the birth operators who receive the pregnant women and arrange all the delivery services and postpartum care.

The starting point, however, are the intermediary agencies that advertise and attract clients who want their children to have American or Canadian passports. These same businesses usually also run services for assistance in immigration and studying abroad.

In the United States, running a maternity center is not illegal per se. Neither is applying for a visa with the goal of giving birth in America illegal, although the immigration office would probably refuse the visa request if the motivation was known.

This is why the recruiting agencies usually coach clients to enter North America by making statements in bad faith. Meanwhile, to ensure that they obtain full payment from these parents, the birth operators force the clients to lie about their true financial situations so that they can be billed at a reduced fee as uninsured or low-income parents. U.S. federal law enforcement agencies are now going after the industry, investigating these operators on charges of tax and benefits fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.

The issue is even more complicated in Canada. As one British Columbia alderman points out, the maternity tourism chain is composed of three services that all require licenses and come under different government supervision — the home-hotel, postpartum care and baby care. That puts them in a sort of "limbo," and it's a big headache for the relevant agencies.

Hong Kong example

The first report that people were cashing in on these maternity tourism operations was in 2003. But the business had already existed for many years. Before Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, this industry had already become very profitable thanks to those who were tired of the time-consuming legal formalities of immigration. In recent years, thanks to China's growing affluent class and the rising immigration threshold, the business has evolved to cater mainly to the Chinese from the mainland.

But these parents often neglect to consider the disadvantages of this strategy. For instance, many clients don't understand that the United States isn't a complete welfare state. Nor do they know that as "non-resident" Canadians, they aren't entitled to any social benefits and can't legally rent out housing they have acquired.

A high-end delivery room. Photo: Footloosiety

They also underestimate the huge mental and physical cost and the cumbersome inconveniences involved in staying in the country with a baby until they reach legal age. The same goes for parents who return to live in China until the child can legally exercise the right to choose nationality at 18 or 21. In the latter case, because the child is considered a foreigner in China, he or she must obtain a visa or travel document to enter China. Those papers are usually valid for six months to a year. Going back and forth between two countries becomes very costly; and as foreigners, these children are refused enrollment in local schools and lose their Chinese social security benefits.

Still, the reality is that maternity tourism is driven by demand. And for now, enough wealthy Chinese are convinced that the North American dream for their child begins at birth.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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