State Department Says It Will Crack Down On Visas Permitting 'Birth Tourism'

Jan 23, 2020
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The Trump administration is cracking down on what's known as birth tourism. That's when pregnant women come to the U.S. on tourist visas. They give birth here, making their children U.S. citizens. The State Department says it will deny visas in those cases beginning tomorrow. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us now with details.

Hi, Michelle.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How big is this? Do we know how many people do this each year?

KELEMEN: Well, the State Department will only say that thousands of women come here to give birth in order to get that coveted U.S. citizenship for their children, but they claim that the numbers have been trending up. And while these numbers may not be huge, restricting immigration, chipping away at birthright citizenship - things like that - really play well with Trump's base. So the White House has been really touting this move, calling it a necessary change to enhance public security and national security.

SHAPIRO: How would it actually work? Do immigration officials have any way of knowing if a woman is pregnant?

KELEMEN: Well, this is the tricky part. You know, these are just rules that go to consular officials out in the field, and they're being instructed to deny temporary visa - visitor visas to women whose primary purpose is to come here to deliver a baby. And Ari, they can't just ask a woman, are you pregnant? What they can do is, you know, if somebody puts on their visa application that they're coming to the U.S. for medical reasons, then a consular officer can ask them about that and deny a visa if it's for childbirth or if the person can't prove that they can pay for their care.

But remember - there are 39 countries that are part of a visa waiver program, so no need for them to apply. And some of these visas are valid for 10 years, so it's really hard to see how these sorts of instructions can really make a difference.

SHAPIRO: So the White House calls this a national security issue. Did they explain how a woman giving birth in the United States so that her child has citizenship affects national security?

KELEMEN: Not really. They spoke kind of vaguely about that - officials at the State Department, I'm talking about. But there was this line in the White House statement that said, birth tourism threatens to overburden valuable hospital resources and is rife with criminal activity.

And I should say that this is a big business. Women pay tens of thousands of dollars in some cases to come here. A couple of years ago, The Daily Beast reported on companies that cater to Russian women who go to Florida and even stay at Trump properties, for instance, to do this. There was a criminal case last year in California against a Chinese woman who ran a company that helped hundreds of Chinese women deliver babies there. So there is a kind of criminal element. Visa fraud and those kinds of issues come up.

SHAPIRO: Michelle, let me ask about another step you've been reporting on this week that the Trump administration is planning to take to limit immigration, and that's the expansion of the so-called travel ban on certain majority Muslim countries. What can you tell us about that?

KELEMEN: Right. So President Trump has said that he's going to add a couple of countries to the ban. Officials have suggested as many as seven new countries could face restrictions and that these restrictions will vary from country to country. We're expecting the details to come out on Monday - that's the third anniversary of the initial travel ban, which as you mentioned mostly targeted Muslim countries. You might remember that it sparked a lot of chaos at airports at the start. The administration had to revise it several times before it was upheld by the Supreme Court, and now they're expanding it.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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