On Oct. 7, Li Zhou and her husband were in Shanghai celebrating the 100th day since their baby boy was born. But the actual birth had taken place 6500 miles away from home, in PIH Health Hospital in Los Angeles.
At the same time, 28-year-old Panpan Li, who was two months pregnant, was nervously waiting for her U.S. tourism visa in Beijing. This soon-to-be Chinese mother hopes to give birth to her baby in Los Angles in 2015.
Sunshine, beach, sea, California has been one the most popular tourist cities in the US for a long time, but now, it’s attracting a different kind of tourist. The U.S. Constitution confers any newborn in this country citizenship of the U.S, and this law makes livable cities like Los Angeles and San Diego the paradise of birth-tourism. Thousands of pregnant women like Zhou and Li flock to America, hoping to bestow their children an unusual gift: the U.S. citizenship.
Coming all the way from China, many soon-to-be Chinese mothers live in so-called “maternity hotels”, where are temporary homes for preparation of labor, most of which are private residential houses. To give birth in the U.S. is not much more expensive compared with Mainland China, but some expecting moms pay maternity hotels more than $30,000 for 3-month accommodation.
Wei Wei, an assistant in Reding Maternity Hotel located in San Diego, said the service price was from $25,000 to $35,000 for 30-week-stay before labor, based on room type and room size. According to Wei, Reding Maternity Hotel is a two-story villa in a quiet residential community near seaside. It has a courtyard in front and a backyard for pregnant women walking and chatting. Reding is able to accommodate four pregnant women right now, and more customers are expected in its newly renovated branch nearby.
Expecting mothers find maternity hotels listed on Chinese social media such as Weibo and forums such as Chineseinla.com, and the number of available such hotels is huge just on these forums. No statistics of the exact number, price, or profits of these hotels have been revealed. Yet no one knows how big the market is.
However, Chino Hills City Councilwoman Rossana Mitchell represents a grassroots organization called “Not In Chino Hills,” which seeks to drive out these maternity hotels in their community. She claimed that these hotels were illegal because they located in residential area. Clayton Dube, head of US- China Institute from University of Southern California, said the fact that maternity hotels were commercial businesses limited them to be only allowed in certain commercial zoning areas, which made it illegal if a maternity hotel was just a villa in a residential community. At the same time, the zoning issue leads to another question about whether those maternity hotels pay tax out of their incomes. Most maternity hotels inevitably become tax evaders because they are hidden in residential areas.
Residents in Chino Hills have been complaining about how these businesses disturb their life during the past two years. They said they saw pregnant Chinese women walking down the hill regularly and being taken to tourist destinations by bus now and then. They feared the constant coming and go visitors and cars would increase noise in the community.
Facing all the controversies towards childbirth tourism, however, the trend of US birth-tourism has not stopped. Since the U.S. allows individual tourism visa for Chinese residents less than a decade ago, the number of Chinese visitors is rising. According to Dube, right now, everyday on average 4,000 Chinese come to the United States, and the number is increasing. Most of them are not pregnant, but with the overall increase, birth tourism booms at the same time. Plus, since Hong Kong stops mainland pregnant women from giving birth there, more families in the Mainland are considering coming to the U.S. instead.
For parents travelling 6500 miles to the U.S., they have faith that U.S. citizenship worth this long trip and high cost. To many of them, it’s a lifetime decision planned for years, not just to follow the fashion.
35-year old Xiaoyi Hu and his 31- year-old wife got married two years ago. They made the decision to give birth to their baby in the US even before they got married, and they came to America to do some research on birth-tourism in their honeymoon. Born and raised in Beijing, Hu said Beijing’s living environment had been degrading year to year. “Beijing is not what it was like 10 years ago,” Hu said. Air pollution, expensive housing, inconvenient medical service, and government’s opaque system makes this long-time Beijing resident feel the second thought of the future of his child.
“I just want to give my kid an opportunity for his future. It’s up to my boy whether to come back or just stay in China when he grows up.” In Hu’s mind, he just bought his child a possible alternative, lowering possible barriers for the long run.
The goal of those parents who come all the way to America to give birth is surprisingly consistent- for the better education and life of their children. Panpan Li, who plans to give birth to her baby in Los Angeles is a primary school teacher in Beijing. Even though her child is not due for another eight months, she already is planning everything for the coming child. Li has made two plans. Plan A, she wants to let her child attend kindergarten and primary school in Mainland China, and go back to America from middle school. Plan B, her child will attend American schools from kindergarten with her companion. The latter plan requires her visa status, and she seems ready to be busy for her child for the rest of life. “It’s harmless to have an extra opportunity. Maybe my kid won’t keep the US citizenship in the future. But it is the best I can think of, so if I can, then I’ll do it for my child.” Li said.
To those parents, the expense of birth tourism is probably the cheapest way the bestow their children U.S. citizenship. Xiaoyi Hu thought it was actually a very good deal for the long run. In Hu’s opinion, spending $20,000 to buy a US citizenship is much cheaper and more convenient than applying for immigration in the US in the future. For example, Chinese EB-5 immigration visa required an investment of $500,000 in an American company. Although in EB-5’s case, investors might get back their money several years later, but the amount of “initial funding” is 10 times bigger. As a company’s middle manager in Beijing, Hu thinks he is not rich enough to get his child investment immigration, but a $20,000 worth equivalent investment is something he can give to his son.
As long as it’s still legitimized to obtain a U.S. passport if born in this land, in Hu’s mind, the market is not likely to diminish. Plus, from the U.S. perspective, the chance that the constitution changes the law is highly doubtful.
Clayton Dube also believed the trend of US birth tourism would continue, unless the living condition, education, and many other components progressed in China, which would made it less necessary for parents to pave a better way in another country for their children.