Birth Tourism: My analysis and related articles

The link to my Policy Options article on the extent of, and options in dealing with birth tourism:

 Hospital stats show birth tourism rising in major cities 

Article has attracted considerable interest on Twitter and in the media.

In the Toronto Star:

The number of so-called “anchor babies” — children born to non-residents for the purpose of gaining citizenship — is at least five times higher than Canadian officials had estimated, new research suggests.

Birth tourism in Canada, where women late in pregnancy fly in to deliver their babies here, is controversial because the newborns are automatically Canadian citizens and enjoy full citizenship rights such as free education and lower university fees, even though their foreign parents aren’t taxpayers.

Statistics Canada has, since 2013, counted 1,561 babies — about 312 annually — born here to mothers, whose place of residence was listed outside Canada, based on figures from provincial birth registries.

However, a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy released Thursday suggests the number of “anchor babies” born here every year is likely in the 1,500 to 2,000 range.

The study mined the Canadian Institute for Health Information discharge database, and according to researcher Andrew Griffith, the figures — based on hospital financial data that codes services provided to non-residents under “other country resident self-pay” — give a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.

The data shows the number of births to non-resident mothers (including all provinces but Quebec, which refused to release the data) skyrocketed to 3,628 last year from just 1,354 in 2010, said the report by the Montreal-based think tank. It showed the Richmond Hospital in British Columbia with the highest volume of babies born to non-resident mothers.

Of the top 10 hospitals where such births were recorded, six are in the GTA.

The numbers are not perfect because they don’t break down how many of the births were to mothers with temporary status in Canada, which include Canadian expatriates returning to give birth, corporate transferees or international students who didn’t come here to specifically to have children. But Griffith says a conservative estimate is that 40 to 50 per cent of the non-resident mothers were birth tourists.

“How the (delivery) services are paid for is a more representative and realistic measure than the provincial registries,” said Griffith, a retired director general with Immigration Canada, adding part of the discrepancy can be attributed to birth tourists using their temporary Canadian address on birth registration forms and hence not being counted as non-residents.

“The concern has always been these people are exploiting the loophole in the law to obtain citizenship for their children when they are not entitled to that. There’s also the financial liability and responsibility on Canadian taxpayers for the child’s benefits.”

Currently, immigration officials cannot refuse a visitor visa application on the basis of the applicant’s intent to give birth in Canada, though they can assess if the person has enough money to visit Canada, if they will abide by the visa’s departure date and if they have a criminal record and should be barred from entry.

In 2012, the then-Conservative federal government, under Stephen Harper, had considered a crackdown on birth tourism but discarded the idea because the relatively small number of incidents — based on an estimate of 500 cases a year — did not justify the anticipated costs of enforcement.

However, with immigration and refugees expected to become a wedge issue in next year’s federal election, the Conservatives voted this summer at the party’s convention to end the birthright citizenship policy that gives citizenship to babies born in Canada even if their parents aren’t citizens or don’t have legal status in Canada. The motion is non-binding but could be part of their campaign platform next year.

Andrew Griffith, a retired director general with the immigration department, said birth tourism, while not a huge problem, should be monitored closely.

Griffith said any policy decision must be based on evidence and that’s what prompted him to seek out the most reliable data on the issue of birth tourism.

“Is it a widespread problem or is it just a phenomenon at the Richmond Hospital?” asked Griffith, referring to the B.C. hospital cited by the media as the epicentre of birth tourism. “We need data for informed decisions.”

He said birth tourism, currently accounting for roughly 0.5 per cent of the total annual live births in Canada, is not a huge problem but should be monitored closely.

“Using this as a starting point, if we see any further increase or a trend line, then we need to take another fresh look at it,” he said.

The study offers three options for policy-makers to tackle the problem if birth tourism gets out of control:

  • Amend immigration laws to make it an offence if a female visitor fails to disclose the purpose of her visit to give birth or declare her pregnancy to officials. The child’s citizenship would then be deemed fraudulently obtained due to misrepresentation by the mother.
  • Follow Australia’s move by adopting a “qualified” birthright approach specifying a person born in Canada would only be a Canadian citizen if the parent is either a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and the child lives in the country for 10 years after birth.
  • Introduce regulations prohibiting rooming houses and consultant and support services for birth tourists, substantially increasing the financial deposits required by hospitals from non-residents and ordering the provinces to require proof of payment prior to issuing birth certificates for children of non-resident mothers.

Source: Number of ‘anchor babies’ born in Canada far greater than official estimates, study shows

The CP article quoting Minister Hussen’s reactions to the findings along with other commentary:

With new research showing that more babies are born in Canada to foreign residents than Statistics Canada realized, the federal government is studying the issue of “birth tourism” in the hope of better understanding how many women travel to Canada to have babies who are born Canadian citizens.

Using numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which captures billing information directly from hospitals, researcher Andrew Griffith found over 3,200 babies were born here to women who weren’t Canadian residents in 2016 – compared with the 313 babies recorded by Statistics Canada.

The finding suggests not only that the numbers are higher than previously reported, but that it’s a growing trend, Griffith says.

“(The data) shows the steady growth in the number of babies born in hospitals to women who are residents of other countries, by absolute numbers and percentage, for all provinces except Quebec,” Griffith wrote in an article in Policy Options, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy. “These births total just over one per cent of all live births in English Canada.”

A petition tabled recently in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido calls on Canada to take stronger measures to end birth tourism, saying it abuses Canada’s social-welfare system.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen responded by saying his department has commissioned research to get a better picture of the scope of the issue in Canada.

“While these statistics indicate that this is not a widespread practice, the government of Canada recognizes the need to better understand the extent of this practice as well as its impacts,” Hussen said in his response, tabled in Parliament.

The department has commissioned CIHI to perform this research.

The issue of so-called birth tourism has been polarizing in Canada, with the Liberals defending the current law that gives automatic citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil except for children of foreign diplomats.

Conservative party members passed a policy resolution during their biennial convention this summer calling on the government to end birthright citizenship “unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.”

Leader Andrew Scheer said at the time one of the goals would be to end the practice of women coming to Canada simply to give birth to a child that will automatically have Canadian citizenship.

Other countries have ended or modified their birthright-citizenship laws, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, India, the Dominican Republic, Thailand and Portugal. Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to end birthright citizenship in the United States, although critics have argued such a change could violate that country’s constitution.

Canada did explore changing Canada’s existing birthright policy under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. This work ultimately found any change to the law would have significant impacts, according to a senior government official who spoke to The Canadian Press on background.

Many Canadians – 40 per cent or more – don’t have passports and use birth certificates to prove their citizenship. A change in birthright-citizenship rules would mean they’d need new forms of identification to prove their citizenship and get government services.

A 2013 estimate pegged the cost of changing the rules at $20 million to $30 million, plus $7 million in extra costs for the federal government every year, the senior official said. He further noted this did not include costs to the provinces and territories, which would be even higher because they’re responsible for more personal documents than the federal government is.

The Conservatives did not change the policy. Nor will the Liberals, said Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Hussen.

“The birth-on-soil principle has been enshrined in our legislation since Canadian citizenship first came into existence in 1947. A change to this principle was planned by the Harper Conservatives, but abandoned after listening to the advice of experts,” Genest said. But the Immigration Department still wants a better understanding of what’s going on.

Griffith said he was inspired to delve into the question of how prevalent birth tourism is in Canada after he noted the number of non-resident births reported for Richmond Hospital in B.C. were disproportionate to the rest of the country, as calculated by Statistics Canada.

The data he collected from CIHI captured the number of mothers who paid out-of-pocket for their hospital bills, which was at least five times higher. He acknowledged this would include Canadian expatriates and foreign students whose hospital expenses were not covered by Canadian medicare.

Ontario immigration lawyer Gordon Scott Campbell said he’s had several clients in recent years who have given birth while in Canada while in the middle of legitimate refugee or immigration processes.

For example, he said some women with visitor status live with their spouses while applying for spousal sponsorship, and some refugees arrive pregnant or become pregnant while waiting for their claims to be processed.

“It would seem extremely punitive, even misogynistic, arguably, to say that no woman should be able to become pregnant or be pregnant if you’re not a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada,” Campbell said.

“Are we talking about three people a year, four people a year, flying into Canada (to give birth)?” he asked. “I’m not sure we even have any proof of that. There might be anecdotal proof out there in media articles, but if we’re talking two or three people a year, it’s hardly a national crisis justifying legislation.”

Vancouver Coastal Health, the authority that oversees the Richmond Hospital, said Thursday that taxpayers don’t pay for non-resident births. The agency provided its own statistics, which differed slightly from Griffith’s findings but which were also out of keeping with the numbers of non-resident births in Canada reported by Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada says it generates its data from demographic information provided by vital-statistics registries in the provinces and territories. Parents complete these registry forms and are responsible for filing them with local registrars, the agency said. Griffith believes Statistics Canada might record lower numbers of non-resident births because parents put local addresses on these forms that aren’t their real permanent addresses.

As part of his response to Parliament, Hussen said Canada does not collect information on whether a woman is pregnant when entering Canada, nor can a woman legally be denied entry solely because she is pregnant or might give birth in Canada.

Source: Ottawa studying ‘birth tourism’ in light of new data showing higher non-resident birth rates

Brian Lilley in the Toronto Sun who also wrote an earlier piece on surrogacy and birth tourism:

When it comes to hot tourism spots in Canada, few would put suburbs like Richmond, British Columbia or Scarborough, Ontario up there with the CN Tower or the Rockies.

But to a certain kind of tourist, these suburbs, and specifically their hospitals, are all the rage.

A new paper from the Institute for Research on Public Policy shows birth tourism is growing in Canada’s major cities.

Written by Andrew Griffith, the former director general of Immigration Canada, the paper reveals significantly more women than thought are coming to Canada to deliver their babies and leave with a Canadian passport for their child.

“The level of birth tourism nationally is at least five times greater than the 300 births captured by Statistics Canada in 2016,” Griffith writes.

Instead of the Statistics Canada number, Griffith estimates that there were 3,628 babies born to foreign parents in 2017, and that doesn’t include numbers from Quebec.

“The impact of this practice can no longer be described as insignificant given its effect on the integrity of citizenship and public perceptions that birth tourism is a fraudulent shortcut to obtaining citizenship,” Griffith writes.

These figures don’t include landed immigrants or refugees, this is simply people who are simply visiting Canada when they give birth.

While some would be people visiting on a work or student visa, Griffith says that even with a conservative estimate of 40% to 50% the number is too high.

His search for better data on birth tourism was sparked by reports earlier this year showing more than 20% of births at the Richmond Hospital just outside Vancouver were due to birth tourism.

Of 2,145 births at this hospital in 2017-18, 469 were non-resident births.

The second highest hospital tracked by Griffith for the paper is Scarborough and Rouge Hospital — Birchmount site in Toronto’s East End and St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal.

Both of those sites saw more than 9% of all births involve non-residents.

One thing all the hospitals on the list have in common is easy access to a major airport and direct flights in and out of Canada.

A petition sponsored by Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, who represents the Richmond area, calls on the government to study the problem of birth tourism and take steps to end it.

So far the petition has garnered almost 11,000 signatures.

The previous Harper government considered taking action to stopping birth tourism but with StatsCan saying there were only a few hundred cases a year, the cost to enforce any new measures was deemed too high.

Now with higher and growing numbers, it is time to act.

The numbers tracked by Griffith show the number of births to non-resident mothers has just about tripled between 2010 and 2017.

None of this includes the numbers I revealed in this paper a week ago showing 44% of surrogacy births in British Columbia in 2016 and 2017 were for foreign based parents using a Canadian surrogate.

Each of those children, regardless of the status of the parents, gets full Canadian citizenship and all the benefits that entails. Even if the mother only flew into Canada and checked into the hospital for the express purpose of giving birth.

Isn’t that making a mockery of our system?

Doesn’t that debase Canadian citizenship?

There are lawyers, consultants and “global mobility solutions” experts offering services on having a baby in Canada in order to get a Canadian passport for the baby.

The Conservative Party passed a resolution at their convention this past summer to end the practice of birth tourism.

That move was instantly attacked by Trudeau’s top aide Gerald Butts as, “a deeply wrong and disturbing idea.”

You’ll recall that Trudeau famously campaigned to give back Canadian citizenship to convicted terrorists who had dual citizenship and who had taken up arms against Canada.

His mantra was that a Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian.

It’s a handy catch phrase and useful when the real purpose is to try and sound compassionate and scare immigrants.

The truth is that under Trudeau Canada has still stripped many people of citizenship. From former Nazis to people that lied on their applications to come here.

The simple fact of the matter is that Canadians get to decide who gets citizenship, and we do that all the time.

Changing the law to end birth tourism, a growing and disturbing trend, would hardly be controversial for most Canadians.

Let’s hope someone in the political world has the courage to take up this issue.

Source: LILLEY: Birth tourism on rise across Canada | Toronto Sun

An article in The Breaker on the formal government response to the petition by MP Peschisolido (written before my article came out):

The federal Liberal government says it will undertake further research into birth tourism.

That, according to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s Nov. 19 response to an electronic petition initiated by Richmond activist Kerry Starchuk and sponsored by Steveston-Richmond East Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido.

Starchuk’s petition, which was supported by 10,882 people, was brought to the House of Commons on Oct. 5 by Peschisolido. It called upon the government to state it opposes birth tourism, commit public resources to determine the full extent of the practice and implement concrete measures to reduce and eliminate the practice. Under federal law, MP-endorsed electronic petitions that gain 500 or more supporters within four months are tabled in the House of Commons. 

Citizenship acquired through birth on soil has been in place since the first Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947, though it does not apply to children of anyone representing or working for a foreign government. Richmond Hospital averages one foreign birth a day and there have been cases where local mothers have been transferred to other hospitals to make way for foreign mothers. Petitioner Starchuk is also concerned with the potential future health and education costs to taxpayers.

The 354-word response said the government does not collect information on whether a woman is pregnant when entering the country, and a person cannot be deemed inadmissible or denied a visa if they are pregnant or if they may give birth in the country. But foreign nationals are required to state the purpose of their visit.

“Applicants must always be honest about the purpose of their visit. Providing false information or documents when dealing with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency is considered misrepresentation and has significant consequences,” said the official response.

The response quoted from 2016 Statistics Canada data that said only 300 children were born to foreign women among the 385,000 babies born in the country that year. But that data has been discredited in media reports which found public agencies do not harmonize their research and there are loopholes that prevent accurate data collection.

The Richmond News reported in June that many non-resident women who give birth at Richmond Hospital list their address as a birth house or birth hostel where they are temporarily staying. Richmond Hospital saw a jump in self-pay births from non-resident mothers from 299 in 2015-2016 to 379 a year later. Most were from China.

RICHMOND HOSPITAL (MACKIN)

Should the birth house operator list the address of their home business at the hospital’s registration desk, the ministry would not count the baby as a non-resident,” the newspaper reported. “Only when the true address of the mother is registered, does the birth become a non-resident in the eyes of Vital Statistics B.C.”

The response said the federal government “recognizes the need to better understand the extent of this practice as well as its impacts. IRCC has commissioned research from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which also show the number of children born to non-residents who were required to pay hospital expenses to be less than 1% of total births in Canada, and will undertake further research in this regard.”

Starchuk said the response lacks details about the government’s next steps.

“There’s no deadline, they’ve left it open-ended,” Starchuk told theBreaker. “How long are they going to take to do it?”

She was also perplexed why such a multifaceted issue attracted a response from only the immigration minister, but not the ministers of public safety (Ralph Goodale) or border security (Bill Blair).

The response also said the government is “committed to protecting the public from fraud and unethical consulting practices and protecting the integrity of Canada’s immigration and citizenship programs,” so it is undertaking a comprehensive review aimed at cracking down on unscrupulous consultants and those who exploit programs through misrepresentation.”

In 2016, Starchuk also petitioned the federal government to end birth tourism, but the December 2016 reply from then-Immigration Minister John McCallum dismissed the issue. McCallum was later appointed Canada’s ambassador to China.

Source: Feds to study birth tourism, but petitioner wants details

Lastly, an op-ed by Jamie Liew of University of Ottawa law faculty written before my analysis, quoting my comments dismissing the issue as insignificant given the previous numbers (my position has evolved :):

There’s been a lot of talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in Canada and the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he’ll issue an executive order to do so, and the Conservative Party of Canada passed a motion that, should they form the next federal government, birthright citizenship will be no more.

In the U.S., the president will have to contend with the fact that he can’t just unilaterally eliminate a right granted in the 14th Amendment of their constitution.

In Canada, birthright citizenship can be eliminated simply by amending or repealing parts of the Citizenship Act.

In both countries, the preoccupation with ending birthright citizenship is tied to the argument that migrants are engaging in “birth tourism” and challenging the integrity of citizenship. But the facts say otherwise.

As Andrew Griffith, former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, points out, fewer than 0.1 per cent of total births in Canada in the past 10 years (except 2012) involved births of children to foreign mothers. Griffiths concludes, “An impartial observer would conclude that there is currently no business case for changing Canada’s birth policy.”

Aside from the business case, what’s not talked about is how the elimination of birthright citizenship would affect not just migrants, but all of us. Undoubtedly, such a policy would increase the number of stateless persons in Canada.

Every person born in Canada to non-citizen parents would have to apply for citizenship. More tax dollars would be needed to process the applications. Clerks would suddenly have the power to make substantive and legal determinations about the status of every person who applies for citizenship. Like any administrative system, mistakes would be made. Bad or wrong decisions would be challenged in the courts at great expense to both the state and people affected. People would struggle with the fact that they are stateless in the interim.

Being stateless has serious implications.

Stateless persons have difficulty accessing education, employment, health care, social services and freedom of movement. Simple things such as getting a bank account, cellphone account or registering birth, marriage or death are complicated, if not impossible. Stateless persons would be subject to arrest, detention and potential removal to places they may never have been to.

The elimination of birthright citizenship would have the greatest effect on the most vulnerable: the indigent, the less educated, those with mental illness, children in precarious family situations or wards of the state. These are the people who may not have the appropriate paperwork or proof that they do qualify for citizenship or they won’t have support for obtaining citizenship.

This one policy would create an expensive social problem for the state.

The elimination of birthright citizenship is, then, not an act to preserve or protect the integrity of citizenship. The policy is a dividing tool that fuels discrimination against those of different races and socioeconomic classes. It’s a tool to delegitimize persons who have a genuine and effective link to Canada. It would create barriers to important rights that come with citizenship, including the right to vote.

We only need to look at how stripping citizenship and the denial of citizenship in other places of the world have encouraged discrimination, persecution and violence against stateless persons. For example, the oppression of and the genocide against Rohingya people was precipitated by denial of their citizenship in Myanmar, a country they called home for generations.

Canadians should be cautious when considering the idea to get rid of birthright citizenship. It wouldn’t stop migrants from coming. Instead of making it harder to get citizenship, we should trust our well-oiled immigration system to deal with the entry of persons within our country.

Such a policy would not build confidence in the integrity of Canadian citizenship. Instead, citizenship would be more precarious than ever before.

Canadians should also be mindful that Canada has signed onto the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which obligate Canada not to create situations of statelessness.

My father was born stateless because the state he was born into didn’t confer birthright citizenship. It affected his opportunity for education, employment and his mental health.

Being a child of a previously stateless person, I’m proof enough that welcoming stateless persons to Canada with the conferral of citizenship is the best way to build a nation.

Source: Birthright citizenship affects all Canadians

 

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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