‘Birth tourism’ articles in Vancouver press

Two articles on my recent release of the 2019-20 CIHI non-resident self-pay birth statistics (Birth Tourism: Non-resident births 2019-20 numbers show steady increase).

Starting with Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun:

The number of women coming to Canada to give birth, which automatically bestows citizenship on the baby, is expanding much faster in British Columbia than the rest of the country.

Richmond Hospital is the centre of the trend, often called “birth tourism.” New data released this week shows one out of four births in the past year at the hospital in the Vancouver suburb, which features many illicit “birth hotels” advertising their services in Asia, were to foreign nationals.

St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount St. Joseph’s Hospital, both in Vancouver, are also fast turning into hubs for birth citizenship, with the two hospitals experiencing a 38 per cent rise in births by non-resident women, one in seven of the total.Virtually no country outside North and South America provides citizenship to babies solely because they’re born on their soil.The newly released figures show there were 4,400 births in Canada in the past year to non-resident mothers, an overall hike of seven per cent. Ontario doctors still preside over the most non-resident births, 3,109, with one hospital in Toronto, Humber River, having a sudden jump of more than 119 per cent.But Ontario’s volume of privately funded procedures has not risen nearly as fast as in B.C., which had a total of 868 non-resident births. That’s a six-fold increase from 2010.

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information/Andrew Griffith

The new data, compiled by Andrew Griffith, a former senior director of the federal Immigration Department, comes from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which captures billing information directly from hospitals up until the end of March. It doesn’t include births in Quebec.

Birth tourism has recently been strongly condemned by Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Liberal MLA Jas Johal (Richmond-Queensborough), former Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido (Richmond East), the head of Doctors of B.C. and others.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which controls immigration policy, has been silent on the matter. Former Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer said in 2018 he would end birth tourism. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has accused those who raise the issue of being guilty of “division and hate.”

In February, Richmond council sent letters to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, to leading B.C. politicians and to Vancouver Coastal Health. Council called for “permanent changes to immigration laws which would end automatic Canadian citizenship being bestowed on babies born in Canada to non-resident parents who are not citizens of Canada.”Last week, Mendicino’s department finally responded, saying the minister is aware “of the increase in births by non-residents in Canada” and promised to “monitor” it.“All levels of government are trying to pass the buck” on birth tourism, said Au. He acknowledged Richmond was itself failing to combat the dozens of shadowy birth hotels and agents in the city, which help women give birth in Canada for fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.Ads aimed at women in China who want to have babies in Canada tout luxurious accommodation, birthright citizenship in the “world’s most livable country,” 12 years of free public education, university fees just 10 per cent of those paid by foreign students, free health care and eventual family reunification for the parents of the baby who obtains the passport.Au said Richmond officials could be cracking down on underground birth-tourism operations because they don’t have proper business licences. But council and staff, he said, haven’t yet come up with an effective way to do so.

Au is also suspicious that hospital administrators and the few doctors who perform full-fee deliveries for foreign mothers are not countering the problem for financial reasons. “We don’t want our hospitals dependent on this income.”

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information/Andrew Griffith

In a piece on his website, Multicultural Meanderings, Griffith says figures provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Information show all “non-resident births” in Canada, which includes women who give birth while here as foreign students or temporary workers. Griffith estimates about 50 per cent of the total are full-blown “birth tourists.”

After Griffith wrote a 2018 piece on the subject for Policy Options, three female academics responded by saying those who want to end birthright citizenship are “demonizing pregnant migrant women,“ “encouraging violence against stateless people” and “fuelling discrimination.”

Nevertheless, the academics supported Griffith’s call for better data. He lamented this week, however, that the federal departments that previously promised to link health care and immigration data to monitor non-resident births have “stalled.”

David Chen, the former Pro Vancouver mayoral candidate, has publicly expressed concern about birth tourism. He said Thursday that granting citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil “poses problems on several fronts.”

As a child of immigrants, Chen, who is now a vice-chair of Vancouver’s NPA party, said it “shortchanges those who went through proper channels only to see people with much more disposable cash jump the line and have an easier route to Canadian citizenship.”

Australia, Britain, New Zealand, France, Germany and South Africa have all, in relatively recent times, altered their citizenship laws to discourage birth tourism. More than 150 nations do not permit it.

While recognizing the issue is complicated, Au, a nine-year member of council, said he believes he understands the views of most Richmond residents, where the fast-changing population is now 53 per cent ethnic Chinese, 24 per cent white, seven per cent South Asian and seven per cent Filipino.“Ethnic Chinese feel the same as everyone else in Richmond,” he said. “They’re concerned.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Birth tourism’ jumps 22 per cent in B.C.

Graeme Wood in Business intelligence for BC:

It was another record year for birth tourism in B.C., according to new data released by health officials.

The province saw a 21.9% spike in non-resident births between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, as 868 non-residents of Canada – the vast majority of whom are understood to be Chinese nationals on tourist visas – paid to give birth in local hospitals in order to garner automatic citizenship for their newborns. The prior year, 712 non-residents gave birth in B.C.

“Vancouver area hospitals continue to have the largest percentages of non-resident births, with an active cottage industry supporting women coming to give birth from China,” said researcher Andrew Griffiths, who first reported the new annual data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The epicentre of the budding industry is Richmond, where an annual record of 502 births to non-residents took place, up from 458 in the year to March 2019 and 474 in the year to March 2018.

Those 502 newborns represent 24% of the 2,094 total newborns at Richmond General Hospital. That is the highest total and share of non-resident births at a hospital across Canada. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s St.Paul’s Hospital is second in the nation, with 14.1% of all births being to non-residents. There, 203 babies were born to non-residents.

Non-resident births also peaked across Canada, with CIHI reporting 4,400 newborns to non-residents in 2019/2020, up 7.3% from the previous year’s total of 4,099, excluding Quebec.

B.C. figures do not include international students, who are enrolled in the public healthcare system. As such, Griffiths said B.C.’s figures are a more accurate indication of birth tourism (those non-residents who fly to Canada for the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their newborns).

Griffiths, a former director general of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, said he estimates about half of the non-resident births outside of B.C. to be tied to parents on tourist visas. However there is no reportable data along those lines, as a federal review of the issue, first announced in November 2018, appears stalled.

“Hopefully, the work to link healthcare and immigration data will resume shortly, not only to provide more accurate numbers with respect to birth tourism but to improve our understanding of healthcare and immigrants more generally,” said Griffiths.

1

Non-resident births by hospital, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Figure by Andrew Griffiths

Glacier Media requested information on non-resident births tied to patients on tourist visas but Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said such data does not exist and the task to obtain it from paperwork would be too onerous – although such data is what the federal government stated it would acquire in its review.

Canada is one of two Western countries, along with the United States, to offer birthright citizenship – a concept also known as jus soli – meaning babies born to two foreign nationals on tourist visas are granted automatic citizenship.

It remains unclear exactly what the federal government is doing to enact policies to curb the practice. To date, no enforcement measures have been announced, unlike in the U.S., which has convicted “baby house” operators of money laundering and fraud in 2019.

The U.S. State Department further cracked down on birth tourism in January, with a new rule that “travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis” for a tourist visa.

The lack of action to address birth tourism, which is widely perceived by the public as an abuse of Canada’s immigration system, has frustrated Richmond community activist Kerry Starchuk, who has documented dozens of “baby houses” in the Vancouver suburb offering accommodation and doula services for Chinese nationals, who typically arrive three to four months prior to giving birth on a six-month or extended tourist visa.

“It’s a joke. It’s so blatant you can see it. They’re advertising this in China,” said Starchuk.

In a written response to Starchuk, dated July 8, 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it was “aware of the increase in births by non-residents in Canada.”

IRCC said, “While statistics indicate that birth tourism is not widespread, IRCC is researching the extent of this practice, including how many of the non-residents are short term visitors.”

Birth tourism is technically legal in Canada, in so much that nothing bars a pregnant woman from entering Canada to give birth, so long as they are honest with border agents.

“Providing false information or documents when dealing with IRCC is considered misrepresentation and has immigration consequences.  However, non-residents giving birth in Canada is not considered fraud under the Citizenship Act,” stated IRCC.

“Additionally, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a persons are not inadmissible nor can they be denied a visa solely on the grounds that they are pregnant or that they may give birth in Canada,” wrote IRCC.

Starchuk said the federal Liberal government has dragged its feet on the matter.

“I’m not interested in writing any more letters. I want action,” she said.

2

Non-resident births in Canada by year. Figure by Andrew Griffiths

Richmond Conservative Members of Parliament Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong have proposed a hybrid jus soli policy that would bar those on tourist visas from obtaining citizenship for their newborns. Newborns of non-resident international students, for instance, would continue to obtain citizenship under their proposal.

Griffiths said birth tourism businesses in Richmond are at a stand still with COVID-19 flight restrictions and visitor visas from China down 72.2% between January and March, and down 99.79% by June.

A poll from Research Co. in February, 2019 showed almost three in four (73%) believe it is time to end automatic citizenship for people born in Canada (adopting rules used by most Western countries). An Angus Reid poll in March, 2019 showed 60% of Canadians want the law changed.

Immigration Minister Marco E.L. Mendicino declined to be interviewed on this matter.

Source: Record-setting year for birth tourism in B.C. prior to pandemic

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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