ICYMI: Its critics call it ‘birth tourism.’ But is the practice real? COVID-19 is providing clues

The COVID-19 pandemic and the border closures and travel restrictions that came with it seem to have put a dent in the number of non-Canadians coming to this country to deliver their babies.

The latest government data offers what may be an unprecedented look at the practice that has been controversially dubbed “birth tourism.”

It shows the number of “non-resident self-pay” new births in the country dropped by 57 per cent during the first full year of the global crisis, between April 2020 and March 2021 — from 5,698 the year earlier down to 2,433. 

Observers have stressed that the practice of coming to Canada to deliver a baby is legal and cautioned that its frequency has been overblown by critics, drawing focus at times more for reasons of racism than for pragmatic concerns.

All babies born in Canada receive automatic Canadian citizenship. 

The Liberal government has said it’s committed to investigating the issue of foreign nationals taking a shortcut to obtain citizenship for their children by giving birth in Canada, but no policy recommendations or changes have been made to date.

Under normal times, it’s hard for researchers to pinpoint the number of visitors who came here with the main purpose of giving birth, because the data would also capture non-residents who delivered babies while working or studying in this country. 

But the pandemic’s unique circumstances brought with them novel data.

As Canada has imposed restrictive measures against the entry of non-essential travellers but not international students and temporary foreign workers, the data for the first time gives a more precise picture of the extent of those coming to Canada to deliver babies.

“This really provides you with what Nobel Prize-winning economist David Card called a natural experiment, where there was one variable that changed and it affected one group disproportionately,” says researcher Andrew Griffith, whose findings will be published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy on Thursday.

“This basically confirms that when you don’t have visitors’ visas, you have a major drop in birth tourists because that’s how they come in.”

Based on hospital delivery data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information, a Crown corporation, Griffith looked at the number of times the cost of delivering babies in hospitals over the past decade was paid out of the patients’ own pocket.

The number surged yearly from 1,863 in 2010 to a peak of 5,698 in 2019, before it nosedived last year, which coincided with a 95 per cent drop in the number of visitors’ visas issued by Canada.

In comparison, the number of international students fell by only 25 per cent, while the number of temporary foreign workers actually increased by 5.5 per cent.

Griffith estimates that the percentage of “tourism births” has now reached one per cent of all births in Canada in an average year.

“This is really a question of the integrity of the citizenship program. If you come here as a permanent resident, you have to meet the residency requirements, you have to meet the knowledge requirements, you have to meet the language requirements. There’s a whole process that you have to go through to be Canadian citizens,” said Griffith, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute.

“This is legal but it’s still a loophole that allows basically fairly affluent women and families to shortcut the process, find a backdoor entry and without going through the standard process of becoming a Canadian citizen.”

The citizenship afforded to these Canadian-born children allow them to automatically access health care, local education and tuition fees, as well as other government benefits.

While any visa restriction against pregnant women visiting Canada would be difficult to administer and enforce, Griffith said Ottawa could change the citizenship act to require at least one parent to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada for citizenship to be conferred to a Canadian-born child, as Australia does.

The former Conservative government explored similar legislative changes in 2012, but the idea was abandoned due to opposition from provincial governments, which are responsible for the administration of birth certificates, a key document for citizenship. The number of people coming to Canada for the express purpose of delivering a baby was estimated at just 500 at the time and such changes were considered not worthy of the hefty administrative costs.

“We have more accurate data now,” said Griffith. 

In a 2019 survey by the Angus Reid Institute, 64 per cent of Canadians said a child born to parents who are in this country on tourist visas should not be granted Canadian citizenship, and 60 per cent said changes to the citizenship laws are necessary to discourage birth tourism.

Critics have argued that any requirement of one parent being a Canadian citizen or permanent resident could lead to children, such as those born here to refugee claimants, to be stateless.

“Anything to deal with immigration and citizenship basically has some form of discrimination. Who do you let in? Who do you not let in? What are the criteria to allow somebody to become citizen,” said Griffith.

“Is it too rigid? Is it too open? You are always going to have the debate over how you cut the line in the right place.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/12/16/its-critics-call-it-birth-tourism-but-is-the-practice-real-covid-19-is-providing-clues.html

My Policy Options article which formed the basis for the reporting: https://urldefense.com/v3/__https:/policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/december-2021/birth-tourism-in-canada-dropped-sharply-once-the-pandemic-began/__;!!AlmGDlt8!iF8vkNntsOxOaoiOptdZnIP6_nTznLbhJ0nHgByjTRO0V5pBnecrGb7ZGeXR858$

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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