The Trump administration is imposing new visa rules aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the United States to give birth so their children can have U.S. citizenship.
The regulations, which take effect Friday, address one of President Donald Trump’s main political priorities.
The regulations seek to chip away at the number of foreigners who take advantage of the constitutional provision granting”birthright citizenship” to anyone born in the United States, a particular peeve of Trump’s.
Under the new rules, pregnant applicants will be denied a tourist visa unless they can prove they must come to the U.S. to give birth for medical reasons and they have money to pay for it or have another compelling reason — not just because they want their child to have an American passport.
Officials said that consular officers will not be asking all female visa applicants of child-bearing age whether they are pregnant or intend to get pregnant. Rather, they said consular officers would ask the question only if they had reason to believe the applicant is pregnant and likely or planning to give birth in the U.S.
Visual cues such as appearing to be pregnant or listing “medical treatment” as a reason for wanting to travel to the United States might trigger such questioning, the officials said. Even if a woman is found to be pregnant and likely to deliver her child in the United States, she could still be granted a visa if she was able to demonstrate a valid reason for the travel such a visiting an ailing relative or attending a business meeting or conference, they said.
Critics say the new policy could lead to discrimination or harassment of pregnant women, women of child-bearing age or even heavy women that appear pregnant.
“It’s an overreaction to a relatively small problem. And I think it’s just for the political optics of trying to to say that they’re addressing the issue of, you know, birth tourism,” said Catherine Seitz, legal director, Immigration Institute of the Bay Area, a nonprofit advocacy group that provides legal services to low-income immigrants.
The practice of traveling to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
Birth tourism is a business where companies for a steep fee offer foreign women the chance to come the U.S. on a tourist visa, have a baby, get medical care, get citizenship, have a place to stay with their newborn, and then leave.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the U.S. and abroad. Companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the U.S.
The U.S. has been cracking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
Officials said the rule will not apply to foreign travelers coming from any of the 39 mainly European and Asian countries enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of those countries to come the U.S. without a visa for temporary stays. The rule will only apply to applicants for so-called “B” class visas that permit short-term stays for business or pleasure.