Some wealthy Chinese parents visit the US to give birth hoping their child may enjoy better social security than them. Picture: Newborns at a hospital. (Photo/Xinhua)
Hong Kong's tightened restrictions on Chinese women giving birth in the special administrative region of China so their children might receive Hong Kong citizenship has made the United States the new destination for parents seeking a better future for their next generation.
The trend of having children born in Hong Kong was first spurred on by a court decision in 2000 ruling that a three-year-old boy, whose parents are both Chinese, had the right to Hong Kong citizenship because the child was born in the region in 1997.
Besides better medical services, these Chinese parents are eyeing the superior social welfare system and easier access to higher education in China and abroad that accompanied Hong Kong citizenship.
Additionally, these parents can also gain residency in the region and will not be fined for having a second child, since the delivery takes place outside China.
However, after such deliveries increased when restrictions on Chinese tourists were lifted beginning in 2003 and put pressure on public hospitals in Hong Kong, local authorities introduced charges of up to HK$20,000 (US$2,567) in 2005 on Chinese parents planning to have their children in Hong Kong.
Since then, the Hong Kong government gradually stepped up restrictions by increasing the charges and requiring appointments. On April 8, however, the authorities announced all public hospitals in the region would no longer accept appointments for deliveries of Chinese women before the end of this year.
Even though Hong Kong once welcomed pregnant Chinese women to boost the region's birth rate in 2010, the generally tightened policies are causing wealthy Chinese families to turn to the US, which helped 'birth tourism' become a new business for immigration consultancies.
In fact, the practice of traveling to the US to give birth to a child is a popular topic on gzmama.com, a Chinese online forum for mothers in Guangzhou.
Meanwhile, the services to help women recuperate during the first month after childbirth - a Chinese tradition - in Los Angeles and New York, which previously catered to customers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, now also team up with these consultancies and host a growing numbers of pregnant women from China.
Most parents consider the over US$20,000 costs of a three-to-four-month American trip to have a child born with U.S. citizenship as being inexpensive, and some even quit their jobs to do so.
With the competition increasing in China between services organizing such trips, prices of tour packages for Chinese parents have recently been reduced to as low as 80,000 Chinese yuan (US$12,355).
Some of these parents have complained of poor services in the US and have no way to seek compensation because of the lack of regulations in this business, which is not commonly recognized in Western countries.
Meanwhile, as the issue has been covered by major American media outlets, including TIME magazine and broadcaster NBC, these children born abroad have been regarded as 'anchor babies' in the US. The term was initially used to described children of illegal immigrants,
This birth tourism has also sparked debates in the US, as some Americans have voiced objections that these anchor babies can enjoy public services without paying taxes, although there are no laws against the practice.
Republican Congressman from New York, Peter King, believes that the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the country, is being misinterpreted and should not be applied to children of foreigners.
King said he plans to propose legislation during the new session of the Congress, and not ruling out the possibility of a constitutional amendment, so anchor babies will not be automatically given US citizenship.