The Trump administration has published new rules to crack down on “birth tourism” by making it harder for pregnant women to travel to the US to secure American citizenship for their babies by giving birth in the country.
Under the amended regulation, which takes effect on Friday, US consular officers overseas will deny non-immigrant “B” visa applications from women believed to be travelling for the primary purpose of giving birth in the US in order to obtain US citizenship for the child.
“This change is intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” said a state department spokesperson.
The US does not have official statistics on the practice, but the US state department said that “many” foreign nationals had sought such visas to obtain US citizenship for their children. The conservative Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to reduce immigration, estimated that more than 30,000 women every year enter the US to take advantage of citizenship rights obtained at birth.
The state department said that application numbers had been rising, increasing the risks to national security and medical costs that were passed on to US taxpayers.
“The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes, as reflected in federal prosecutions of individuals and entities involved in that industry,” according to the text of the new rule, which is due to be published on Friday.
The US constitution guarantees citizenship for those born on American soil, as enshrined in the 14th amendment, which was originally adopted after the end of the civil war in order to ensure that freed slaves and their children would be citizens.
According to the state department, the “birth tourism” industry can charge as much as $100,000 per birth and is plagued by immigration fraud, money laundering and fraud targeting property owners who rent to pregnant foreigners, many of whom were coached on how to provide false statements to secure a visa.
“Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice,” the White House said in a statement.
“It’s a booming business with the Chinese,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. Women from Turkey, Lebanon, Russia, Mexico, South Korea and the West Indies have also sought non-immigrant visas in order to benefit from the citizenship rule, she added.
The rule change is likely to dismay pro-immigration advocates. Responding to reports of the rule change on Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from New York and a rising star of leftwing politics, said that it “single[d] out the most vulnerable” by targeting pregnant women.
Curbing immigration has been at the centre of Donald Trump’s political career. If the Trump administration wants to go further, Ms Vaughan said, it could consider measures such as increasing penalties for lying on visa forms — although ending birthright citizenship altogether could require amending the constitution.