Homeland Security raids birth tourism industry targeting visa fraud

Reuters / Alex Lee
America’s birth tourism industry is booming: The going rate for wealthy Chinese women to give birth to a US citizen? A mere $80,000 with added visa fraud. However, this fraud has led federal law enforcement to start raiding so-called birthing houses.

Birth tourism occurs when foreign women ‒ most of whom are Chinese, though some are Taiwanese, Korean and Turkish ‒ pay companies to assist them with the visa process so they can give birth to their child in the US, NBC News reported.

Any infant born in the United States is automatically granted American citizenship, and traveling to the US to give birth is not, in itself illegal. But these women (and couples) pay $40,000 to $80,000, a package deal that includes transportation to and from the airport, visits to the grocery store, restaurants, entertainment and prenatal visits to a physician, as well as lodging in “maternity hotels” or “birthing centers,” Fox News reported.

The agencies also assist in getting the newborn a US passport, birth certificate and Social Security number. They tout the child’s ability to qualify for in-state college tuition in the future ‒ and secure US citizenship for their parents once they turn 21.

“It is essentially citizenship for sale,” Center for Immigration Studies analyst Jessica Vaughan told Fox News. “Something US citizens hold very dear and cherish is essentially being purchased by people for their own economic self-interests or potentially more nefarious purposes.”

Not all of the companies are operating legally, however.

On Tuesday, law enforcement officials with the Department of Homeland Security raided 37 locations in Southern California to gather evidence against at least three such businesses that are helping women fraudulently obtain their tourist visas, the New York Times reported.

According to an affidavit filed Tuesday in federal court, Department of Homeland Security investigators posed as Chinese nationals wanting their “niece” in Beijing to have a child in the US.

READ MORE: China eases notorious one-child policy, abolishes labor camps

The relative in Beijing gave one company ‒ You Win USA Vacation Resort ‒ a resume that showed no college education, a low income and few family ties. She was told to change the information so that the US consulate would be more likely to approve her business visa. The company also told her not to reveal her pregnancy and coached her on how to conceal it when going through customs in the US.

“We were coached through the entire process,” a federal source told Fox News. “What to wear, what to say, how to stay under the radar.”

The expectant mothers are told to travel to vacation hot spots like Hawaii and Las Vegas, rather than LA, where there is greater scrutiny, an affidavit said. The DHS niece was routed through Honolulu “for higher success rate.”

Upon arrival in Southern California ‒ usually two to three months before their due dates ‒ the women are housed in apartments for the duration, with one or two expectant mothers per unit. You Win USA Vacation Resort has 17 to 20 apartments at the Carlyle Apartments, a luxury property in Irvine, California, all rented under the name Chao Chen. He and his wife, Jie Zhu, gave the undercover agent a tour of the location, Fox News reported.

During a raid on an apartment complex in Rowland Heights targeting Star Baby Care, Liou ‒ an eight-month pregnant woman identified only by her last name ‒ told the Los Angeles Times that she came to the US to skirt China’s one-child policy.

“If things were good in China, why would we need to come here?” another expectant mother, identified only as Wu, said. “I am a mother, I want to be healthy. I want my child to be happy. I want air to breathe.”

The raids were aimed at the ringleaders ‒ the companies perpetrating the visa fraud ‒ not the women who want to give birth to American citizens, NBC News reported.

“This is still very much an ongoing investigation, coming after undercover activities that have lasted most of the last year,” said Virginia Kice, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman. “Today is just the execution of search warrants and evidence gathering. We are not anticipating any arrests right now.”

Along with visa fraud, the companies also defrauded the hospitals where the women gave birth. While expectant mothers paid between $15,000 and $50,000 for labor-and-delivery costs, the agencies paid local hospitals nothing or a reduced sum for uninsured, low-income patients, an affidavit said.

More than 400 women associated with You Win USA Vacation Resort have given birth at one Orange County hospital since 2013, agents wrote

The raids occurred in California’s Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.