Portman Report Exposes Birth Tourism Industry and Foreign Nationals Exploiting Birthright Citizenship

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a new report on the birth tourism industry in the United States including how foreign nationals are paying for U.S. citizenship for their children. Birth tourism is the practice by which expecting mothers travel to the United States, often paying considerable sums in cash, to give birth and obtain U.S. citizenship for their children. The report, titled Birth Tourism in the United States profiles two companies who catered to Russian and Chinese birth tourists including discussion of each company’s pricing, housing, and healthcare services offered. In addition, the report found that birth tourists receive significant adjustments for hospital costs, in some cases leaving states and their taxpayers to pay the difference. The report also discusses the State Department’s visa policies, which previously facilitated birth tourism. Following the initiation of this investigation, State Department changed its regulations to make traveling to the U.S. for birth tourism more difficult. 

“This report exposes an industry abusing U.S. birthright citizenship by helping foreign nationals buy U.S. citizenship for their children,” said Senator Portman.  “Birth tourism short circuits and demeans the U.S. naturalization process by monetizing the privilege of U.S. citizenship sometimes even at American taxpayers expense.” 

The report’s key findings include: 

(1)          Changes to State Department policies governing the issuance of B visas in 2015 made birth tourism more accessible.  This change instructed consular officers not to deny visa applicants solely because they planned to travel to the United States to obtain citizenship for their child and birth tourists should be treated like other medical visa applicants. These changes also made visa fraud cases related to birth tourism more difficult to prosecute. 

(2)          After the Committee began its investigation, in 2020, the State Department amended its policies governing the issuance of B visas to prohibit travel to the United States solely for birth tourism.  In its public notice regarding the rule change, the Department said visits “for pleasure” was an ambiguous category under the INA which previously could be interpreted to permit birth tourism.  State “concluded that a more reasonable interpretation of the statutory provision and a better policy is that the statutory provision authorizing the issuance of visas to temporary visitors for pleasure does not extend to individuals whose primary purpose of travel is to obtain U.S. citizenship for a child.” 

(3)          The State Department’s 2020 policy change prohibiting birth tourism was a primary reason Miami Mama discontinued operations.  During an interview with the Committee, one of Miami Mama’s owners said this rule change complicated their business operations to the point where it no longer made sense to continue offering services to birth tourists. 

(4)          Birth tourists often make substantial cash declarations upon entry to the United States, make return trips to secure citizenship for numerous children, and receive significant adjustments for total hospital costs incurred.  According to CBP TECS records reviewed by the Committee, the cash declarations made by birth tourists ranged from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.  Birth tourists also made return visits citing the superior educational and career opportunities available to United States citizens.  Last, the Committee found numerous instances where tourists received adjustments exceeding $25,000 and some cases where the State where the child was born was left to pay the difference. 

The report makes the following recommendations: 

(1)            The State Department and Customs and Border Protection should strengthen their partnership to more comprehensively track birth tourism activity in the United States. 

(2)            Congress should clarify in law that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not authorize the issuance of visas to temporary visitors for pleasure who only travel to the United States to obtain citizenship for their child.