The Ambassador of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, and President Muhammadu Buhari when the envoy presented her credentials at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on December 24, 2019/Photo: Courtesy of US Embassy Nigeria

US restricts visas for pregnant women to stop ‘birth tourism’

The Trump administration has issued a new rule  instructing United States consular officials to deny pregnant women visas unless they can prove “to the satisfaction of the consular officer” either that they are not traveling to the US to give birth, or that they have a legitimate medical reason to give birth in the country.

In the latest immigration control measure, the United States said Thursday it would no longer issue temporary visitor visas to pregnant women seeking to enter the country for so-called “birth tourism.”

In announcing the rule change, which takes effect Friday (24 January), the White House said foreigners were using the visas “to secure automatic and permanent American citizenship for their children by giving birth on American soil.”

“The integrity of American citizenship must be protected,” it said in a statement.

Calling the practice “a glaring immigration loophole,” the White House argued the crackdown on “birth tourism” was for public safety and national security as well as immigration control.

“The birth tourism industry threatens to overburden valuable hospital resources and is rife with criminal activity, as reflected in federal prosecution.”

The US constitution guarantees automatic American citizenship to anyone born on US soil.

The new rule instructs US embassies to deny a visa to any pregnant woman seeking to give birth in the US unless she can convince a consular officer that she has a legitimate medical need to give birth in the US and that she cannot receive that care near her home country. She must also prove that she has arranged for her medical treatment, and that she has the means to pay for it, as well as “all incidental expenses, including transportation and living expenses.”

Travelling to the US for the explicit purpose of giving birth was not previously banned. In fact, “for the purpose of giving birth” was sometimes included in women’s visa applications. “Birth tourism” is said to be most common among women from Russia, China and Nigeria, according to Sonia Canzater, a senior associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

US President Donald Trump has made restricting immigration a top priority of his administration, and has threatened in the past to abolish birthright citizenship.

Vivian Asamoah with agency reports

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