New restrictions could make it more difficult for pregnant foreigners to get US visas

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

In a move purportedly aimed at curbing "birth tourism," the Trump administration issued new visa guidelines Thursday that could make it more difficult for some pregnant women to get visas to visit the United States.

Under the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen. While the practice of traveling to the U.S. to give birth is not fundamentally illegal, authorities have arrested operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion.

Under the new guidelines, which take effect Friday, visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment — they must prove they have the money to pay for it, including transportation and living expenses.

"This rule will help prevent operators in the birth tourism industry from profiting

off treating U.S. citizenship as a commodity, sometimes through potentially criminal acts," the State Department said in issuing the guidelines.

The State Department warned that birth tourism poses risks to national security and is "rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes."

It noted that investigations of birth tourism found that operators often fabricated financial documents, used false information to lease apartments, and charged individuals as much as $100,000 for the service. 

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Though focused on organized birth tourism operators, the State Department also suggested the new rule could be applied against some individuals.

"While this rule will not preclude visa issuance to all aliens who may give birth in the United States, it recognizes the risks posed by allowing the previous visa policy to continue," the State Department said.

It said the rule "addresses some of those national security threats that exist when aliens, who may have no ties to, or constructive interest in, the United States, easily are able to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children, through birth in the United States."

Implementing the new guidelines could be problematic. Consular officers conducting visa interviews do not have the right to ask whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth. 

The new policy also raises questions as to whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be pregnant just by looking at her.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about "birth tourism" and "anchor babies," in which the foreign parents of a child born in the U.S. could use that connection to gain their own U.S. citizenship.

In 2018, Trump told Axios he would issue an executive order that he said would end the right to citizenship for babies of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on U.S. soil.

"It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't," Trump said, claiming he could do it by executive order.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country. 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump administration issues visa restrictions for pregnant women