Invasion of the Pregnant Women from China


I like this.


Random photo of pregnant invaders from China.


Does anyone else find it amusing that hordes of pregnant women from China are having their babies in Hong Kong? It’s not like they’re giving away free Chanel bags, fully-loaded Octopus cards or life time passes to Disneyland. Are the goodie bags at Queen Mary Hospital really that much better than the ones you get on the mainland?

It even costs more—5,000 U.S. dollars versus 2,450 bucks at People’s Peace Maternal Hospital #28. And from what I hear, all your baby gets is Hong Kong residency, free education and healthcare. Whoopee. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hong Kong. But it’s crowded, it stinks and the air quality on a good day leaves much to be desired. Plus, little old ladies yell at me in Cantonese for no good reason whenever I’m there. (This covers most of what they have to say.)

But as Hong Kong’s hospitals struggle to cope with 40,000 women a year from China crossing the border to have their babies—that’s almost half of Hong Kong’s 88,000 births in 2010—another version of this phenomenon called birthing tourism is reaching out across the Pacific.

Now with an American twist, maternity homes are sprouting up in Southern California, where wealthy expectant mothers are coddled and catered to in relative luxury. For fees starting at $35,000, Chinese women receive room and board in upscale townhouses, VIP shopping excursions and a chance to deliver their babies in the United States and become mothers to instant U.S. citizens. Now that’s something worth packing a bag for. I guess.

Those shopping excursions, by the way, include visits to such purveyors of decadence as South Coast Plaza, a luxury shopping center that is the largest mall in California with the highest retail sales in the United States ($1.5 billion). Anchored by Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, the mall boasts the U.S. flagship locations of Rolex, Chloé and Zara, as well as luxury brand stores like Harry Winston, Tiffany’s, Cartier, Calypso Christiane Celle, Montblanc, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Prada, Dior, Valentino, Chanel, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Hermès, Christian Louboutin, and Barneys New York. I don’t know about you, but my wallet hurts just writing this. But I digress.

Ground zero for U.S. birth tourism appears to be San Gabriel Valley, located in the county of Los Angeles. Not coincidentally, the valley has the largest concentration of Chinese American communities in the United States. For you fact-mongers, eight of the 10 cities in the U.S. with the largest proportion of Chinese Americans are located in the San Gabriel Valley in incorporated cities you probably never heard of. (To name a few: Walnut, Rowland Heights, San Marino, Rosemead, Temple City and Monterey Park. See, I told you.)

While not illegal for pregnant women to visit the U.S. to give birth, the maternity homes themselves are illegal. Law enforcement officials have known about such operations for years, but cracking down on them is a challenge because of their low-profile, their ability to blend into residential neighborhoods and their locations in predominantly Asian-American communities.

The dead giveaways, of course, are all the pregnant women waddling around chattering with newly-minted moms pushing strollers. Uh, that, and all the luxury cars parked outside.

One of three San Gabriel townhouses illegally converted into maternity wards. 

That’s what gave officials the heads-up last week when they shut down one such illegal operation in the city of San Gabriel, after discovering a makeshift maternity clinic in three adjoining townhomes containing 10 newborns and a dozen Chinese women. The Chinese mothers have since left the U.S. or moved into hotels, officials said.

A quick search of Chinese-language websites pulled down results for dozens of such homes now operating in residential neighborhoods in San Gabriel Valley cities. The sites encourage pregnant women to come to the United States to receive care before and after giving birth to U.S. citizens at local hospitals. Websites advertising maternity tourism in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley also have sprung up. A website like those advertising maternity tourism in the San Gabriel Valley tells expectant mothers about the benefits of giving birth in the city of San Jose, including private rooms, trips to the doctor and pre and post-natal care. All the websites promise the help of their legal teams to ensure the newborn gets their birth certificate, U.S. passport and social security card. Representative sites to eyeball here and here.

So why are Chinese mothers traveling abroad to give birth? First, there’s the PRC’s “One Child Policy.” By going overseas to deliver, the mother escapes the bounds of Chinese legislation, and can potentially have another baby upon her return to China.

The second reason is a little more far-reaching, and requires a degree of patience. Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, any child born within the bounds of America’s borders automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. The key here is that once that child turns 21, he/she’s able to petition to allow his/her parents to join them as residents of the United States.

The scenario is similar for Hong Kong. Mainland mothers giving birth within the HKSAR gain their child “Right of Abode,” and consequently Permanent Residency, in addition to rights to live in Hong Kong as their child’s guardian.

What do you think about all this? Me? I just like the headline.

The gist of this post originally appeared in HKEJ.

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