Birth tourism is the deliberate travel of a pregnant person to another country in order to give birth to her child there, so that the child receives the citizenship of the respective country. Birth tourism has increased significantly in recent years and is practiced primarily by pregnant persons from countries where they or their children have poor opportunities for education, equality and prosperity, or whose passports make it almost impossible to emigrate and lead a better life in a more politically stable country. The pregnant person hopes that her child with a different citizenship will have a better chance to emigrate and thus to get education and equal rights than in her country of origin.
Why does birth tourism exist?
The reasons for birth tourism are obvious: parents or pregnant persons want to give their children the chance for a better future and a fairer life. They want to make this possible for their child by giving it the respective citizenship of another country through birth, thus opening up more opportunities for it. In many countries, but specifically known from the USA and Canada, there is the birthplace principle – also known as the law of the soil (not to be confused with the law of descent). This birthplace principle states that people born on the territory of the USA or Canada are automatically granted the respective citizenship.
What are law of the soil and law of descent?
Land law refers to a legal system in which the right to a certain piece of land or territory is transferred to the owner of the land. Thus, the owner of the land has control over everything that happens to or on that land and has the right to regulate all of that as well.
In terms of birthright citizenship, land law means that a child born on the land or territory of a country automatically becomes a citizen of that country, whether or not the child’s parents also have that citizenship.
Parentage law, on the other hand, describes the rules that apply when establishing parentage and the rights and obligations that parents have with respect to their child. Parentage law is relevant to birth tourism in that it opens up complicated questions about parentage and citizenship – especially when the parents are not married or the child is the result of a sperm donation, surrogacy or a donated egg.
In many cases, the laws of the country in which the child is born determine how parentage and citizenship are regulated. Here, there may be different outcomes in deciding citizenship.
Legal and ethical difficulties and consequences of birth tourism
Birth tourism is in many cases a controversial issue both ethically and legally. Countries such as Canada, for example, are attempting to curb birth tourism by imposing stricter entry requirements specifically for pregnant individuals. In the U.S., on the other hand, there are no special entry requirements for pregnant persons. However, citizenship has already been denied to children born on U.S. soil to non-U.S. parents when the courts have suspected fraudulent intent and purposeful birth tourism on the part of the parents. In other countries, such as Germany, it is not possible to acquire German citizenship just by being born on German soil. Instead, it depends on the citizenships of the parents and is only granted to newborns if at least one parent has German citizenship themselves. It does not matter where the family lives or where the child is born.
Criticism of birth tourism
Critics of birth tourism complain that people who make use of the right of ground when a child is born are thereby exploiting the system and harming the actual citizens of the country and the country’s economy. This is because once one has the respective citizenship, one can receive social benefits and other assistance from the state of the respective country, even if one does not live in the country at all.
Arguments for birth tourism
On the other side are people who support birth tourism on the grounds that it gives more people a chance at a fair and good life. They also say that the respective country can even benefit from more citizens, as this can mean more workers and thus a stronger economy.
Ultimately, birth tourism is and will remain a controversial topic where there is no clear right or wrong answer.