Its critics call it ‘birth tourism’. But is the practice real? COVID-19 is providing clues

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying border closures and travel restrictions appear to have taken a toll on the number of non-Canadians coming to this country to deliver their babies.

The latest government data offers what may be an unprecedented look at the practice that has been controversially dubbed “birth tourism.”

It shows that the number of new “non-resident self-pay” births in the country fell by 57% during the first full year of the global crisis, between April 2020 and March 2021, from 5,698 the year before to 2,433.

Observers have emphasized that the practice of coming to Canada to deliver a baby is legal and cautioned that its frequency has been exaggerated by critics, drawing attention at times more for reasons of racism than pragmatic concerns.

All babies born in Canada automatically receive Canadian citizenship.

The liberal government has said it is committed to investigating the problem of foreign nationals taking a shortcut to citizenship for their children by giving birth in Canada, but no policy recommendations or changes have been made to date.

In normal times, it is difficult for researchers to determine the number of visitors who came here for the primary purpose of giving birth, because the data would also capture non-residents who delivered babies while working or studying in this country.

But the unique circumstances of the pandemic brought new data with them.

Given that Canada has imposed restrictive measures against the entry of non-essential travelers, but not international students and temporary foreign workers, the data for the first time provides a more accurate picture of the number of people coming to Canada to deliver babies.

“This really gives you what Nobel Prize-winning economist David Card called a natural experiment, where there it was a variable that changed and affected a group disproportionately, ”says researcher Andrew Griffith, whose findings will be published by the Institute for Public Policy Research Thursday.

“This basically confirms that when you don’t have visitor visas, you have a significant drop in birth tourists because that’s how they come in.”

Based on hospital delivery data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a Crown corporation, Griffith analyzed the number of times the cost of delivering babies in hospitals over the past decade was paid out of pocket for children. the patients.

The number increased annually from 1,863 in 2010 to a high of 5,698 in 2019, before plummeting last year, coinciding with a 95 percent drop in the number of visitor visas issued by Canada.

By comparison, the number of international students fell by only 25 percent, while the number of temporary foreign workers actually increased by 5.5 percent.

Griffith estimates that the percentage of “tourism births” has now reached one percent of all births in Canada in an average year.

“This is really a question of the integrity of the citizenship program. If you come here as a permanent resident, you have to meet the residency requirements, you have to meet the knowledge requirements, you have to meet the language requirements. There is a whole process you have to go through to be a Canadian citizen, ”said Griffith, a fellow at the Canadian Institute for Global Affairs and the Environmental Institute.

“This is legal, but it is still a loophole that basically allows quite wealthy women and families to shorten the process, find a back door entrance and bypass the standard process of becoming Canadian citizens.”

Citizenship granted to these Canadian-born children automatically allows them access to health care, local education, and tuition fees, as well as other government benefits.

While any visa restrictions against pregnant women visiting Canada would be difficult to administer and enforce, Griffith said Ottawa could change the citizenship law to require that at least one of the parents be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada for the citizenship is conferred on a Canadian-born. child, as Australia does.

The former Conservative government explored similar legislative changes in 2012, but the idea was abandoned due to opposition from provincial governments, which are responsible for the administration of birth certificates, a key document for citizenship. The number of people who came to Canada for the express purpose of delivering a baby was estimated at just 500 at the time and such changes were not deemed worthy of the considerable administrative costs.

“Now we have more accurate data,” Griffith said.

in a Angus Reid Institute Survey 2019, 64 percent of Canadians said that a child born to parents who are in this country on tourist visas should not receive Canadian citizenship, and 60 percent said changes in citizenship laws are necessary to discourage the birth tourism.

Critics have argued that any requirement that one parent be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident could lead to children, such as those born here to asylum seekers, being stateless.

“Everything that has to do with immigration and citizenship basically has some form of discrimination. Who are you letting in? Who are you not letting in? What are the criteria for allowing someone to become a citizen? Griffith said.

“Is it too rigid? Is it too open? You’re always going to have the debate on how to cut the line in the right place. “

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto reporter covering immigration for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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