BIRTH TOURISM ON THE RISE IN VANCOUVER AND RICHMOND?
January 9, 2015
The number of foreign mothers giving birth in Vancouver and Richmond hospitals has quadrupled in the last five years.
In the first nine months of 2014, 232 non-residents delivered babies at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care hospitals, the majority in Richmond. This accounted for nearly six per cent of all births.
That compares to 62 in 2009, which represented one per cent of the total.
Babies born to non-residents in Canada and the U.S. gain automatic citizenship.
Health officials do not record the nationalities of patients, so they could include so-called maternity tourists, but also those in Canada on work permits, student permits or refugee claimants.
Although the number of births is low, the federal government in Ottawa has repeatedly threatened to crack down on “birth tourism,” most recently last year by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and his predecessor Jason Kenney in 2012. But B.C. and Ontario — the provinces most affected by the phenomenon — have said the small numbers don’t warrant an expensive bureaucratic change to the current process of issuing birth certificates, which don’t list nationalities of the parents.
Diane Bissenden, director of population and family health at Richmond Hospital, says Canada’s positive reputation is behind their mini-boom in Mandarin-speaking mothers, many of whom intend to move their families to Richmond.
“Families are looking to settle here and sent their kids to school,” she said Thursday.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Catherine Sas says the idea that so-called “anchor babies” can benefit their parents who remain abroad is far-fetched. The child would have to move back to Canada as an adult, meet income and residency requirements and then apply for social benefits or to sponsor their parents and grandparents as immigrants.
“Given the time frame of 25 to 30 years that is necessary for this theory to become reality, it simply isn’t a plausible basis for obtaining status in Canada,” she said in an essay on the topic provided to The Sun. “Nor is it likely that hordes of foreigners will be coming to give birth in Canada with a view to obtaining permanent residence thirty years down the road. The expression ‘anchor baby’ sounds great in a media sound byte but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny upon detailed examination of what is actually entailed in what the term represents.”
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland has researched maternity tourism and says B.C.’s numbers don’t even rate being called a trend.
“Other countries have ‘maternity tourism’. We don’t,” he said in an email while on vacation in Thailand. “Some births are just ‘bad luck’: premature, or health issues. Real ‘maternity tourism’ does not come here because there are much, much cheaper alternatives such as the USA and other countries in Asia.”
“The numbers are proportionally less than the total increase in the number of students, visitors, and legal workers to Canada over the same period. With the number of foreign workers and long-term visitors up to over a million people a year — (and) only 232 births? This is not a trend.”
In China, however, businesses have been advertising the benefits of delivering a child in Canada. They suggest that having a child who is Canadian will speed the immigration process and give newcomers fast access to generous social welfare state.
Websites for Metro Vancouver businesses — written in Chinese — describe a variety of services offered to expectant mothers including airport shuttles, language translation services, arrangements with obstetricians and family physicians, and help applying for a birth certificate, medical card, child tax benefits, passport and visa.
“In Canada, after birth, there are five kinds of documents that need to be processed: birth registration, birth certificate, SIN, medical cards and work card,” says the website of the Burnaby-based Loving Postpartum Rest Centre, offering to guide clients through the process.
“Healthy soups, unlimited supply of fruit, milk, snacks, a month of meals by professional chefs will be delivered to a room with floor-to-ceiling views of Vancouver’s beautiful snow-capped mountains,” says another loosely translated as the Peaceful Heart Confinement Rest Centre. (In Chinese tradition, women rest for the month following the birth of a child, a practice called confinement.)
In 2013, Hong Kong placed strict rules on pregnant women travelling from Mainland China to give birth. In the years immediately proceeding, up to half of all children born in Hong Kong had parents living elsewhere in the country who sought better health care, a dodge of China’s one-child policy and Hong Kong residency for their child.
Also in 2013, film called Beijing meets Seattle (Finding Mister Right in English markets) made a block-buster run in China by telling the story of a young mistress to a Beijing tycoon who goes to a Seattle to give birth — and pick up U.S. citizenship for her child. It was mainly shot in Vancouver.
Local health authorities require foreign patients to pay their own hospital bills since they are not covered by Medicare. An uncomplicated delivery costs between $7,000 and $8,000; caesarean section between $12,000 and $13,000.
In Richmond, Bissenden says non-resident patients readily pay their bills and it provides extra revenue for the hospital.
She said the hospital has a higher-than-average number of Mandarin-speaking doctors serving its recently renovated and expanded birthing centre.
While complaints have surfaced about women being moved out of Richmond’s maternity ward due to overcrowding, Bissenden says relocating patients to hospitals that aren’t as busy is not new and is a situation they can face at any time.
“The very nature of birthing is we can have three births one day and 12 the next.”
In the Fraser Health region, there have been fewer than 10 births per year to non-Canadians since 2010, even though more than 15,000 babies a year are born. Fraser Health saw higher numbers of foreign births in previous years, topping out at 81 in 2004, according to the latest figures available.
And as trends do, they come and go.
Bissenden says doctors have already told her there are fewer mothers from China scheduled to deliver this year. The reason: 2015 is the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese calendar — considered inauspicious for births.
With files from Peter O’Neil, Chuck Chiang
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