Birth tourism fix gets cold shoulder from Liberals

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum has no appetite to change citizenship laws that would prevent birth tourism from occurring in Canada.

McCallum dismissed a petition sponsored by Richmond Centre MP Alice Wong that calls for an end to jus soli, or citizenship by birth on soil. 

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“While there may be instances of expectant mothers who are foreign nationals who travel to Canada to give birth, requiring that a parent be a citizen or permanent resident in order for their child to acquire citizenship through birth in Canada would represent a significant change to how Canadian citizenship is acquired,” stated McCallum.

Wong told the Richmond News she was “disappointed” with McCallum’s statement. and is preparing a private member’s bill for Parliament that would address the issue, which appears to be more pronounced at Richmond Hospital, with about one in six babies being born to foreign mothers.

“Canada has been enriched by new Canadians and their experiences. Immigration is an important part of our system,” said Wong. “That said, it’s very important to protect the integrity of the immigration system and ensure new Canadians come through a system that is fair.”

At issue is women who purposefully come to Canada to give birth, thus gaining automatic citizenship for their child, who can then sponsor the parents to come to Canada at age 18. 

“It’s important to discourage foreign nationals from travelling for the sole purpose of giving birth,” said Wong, who described the process as “queue jumping.”

Wong said while the United States allows for the same process, that country taxes its citizens on all foreign-earned income regardless of place of residence; Canada does not. As such, birth tourism is considered by many as an abuse of Canada’s social security net.

Richmond resident Kerry Starchuk began the petition earlier this year after living next to a “baby house” in her neighbourhood. The petition gained the support of nearly 9,000 signatories across Canada. Starchuk also said birth tourism is impacting the integrity of the immigration system.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact birth tourism is having on Canadians at Richmond Hospital, as a small fraction of births require diversion to nearby hospitals due to the maternity ward being over capacity — 14 mothers in an 18-month span, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. There are also instances of those in labour being forced to wait in ER rooms, hallways and nursing rooms, as opposed to being immediately provided a proper bed. The hospital claims it is revamping its registration process to limit any impact foreign births may have.

In the hospital’s financial year of 2014/15, the hospital birthed 2,185 new Canadians, 339 of whom were to foreign nationals. Between 2004 and 2010, there were 18 non-resident births per year in Richmond, on average. 

“We can say the problem has gotten worse in the past few years,” noted Wong.

The problem may be worsening elsewhere, noted Wong, granted other health authorities across Canada may not track foreign nationals giving birth.

She noted the BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver does not accept foreign nationals.

Richmond’s birth tourism phenomenon is aided by the rise in “baby houses,” or homes where care is provided to the expectant mothers.

The provincial Audit and Investigations Branch, Eligibility, Compliance and Enforcement Unit is aware of at least 26 private residences that provide room and board services to foreign pregnant women.

Richmond is considered a particularly popular destination for Chinese nationals due to its proximity to China and access to Chinese-speaking doctors.

Liberal Steveston-Richmond East MP Joe Peschisolido said the issue should be addressed by enforcing rules for entry into Canada.

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