Saipan the new Hong Kong? Chinese mothers flock to US territory to give birth
Saipan - the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), an unincorporated US territory - has become the destination of choice for an increasing number of pregnant Chinese and Korean women
Act now before Saipan becomes the next Hong Kong!
That's the warning from a company catering to Chinese pregnant women giving birth overseas. “You will become the parent of a US citizen for as low as 50,000 yuan [HK$63,000]. And the best part is, you don’t even need a US visa,” its advertisement reads.
Saipan - the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), an unincorporated US territory - has become the destination of choice for an increasing number of pregnant Chinese and Korean women, according to Fiji-based Islands Business International.
The island of 48,200 has seen a surge in Asian mothers since 2009, when the US granted a visa waiver for Chinese and Russian tourists, according to IBI’s article.
This revised policy has worked to the favour of Chinese nationals who have difficulty obtaining US visas.
“We’ve failed in previous applications before,” said a Fujian man whose wife gave birth in Saipan last year and who wrote an online post about their experience with Saipan. “After we heard Saipan doesn’t require a visa to enter, we decided to go.” The man said he and his wife had previously considered giving birth in Hong Kong but decided Saipan was a better choice.
Hong Kong used to be a popular destination for mainland mothers giving birth. But the practice has significantly dropped since a "zero-birth quota" policy took effect in January.
Besides the visa waiver, the island’s proximity to China and relatively lower medical fees (compared with the rest of the US) have also been touted on Chinese websites run by “birth tourism” agencies.
But prices vary depend on whom you ask. A Guangzhou-based agency, Xin Tiandi, told the South China Morning Post that an all-inclusive package for a mother costs 150,000 yuan. Plane tickets, accommodation, a personal carer and hospital bills are included.
A mother identified only as Catherine claimed to have given birth to her second child in Sapain, and she said she had paid a total of 80,000 yuan.
The agency said it would send three or four Chinese mothers to Saipan in an average month, and encouraged clients to go as early in their pregnancy as possible - so they won’t be stopped by the customs.
But there is a time limit. The visa waiver programme grants a stay of 45 days maximum. Overstaying would mean a ban from visiting the US within a number of years in the future.
Although agents have spelled out this inevitable consequence for clients, parents seem undeterred.
Citing their newborn's entitlement to better social benefits and education resources, many parents said the trip would still be worth it.