The State Department on Thursday announced new restrictions that will make it harder for pregnant women to travel to the United States on tourist visas.
The new policy is “intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” said a State Department spokesperson.
Currently, US law does not block travelers from coming to the United States specifically to give birth and there is an entire industry set up to accommodate them. In 2012, an estimated 36,000 foreign women gave birth in the United States and then left the country. In 2017, roughly 10,000 babies were born in the US to parents who were foreign residents.
The new rules, which go into effect Friday, require pregnant women applying for tourist visas to provide a legitimate reason for their visit to the US.
It is unclear how the the rules will be enforced, however, as consular officers are not required to ask women if they are pregnant during visa interviews and most tourist visas are valid for 10 years.
At least one airline in Hong Kong requires women “observed to have a body size/shape resembling a pregnant lady” to take a pregnancy test before flying to Saipan, an American territory that is a popular destination for expectant mothers.
In the US, authorities will rely on visual cues to determine if a woman is trying to come to the US specifically to give birth.
“This rule change is necessary to enhance public safety, national security, and the integrity of our immigration system,” said the White House in a statement.
Next week, President Trump is expected to add seven more countries to his controversial travel ban. The Administration has also asked the Supreme Court to lift a lower court ruling blocking the public-charge rule, which would impose a wealth test on immigrants looking to move to the United States.