Posted on March 16, 2010

Birth Tourism in US on the Rise for Turkish Parents

Işıl Eğrikavuk, Hürriyet Daily News (Istanbul), March 12, 2010

If Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 hit “Born in the USA” were to become popular again, the title might now refer to thousands of Turkish children whose parents are increasingly traveling to the United States to give birth.

According to tourism expert Gürkan Boztepe and media sources, 12,000 Turkish children have been born in the U.S. since 2003.The numbers are significant enough to draw the attention of tourism companies and inspire them to pursue “birth tourism.”

“We found a company on the Internet and decided to go to Austin for our child’s birth,” said Selin Burcuoğlu who gave birth to a daughter last year. “It was incredibly professional. They organized everything for me. I had no problem adjusting and I had an excellent birth,” she told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Burcuoğlu said she and her partner chose to have the birth in the U.S. to make their child’s life more comfortable. “I don’t want her to deal with visa issues–American citizenship has so many advantages.”

Birth tourism

Burcuoğlu is not the only Turkish parent who wants her child to have U.S. citizenship. Many Turkish parents-to-be are now seeking tourism companies to “guarantee” their child’s life.

“We have been involved in medical tourism since 2002,” said Levent Baş, general manager of Gurib Tourism. “But we were also receiving so many demands about this issue that we decided to sell birth packages,” he told the Daily News.

“We first started our research in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando and we only contacted Turkish doctors,” Baş said. “But we are preparing a package that covers everything from the flight and city tours to accommodation for several months and hospital expenses.”

In terms of cost, Baş said the minimum expense is $25,000, which rises to $40,000 if the destination is New York.

Birth tourism organizations are located throughout Turkey, including one run by Gürkan Boztepe in the Aegean province of İzmir. “Before, only celebrities gave birth in the U.S. We are now aiming, however, to make this service accessible to everyone. And surprisingly, our customers are not just from İzmir and Istanbul, there are also many people from smaller provinces, such as [southeastern] Gaziantep.”

Many families, however, do not want to talk openly about the process, according to the birth tourism operators. “Many people say they are doing it because they want their kids to get a cheaper education and not deal with visa issues when they grow up,” said Baş.

“But they don’t want to make it public. Even celebrities who have done this are trying to ignore the issue by saying they had to give birth in the U.S. because their doctors were there,” he said.

Arzu Geiger is an entrepreneur who lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and offers customers the option to stay in her home.

“We got the idea when a friend of ours wished to give birth in the U.S.,” she told the Daily News. “We realized that many women abroad may also wish to give birth in the U.S., but may have many concerns regarding arrangements or safety. Some women may choose to stay alone with us for the first few months, then move to separate living arrangements when family members arrive for the birth.”

While the small-scale companies have started investing in the birth market, bigger firms are also entering the market with alternative packages. The Turkish-owned Marmara Hotel group recently announced a birth tourism package that includes accommodation at their Manhattan branch.

“We hosted 15 families last year,” said Nur Ercan Mağden, head manager of The Marmara Manhattan, adding that the cost was $45,000 each.

Law Amendment

According to the U.S.’s 14th Amendment, the country grants citizenship to anyone born on its soil. At the same time, however, many have demanded the elimination of the “ius soli” law.

“They come to this country and have babies. The children are citizens. The children are eligible to go to school. They receive food stamps and social programs. The American taxpayers are paying for it,” said Republican Congressman Gary Miller last month, who is co-sponsoring a bill that seeks to abolish birthright citizenship for children born in the country to illegal immigrant parents.

According to Emre Özgü, a partner at law firm Barst Mukamal & Kleiner LLP in New York, people in favor of tightening immigration laws have been attempting to end “ius soli” citizenship for years.

“Those trying to restrict immigration argue these babies, who are occasionally called ‘anchor babies,’ serve as a key link in the ‘chain immigration’ process that they would like to see eliminated. However, there is no current pending legislation before Congress that would limit the claim to U.S. citizenship of a child born in the U.S.,” Özgü told the Daily News.

When asked whether birthright citizenship could be considered a loophole in the law, Özgü said he would not classify the “ius soli” citizenship as such because it is explicitly included within the U.S. Constitution.

“While it can be controversial, birth tourism is legal in the U.S.,” said Geiger. “Some of the major concerns expressed with birth tourism are that the mother and baby can access free health and social benefits at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. We do not accept customers in this manner–they are responsible for the payment of their own medical expenses.”

Baş, however, thinks U.S. authorities are ultimately unconcerned by the practice. “I think the United States is aware of such a law, otherwise they would prevent it. I think it is part of an integration policy. They want people to become American citizens.”

Other examples

Birth tourism to the U.S. is not just popular in Turkey but also in Asian countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. According to a Los Angeles Times report, many South Korean parents-to-be have chosen to give birth in the U.S. for many reasons, ranging from a desire to enroll their children in American schools to enabling them to avoid South Korean military service.

The birthright citizenship formerly applied to other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia but both countries modified their law in the mid-1980s.

India maintained such birthright law until 2004, but ended the right to prevent continued illegal immigration from neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh.