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Is the growing trend of “birth tourists” in the US a problem? 

Under the United States’ 14th Amendment, almost any child born in the United States has birthright citizenship, regardless of their parents’ nationality or country of residence.  This allows these babies to become American citizens, complete with an American passport, birth certificate and Social Security card.  Chinese parents see birth tourism as a way to give their children more options, and potentially a better future.

Birth tourism is touted in China as the extra edge that wealthier parents can provide their children.  A new industry of travel agencies charge Chinese women tens of thousands of dollars to facilitate their visit to the United States to give birth.  Once here, the soon-to-be moms are well cared for; the agencies provide them with a rented apartment, food and supplies, both before and after the baby’s arrival. 

The complication in this issue is that birth tourism is neither explicitly legal nor illegal.  “Some people say these families are taking advantage of a loophole,” says immigration attorney Emily Callan.  “If it was a loophole you could close it, but changing the 14th Amendment would be drastic.  This isn’t a loophole or a technicality.  It’s an unintended consequence.”

While in the United States, these women live in apartments usually rented out to the agency that organized the birth tourism.  Since the practice is currently being investigated and not seen as completely legal, that puts some vacation property owners in a sticky situation.  Should they decline birth tourist renters?  Can they legally do so?

On the one hand, the Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating “based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability.”

In certain states like California, it’s illegal to even ask applicants about nationality, immigration status and medical issues including pregnancy.  If applicants meet your guidelines, you legally have to rent to them, or risk running afoul of the Fair Housing Act.

On the other hand, landlords have the right to establish certain criteria for their rental units.  Landlords can set strict standards based on credit history, background checks and rental history.  They can also require tenants to provide proper identification and proof of income or ability to pay. 

If an applicant cannot meet the rental criteria, the landlord is not required to rent them the unit.  The decision needs to be based on objective factors, like clearly defined rental criteria, and not on a gut feeling or personal opinion on the issue. 

Currently, the IRS and Homeland Security are investigating the birth tourism industry and the companies that promote it.  Dozens of Chinese parents have been deported, and many have lodged complaints against the travel companies.  There is also talk of changing the law regarding birthright citizenship.  But for the moment, landlords are expected to continue to follow the Fair Housing Act and rent to qualified applicants.  It’s important for landlords to do their due diligence, but it’s best to leave the investigating to the professionals.


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