The Trump administration has drafted plans to make it more difficult for pregnant individuals from foreign countries to obtain tourist visas, according to draft government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The Trump administration has, since its early days, taken efforts to restrict immigration in all forms, including whole-scale changes to the asylum system and bans on those traveling from certain countries. The latest effort, if instituted, would appear to be an attempt to target another focus of those advocating to restrict immigration: “birth tourism.”
A draft rule and draft guidance drawn up for State Department officers at embassies across the world would make it so anyone attempting to travel on a tourist visa to the US while they could give birth would be forced to clear an additional hurdle: convincing a consular officer they have another legitimate reason to come to the US.
“Under this rule, if a consular officer has reason to believe a B nonimmigrant visa applicant will give birth in the United States, the applicant is presumed to be seeking a visa for the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for the child,” a draft rule obtained by BuzzFeed News reads. “To rebut this presumption, the visa applicant must establish, to the satisfaction of a consular officer, a legitimate primary purpose other than obtaining US citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States.”
One example offered as a way to potentially clear this hurdle is if a person is attempting to come on a B nonimmigrant visa — which allows entry for those who are coming to visit, obtain medical treatment, or consult with business associates — because the area they live in Mexico does not have adequate medical facilities.
The draft guidance, which would alter the State Department Foreign Affairs Manual, is intended for consular officers and has similar language:
“Any B nonimmigrant visa applicant who you have reason to believe will give birth during her stay in the United States is presumed to be traveling for the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for the child,” the guidance reads. “The applicant can overcome this presumption if you find that the primary purpose of travel is not obtaining US citizenship for a child.”
A State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that “this change is intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry. We expect the rule will be published shortly. More details will be available when the rule is published.”
Consular officers would be directed to determine whether the applicant will be traveling to the US for the primary purpose of giving birth, according to the draft guidance. The officers can have reason to believe this may be the case if the applicant states this in a form or in an interview. Officers, however, are told not to ask as a matter of course whether the applicant is pregnant or intends to become pregnant, or require an applicant to provide evidence that they are not pregnant.
“It is largely symbolic,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, who explained that the visas last up to 10 years. “It’s not going to have a huge effect on the issue. This is mostly symbolic and another way to say the US is closed.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017 nearly 10,000 foreign residents gave birth while living in the US, though the data likely undercounts the total numbers, according to Pierce.
Pierce said that if administration officials were serious about the effort, they would target businesses that openly advertise “birth tourism” as their expertise and offer to coach individuals on interviews with State Department officials.
Ken Cuccinelli, the controversial second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security, has previously been vocal about efforts to restrict birthright citizenship. “I do not think you need an amendment to the Constitution. I think the question is do you need congressional action or can the executive act,” he told reporters last year.
President Trump previously told Axios that he was considering action to change birthright citizenship. Axios first reported the Trump administration was planning to make the move to restrict tourist visas from people who could give birth in the US.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't,” Trump told Axios in October 2018. Months later, in August, Trump again told reporters he was seriously considering the move.
The draft rule would also codify existing guidance to have applicants prove they have medical treatment in the US lined up and have the means to pay for the treatment.