Current Issue: April 5, 2013 Next Issue: September 2013
The United States may soon be the only country in the developed world that grants automatic citizenship to babies born on its soil regardless of their parent’s nationality.
Canada is considering changes to its Citizenship Act that would end automatic citizenship for babies born within its borders. The goal is to stop 'birth tourism,' the practice of foreign nationals intentionally giving birth in Canada to get citizenship for their babies.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has called birth tourism a problem, but doesn't present facts to back up this claim.
British Columbia immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens suggests the proposed abolition of birthright citizenship is an overreaction to a minor issue.
All babies born in Canada are currently given automatic citizenship status.
He says there about 200 births in B.C. a year to people who are neither citizens nor permanent residents of Canada. Of that number, it is unknown how many are tourists, foreign workers or students.
In an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics, Kenney discussed the difficulty of obtaining statistics in this area.
“When a birth certificate is issued, no one is asking, ‘What was the immigration status of their parents?’ So there’s no statistical register of this, so all we really have to go on is anecdotal information,” he said.
CBC News received a flood of responses to its online story on the issue, most in favour of Kenney’s plan to change the Citizenship Act, which he said people use to "exploit Canada's generosity."
As Meurrens points out, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s regulations state that entering Canada for the purpose of giving birth is not a barrier to entry and Canadians should take pride in the fact the country allows birthright citizenship.
“The Conservatives and the media are framing this issue as one of ‘protecting the value of Canadian citizenship,’” he says. “Restricting the number of Canadians has nothing to do with the value of our citizenship. Our citizenship is valuable because of our high standard of life and the freedoms that we enjoy.”
Meurrens says the proposal is part of Kenney’s attempt to overhaul Canada’s immigration system and model it after Australia’s.
“From his refugee reforms, to marriage reforms, and now this, he clearly seems to view [Australia] as the model,” he says.
Meurrens joins other critics who say the amendments could deter future migrants from settling in Canada, which is bad news for the economy.
“The latest job numbers and economic data coming out of Canada aren’t so hot,” he says. “In my opinion, the government should focus on that.”
How the U.S. sees the issue
Across the border, Americans condemn birthright citizenship as a contributing factor to illegal immigration rather than exploitation.
In the U.S., an estimated 200,000 children are born to tourists, students, guest workers and other non-immigrants each year. Although many of these tourists arrive legally, the practice of birth tourism is still viewed as fraudulent by some.
Not only do children from overseas get automatic citizenship, but cheaper education too, says Jon Feere from the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. These kinds of benefits drive foreign nationals to give birth in the U.S..
“The most troubling part is that birth tourism effectively removes immigration and population policy from the control of U.S. citizens and puts it into the hands of foreigners,” he says. “It is the temporary immigrant who decides what the United States will be for generations to come.”
As the cost of international travel goes down, the popularity of birth tourism goes up. Popular source countries for the U.S. include Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and China.
Organisations in Hong Kong are instructing women on how to hide their pregnancies when entering Canada.
In a 2010 Center for Immigration Studies report on birthright citizenship, Feere described how birth tourism has become an 'industry.' Across the U.S., hotels and medical centres have started offering special packages in hospital stays, baby care, meals and sightseeing for expectant foreign nationals, with prices ranging from $2,300 to $14,750 USD.
“I expect this practice to grow rapidly over the next few decades if the United States does not move to prevent it,” says Feere.
Even so, pro-immigration sentiment is still strong. Feere suggests the decades-old immigration policy should come into line with modern-day America.
“Really, it's not the immigrant who has changed; it's the United States that has changed,” he says. “Naturally, our immigration policy should change accordingly.”
Jus soli: A British common law term defining citizenship as based on the place of birth, regardless of the status of the parents.
Countries that use 'jus sanguinis'
a) either parent is settled in the United Kingdom.
Source: Canadian Citizenship Act and Current Issues (August 1998)
Countries that use 'jus soli'
16 per cent of the world's nations observe this form of citizenship. Out of these, only two are OECD countries (Canada and the United States). Some other examples include:
Case Study - The United States