The original version of this article about a Shanghai consulting service that arranges for expectant mothers to deliver their babies in the United States misstated the price of the firm's basic service. The firm charges 100,000 yuan, which is about $14,750, not $1,475.
For many pregnant Chinese, a U.S. passport for baby remains a powerful lure
Sunday, July 18, 2010
SHANGHAI -- What can $14,750 buy you in modern China? Not a Tiffany diamond or a mini-sedan, say Robert Zhou and Daisy Chao. But for that price, they guarantee you something more lasting, with unquestioned future benefits: a U.S. passport and citizenship for your new baby.
Zhou and Chao, a husband and wife from Taiwan who now live in Shanghai, run one of China's oldest and most successful consultancies helping well-heeled expectant Chinese mothers travel to the United States to give birth.
The couple's service, outlined in a PowerPoint presentation, includes connecting the expectant mothers with one of three Chinese-owned "baby care centers" in California. For the $14,750 basic fee, Zhou and Chao will arrange for a three-month stay in a center -- two months before the birth and a month after. A room with cable TV and a wireless Internet connection, plus three meals, starts at $35 a day. The doctors and staff all speak Chinese. There are shopping and sightseeing trips.
The mothers must pay their own airfare and are responsible for getting a U.S. visa, although Zhou and Chao will help them fill out the application form.
At a time when China is prospering and the common perception of America here is of an empire in economic decline, the proliferation of U.S. baby services shows that for many Chinese, a U.S. passport nevertheless remains a powerful lure. The United States is widely seen as more of a meritocracy than China, where getting into a good university or landing a high-paying job often depends on personal connections.
"They believe that with U.S. citizenship, their children can have a more fair competitive environment," Zhou said.
There are no solid figures, but dozens of firms advertise "birth tourism" packages online, many of them based in Shanghai, and Zhao said the number has soared in the past five years. But he said that many are fly-by-night operations, unlike his high-quality service.
"The customers we serve are very successful and very affluent," he said.
'We are not snakeheads'
Zhou and Chao insist that everything they do is legal, noting that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, says anyone born on U.S. soil has the right to citizenship.
"We don't encourage moms to break the law -- just to take advantage of it," Zhou said. "It's like jaywalking. The policeman might fine you, but it doesn't break the law."
"We are not snakeheads," he added, using the common term here for Chinese gangsters involved in smuggling illegal immigrants.
U.S. officials confirm that it is not a crime to travel to the United States to give birth so that the child can have U.S. citizenship. "You don't deny someone because you know they're going to the U.S. to have children," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing embassy rules.