More Birth-Tourism Births Than Indigenous Births in CNMI

By David North, March 15, 2013

There were more births to Chinese tourists in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands last year than there were to the indigenous population, the Marianas Variety is reporting in its March 14 edition.

These islands, a U.S. territory just north of Guam in the Western Pacific, are known to be attractive to wealthy pregnant Chinese women wanting to give their babies U.S. citizenship — the ultimate birthday gift in their eyes — as we reported in a previous blog, but the full extent of the trend was not known until now.

Data provided in the article, and via e-mail, indicate that more than one-third of the islands' births last year were to Chinese women, with the total up by 175 percent from the level of just two years ago. These were the numbers of births in 2012:

  • Chinese, mostly tourists: 356
  • Indigenous residents: 295
  • Filipino residents: 216
  • Koreans: 32
  • Caucasian residents: 19
  • All others: 86
  • Total: 1,004

While the number of births to Chinese mothers soared, those to the indigenous, Filipino, and Korean populations fell by about one-third, on average, compared to 2010.

The prevailing pattern, according to Tammy Doty, who has been covering this story for the Variety, is for pregnant Chinese women, in their last few weeks of pregnancy, to fly into the Saipan airport bearing Guam-and-Marianas-only visa waivers provided by U.S. law. They are often accompanied by their husbands, and are often responding to Mandarin-language websites promoting birth tourism in the CNMI.

Then they are served by a comprehensive, Mandarin-speaking birth facilitation industry that has bloomed lately. Once the babies have been born and have received their brand-new passports, everyone returns to China.

Since the birthing "packages" come to $6,000-$8,000 each and there are many other expenditures by these families, birth tourism is a welcome economic boost to the local economy, which has little else going for it. There are no indications that the local government is doing anything to discourage it.

The long-term prospects are that the CNMI will never see these people again; once a child reaches college age he or she will probably come to the U.S. Mainland or Hawaii; once 21, he or she can file papers for the admission of the parents, in a sort of delayed-action chain migration.

A note on CNMI birth statistics: The Commonwealth tracks births by the ethnicity of the mother, with no distinction as to the mother's citizenship, so some small portion of the Chinese births noted above, and perhaps some of the Korean ones, are to Chinese and Korean residents of these islands. There is a large resident Filipino population, mostly of nonimmigrant workers, and there are also a few Mainlander residents (noted as Caucasians).

To further complicate things — and this may be unique in the world — there are two indigenous populations, the more numerous Chamorros with 251 births and the Carolinians with 44. During the days of the Spanish Empire the rulers found that Carolinians, who were from other Spanish islands in the Pacific, were more likely to work than the Chamorros, so they brought them to Saipan and to the other CNMI islands.

All 1,004 babies, whatever the ethnicity or citizenship of the mother, are instant US citizens.

For more on birth tourism as an immigration issue see the CIS Backgrounder "Birthright Citizenship: A Global Comparison" by my colleague, Jon Feere. He makes the point that the United States and Canada are among the few nations that automatically grant citizenship to all born within their boundaries.