The number of pregnant foreigners coming to B.C. hospitals so their newborns can get automatic Canadian citizenship continues to rise.
Births by non-residents of B.C. increased 24 per cent from the 2016-17 fiscal year to 2017-18, from 676 babies to 837 the following year, according to records obtained through freedom of information requests.
About two per cent of all births in B.C. hospitals are now by non-residents, just as the birthrate among B.C. residents is dropping.
Richmond hospital continues to be at the forefront of the phenomenon, with the total number of babies born to non-residents of B.C. at the hospital rising from 337 in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 474 by 2017-18. Four years ago babies born to non-residents accounted for 15.4 per cent of all births at Richmond Hospital, compared to 22.1 per cent in the last fiscal year.
By comparison, St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital — both operated by Providence Health Care — had a combined 132 babies born to non-residents of B.C. in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
While non-resident births account for about two per cent of all babies delivered in B.C., at Richmond Hospital, that proportion is 10 times higher. Indeed, as a New York Times article reported, the hospital is now perceived around the world as a coveted destination for so-called anchor babies, a term to describe children born here to non-residents to gain citizenship.
Health minister Adrian Dix is concerned by the numbers.
“The immigration issues are in federal jurisdiction. This is where concerns must be addressed, not by turning health professionals and skilled health care workers into immigration officers. That is not their role,” said Dix.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie agreed with Dix that birth tourism is a federal issue but said there are significant local impacts as well.
“As a city council, we haven’t discussed this but there are individuals who have concerns about the impacts on our already crowded hospital resources,” said Brodie, referring to the aging facilities and to situations when local women are diverted to other hospitals when Richmond Hospital is full.
Brodie said he supports a change to federal laws because he doesn’t believe anchor babies should get automatic citizenship.
Birth tourism is not illegal and a report by the Institute for Research and Public Policy showed that the numbers are climbing year after year. In 2017, there were at least 3,628 births, mainly in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, by mothers who live outside Canada.
In 2016, Postmedia reported 295 of the 1,938 babies born at Richmond Hospital for the year ended March 31 were delivered, largely to foreign Chinese mothers. And dozens of birth houses were cropping up across the municipality, catering to women who need housing, meals, transportation and help with documents like birth certificates and passports.
As Dix has said, the provincial government has taken the approach that it doesn’t endorse the marketing and provision of birth tourism services but at the same time, patients needing urgent care can’t be turned away.
While hospital staff cannot refuse care when women in labour arrive at the front door, Dix said measures have been put in place to help ensure taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the costs of non-resident hospital care.
For instance, late last year the ministry and Vancouver Coastal Health decided to raise fees charged to non-residents when they go to the Richmond Hospital. The cost for a vaginal birth increased to $8,200 from $7,200 and the cost of a caesarean section rose by $300 to $13,300. If their medical care becomes more complicated patients are assessed higher fees.
In 2017, Vancouver Coastal Health billed non-residents of B.C. about $6.22 million for maternity services at Richmond Hospital.
“For maternity cases at Richmond Hospital … the majority of non-residents pay their bills in full,” said Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Carrie Stefanson. Approximately 80 per cent of billing to non-residents is recovered, she added.
But sometimes, as in the case of Yan Xia, a birth tourist from China, patients leave Canada after giving birth and leave behind a healthy bill.
Vancouver Coast Health has filed a lawsuit against Xia, who gave birth at Richmond Hospital in 2012. The bill for an extended stay in hospital due to complications totalled $313,000.
The case remains in legal limbo as Xia’s exact whereabouts are unknown and the bill may eventually have to be written off by Vancouver Coast Health.
Stefanson said the Xia case is believed to be VCH’s only maternity debt lawsuit over $100,000.
Richmond Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido has sponsored a petition calling on the federal government to end birth tourism. The petition garnered 11,000 signatures and denounces the practice as “abusive and exploitative” for “debasing” the value of Canadian citizenship. The Peschisolido petition was presented to Parliament last fall.
“The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the public from fraud and unethical consulting practices and protecting the integrity of Canada’s immigration and citizenship programs,” said Ahmed Hussen, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship in response to the Peschisolido petition.
“To this end, (we) are currently undertaking a comprehensive review, with a view to developing additional information and strengthened measures to address the practices of unscrupulous consultants and exploitation of our programs through misrepresentation.”
Birth tourism will likely be an issue in the upcoming federal election as the Conservatives have vowed to withhold citizenship unless one parent is a Canadian or a permanent resident.