State Department rule could make it more difficult for some pregnant women to get U.S. visas

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department plans to issue new guidance that could make it more difficult for some pregnant women to obtain visas to visit the United States, a department official and a congressional aide said Wednesday.

The forthcoming regulations are aimed at cracking down on what the Trump administration calls “birth tourism,” the latest in a series of government efforts to restrict foreign travelers from reaching U.S. soil.

Most people who are born in the United States are entitled to U.S. citizenship, even if their parents are not citizens. It is unclear how many people travel to the United States to give birth each year with the intention of obtaining citizenship for their children; the U.S. government does not publish statistics on “birth tourism.”

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment Wednesday, referring questions to the State Department.

The new rule, first reported by BuzzFeed, is expected to appear “shortly” in the Federal Register, according to the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the rule before it is issued. A congressional aide briefed by the department also confirmed the new rule.

The guidelines, which the State Department will circulate to U.S. consular officers, will affect B1 and B2 nonimmigrant visas, otherwise known as temporary visas for business, tourism or medical treatment. The U.S. government issued 5.7 million B1 and B2 visas in fiscal year 2018.

The official said the new guidelines will not prohibit pregnant women from obtaining visas but will extend discretion to consular officers, who will have to determine whether a woman is planning a visit to the United States solely for the purpose of giving birth. It is unclear how they would make that determination or whether they will try to verify pregnancies.

A congressional staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a regulation that has not yet been published, said the State Department had a conference call Wednesday to tell lawmakers the broad strokes of the policy. The Trump administration is concerned that pregnant women are coming to the United States to give birth and instantly claim U.S. citizenship for their children. Consular officers would use their judgment when screening cases, the staffer said, and would not ask every woman applying for a visa – some of which are valid for years – whether they are pregnant.

Consular officers already interview visa applicants about their reasons for travel and are expected to determine that their stay in the United States will be limited in duration before issuing visas.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a right-wing think tank that advocates for lower immigration levels, estimated that there are about 33,000 births per year to women who arrived in the United States on tourist visas and then left the country. The organization said its estimate was “based on a combined analysis of birth certificate records and data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Both estimates represent a rough approximation, based on limited data, of the possible number of births to women who came to America specifically to have a child and then left once the child was born.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 3.8 million live births in the United States in 2018.

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