Has COVID-19 lifted the curtain on so-called birth tourism?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the border closures and travel restrictions that have accompanied it appear to have reduced the number of non-Canadians coming to this country to give birth.

The latest government data offers what may be an unprecedented look at the practice that has been controversially dubbed “birth tourism.”

It shows that the number of new ‘self-paid non-resident’ births in the country fell by 57% in the first full year of the global crisis, between April 2020 and March 2021 – from 5,698 the previous year at 2,433.

Observers have pointed out that the practice of coming to Canada to give birth is legal and warned that its frequency has been exaggerated by critics, sometimes drawing more attention for reasons of racism than for pragmatic concerns.

All babies born in Canada automatically receive Canadian citizenship.

The Liberal government has said it is committed to investigating the issue of foreign nationals taking a shortcut to obtaining citizenship for their children when giving birth in Canada, but no recommendations or policy changes have been made to this. day.

Under normal circumstances, it is difficult for researchers to determine the number of visitors who came here for the primary purpose of giving birth, as the data would also capture non-residents who gave birth while working or studying in this country.

But the unique circumstances of the pandemic have brought new data.

As Canada has imposed restrictive measures against the entry of non-essential travelers but not international students and temporary foreign workers, the data provides for the first time a more accurate picture of the scale of those coming to Canada to give birth. .

“It really provides you with what Nobel Prize winning economist David Card called a natural experiment, where the was a variable that changed and it affected a group disproportionately, ”says researcher Andrew Griffith, whose results will be released Thursday by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

“It basically confirms that when you don’t have a visitor visa, you have a big drop in the number of tourists by birth, because that’s how they come in. “

Based on data on hospital deliveries from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a crown corporation, Griffith looked at the number of times the cost of hospital deliveries over the last decade has been paid out of patient pockets.

The number fell from 1,863 in 2010 to a high of 5,698 in 2019, before plunging last year, which coincided with a 95% drop in the number of visitor visas issued by Canada.

In comparison, the number of international students fell only 25 percent, while the number of temporary foreign workers rose 5.5 percent.

Griffith estimates that the percentage of “tourism-related births” has now reached one percent of all births in Canada in an average year.

“It really is a question of the integrity of the citizenship program. If you come here as a permanent resident, you must meet the residency requirements, you must meet the knowledge requirements, you must meet the language requirements. There is a whole process that you have to go through to be a Canadian citizen, ”said Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Institute of World Affairs and the Environics Institute.

“It’s legal, but it’s still a loophole that essentially allows women and fairly wealthy families to shorten the process, find a back door and go through the standard process to become a Canadian citizen. “

The citizenship granted to these children born in Canada allows them automatic access to health care, local education and tuition fees, as well as other government benefits.

While any visa restrictions against pregnant women visiting Canada are difficult to administer and enforce, Griffith said Ottawa could change citizenship law to require at least one parent to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada. Canada for citizenship to be conferred on a person born in Canada. child, as Australia does.

The former Conservative government explored similar legislative changes in 2012, but the idea was scrapped due to opposition from provincial governments, which are responsible for administering birth certificates, a key document for citizenship. The number of people coming to Canada for the express purpose of giving birth was estimated at only 500 at the time and such changes were not considered worthy of the high administrative costs.

“We now have more precise data,” Griffith said.

In a 2019 Angus Reid Institute poll, 64% of Canadians said a child born to parents who are in this country on a tourist visa should not be granted Canadian citizenship, and 60% said that changes to citizenship laws are needed to discourage birth tourism.

Critics have argued that any requirement that either parent be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident could lead to children, like those born here to asylum seekers, to be stateless.

“Everything about immigration and citizenship is fundamentally a form of discrimination. Who are you letting in? Who don’t you let in? What are the criteria for someone to become a citizen, ”Griffith said.

“Is it too rigid? Is it too open? You are always going to have the debate on how you cut the line in the right place. “

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter who covers immigration for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

Previous 191 countries: Visa applications being processed online: Rashid - Pakistan
Next The accommodation association welcomes changes to the Working Holiday Maker visa