November 26, 2018 – New figures show Canadian birth tourism numbers are much higher than official figures suggest.
A study by Policy Options author Andrew Griffith found that while Statistics Canada reported 313 births to mothers residing outside Canada in 2016, the actual number could be more than five times greater.
It means the issue – where non-resident women intentionally come to Canada to give birth to secure citizenship for their babies – is significantly more serious than many had believed.
“The impact of this practice can no longer be described as insignificant given its effect on the integrity of citizenship and public perceptions that birth tourism is a fraudulent shortcut to obtaining citizenship,” Griffith writes.
The discrepancy came to light when non-resident birth figures produced by a single health facility – Richmond Hospital in British Columbia – exceeded the officially reported numbers for the whole of Canada.
Griffith used numbers from the from the Discharge Abstract Database (DAD) of the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which showed there were 3,223 non-resident births in Canada in 2016.
This figure is not representative of birth tourism alone, as it also includes other temporary residents (including corporate transferees and international students) and Canadian expatriates returning to give birth. The total also does not include Quebec, which refused to release the information.
But it does show birth tourism is not only a bigger problem than first thought, it is also a growing problem.
Griffith’s DAD figures show an increase from 1,354 non-resident births in 2010 to 3,628 in 2017, an increase of nearly 170 per cent in seven years.
In 2017, non-resident births accounted for 1.2 per cent of all births in Canada.
When Griffith broke the data down by hospital, he found some where more than 10 per cent of births were to non-resident mothers.
But why such a large difference between official data and the DAD figures? Griffith writes: “The likely explanation for the discrepancy between hospital financial data and vital statistics agency data is that birth tourists use their real addresses for hospital payments but their temporary Canadian addresses on birth registration forms.”
The new numbers are likely to interest Canadian politicians. It was the subject of a recent Liberal MP petition, while the Conservatives passed a resolution to withhold citizenship from children without a parent with Canadian citizen or permanent residence.
US President Donald Trump also says he wants to stop citizenship by birth.
Griffith offers three potential solutions to help tackle the issue:
1) Make birth tourism grounds for visitor visa refusal
Griffith suggests introducing a question about intent to give birth on the visitor visa form, with visa officers given power to request a pregnancy test in high risk cases.
A woman who has not declared her pregnancy could be found guilty of immigration fraud, with the child’s citizenships subsequently obtained fraudulently.
While the approach would create a deterrent, it would be difficult to enforce, Griffith says.
2) Qualified birthright citizenship
Canada could copy Australia’s 2017 move to change its citizenship act to introduce qualified birthright citizenship. This would mean a person born in Canada only gets citizenship “if the parent is either a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident and if the child has lived in Canada for 10 years after birth.”
The downside to this approach would be costly changes to the way births are registered, with parental pictures and proof of residence currently not required.
3) Regulatory and financial approaches
Griffith suggests taking financial action against non-residents who give birth in Canada. “While financial measures do not address objections to birth tourism in principle, they could discourage some birth tourism and would address the cases where birth tourists are not paying their hospital bills,” he writes.
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