Foreign tourists can fly to Saipan, a part of the United States, visa-free, for up to 45 days because of a special exemption. It is perfectly legal to enter the U.S. late in pregnancy and deliver a baby. That baby is instantly a U.S. Citizen who, at age 21 can bring his parents into the U.S.  How is this possible and why would Americans allow that? Well, that is a story of the politics of exception and unintended consequences.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006. In the same period, total births only rose by 5 percent.The State Department has no regulations banning pregnant foreigners from entering the United States. Customs and Border Protection officers may deny entry to pregnant women if they believe there is fraud or intent to exploit free medical care.

The United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) consists of Saipan and 14 other islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The island of Guam is a separate U.S. territory. After Spanish, German and Japanese colonization, the United States arrived at the end of  World War II. The Northern Marianas were a U.N. Trust Territory and later voted to join the U.S.  as a commonwealth. They have a single non-voting representative in the House of Representatives and no representation in the U.S. Senate.

So, the Northern Marianas are part of the U.S. and everyone born there is a U.S. citizen. Why is there no visa requirement like the rest of the country? In 2009, the Marianas pressed for and received a visa waiver to support Saipan’s casinos and gambling parlors.

Chinese tourists now represent 36% of tourists to the island. Tourism supports 72% of Saipan’s economy and birth tourism shows dramatic growth. A Chinese birth-tour association estimated that 10,000 Chinese birth tourists came to the U.S. in a single year in 2012. in 2016 more Chinese tourists gave birth in Saipan than Americans.

Chinese websites like openly offer packages to help Chinese mothers give birth in the U.S., providing lodging, medical care and domestic help.  Birth-tourism packages to Los Angeles include advice on how to qualify for a tourist visa. Even with no visa, luxury birth vacations to Saipan, total costs can exceed $50,000.

As long as there is no fraud and the bills are paid, this is legal. Birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the constitution and this is completely legal. Not only does this help the child, but it has an escape clause for the parents:

To petition for your parents (mother or father) to live in the United States as green card holders, you must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old. Green card holders (permanent residents) may not petition to bring parents to live permanently in the United States.” (

The United States is one a very few countries who grant citizenship to children born on its territory. The United Kingdom, Ireland, India and Australia have eliminated birthright citizenship. Some U.S. law makers has called for an end to birthright citizenship as a disincentive to illegal immigration. Some legal scholars have derided it as a miss application of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to descendants of slaves.

United States v. Wong Kim Ark from 1898 is the key precedent making case involving interpretation of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The United States Supreme Court ruled that a child born in the United States to parents of Chinese descent, who at the time of the birth, were subjects of the Emperor of China, but had a permanent residence in the United States automatically became a U.S. citizen at birth. This  It does not, on its face, support birth tourism as the Wongs were immigrants with a permanent residence in the U.S.

Many wealthy Chinese are concerned about the uncertain impact of President Xi Jinping’s an anti-corruption campaign. They see U.S. citizenship as a potential advantage in the global economy. The ability of U.S. citizen to take advantage of in-state tuition makes the cost of education much lower and the quality of American education is highly attractive. While China’s one child policy has loosened, giving birth overseas avoids the issue all together.

Saipan is the beneficiary of millions of tourist dollars and has no desire to see them end. The Justice Department is prosecuting immigration violations in the Northern Marianas but birth tourism remains legal.

I am sure Chinese intelligence services are eager for these potential operatives to come of age. They cannot be denied entry into the United States and they cannot be deported. This gives them some powerful advantages over illegal agents.

Another vulnerability is the ability of foreign non-visa travelers to avoid immigration restriction to continue on and enter the United States with reduced scrutiny.

National security concerns aside, this is the beginning of a chain migration night nightmare which will unfold in years to come. Congressional action is needed to close this exemption before it becomes more popular and other hostile nations exploit it.

Featured image courtesy of AP