Thousands of pregnant women have fled from Putin’s Russia and the Ukraine war in the hope of a better future for their children. The destination of choice for many appears to be Argentina.
Migration data from Argentina shows 11,000 Russian women have arrived since the start of 2022. According to the Buenos Aires Health Ministry, 8.6% of all births at the busiest public hospital last year were to Russian women.
Passage to 175 visa-free countries
A Russian passport does not grant automatic entry to Europe. However, an Argentine passport opens the doors to 175 visa-free countries worldwide, including Europe.
“They tell me: ‘I want my son to live, I want peace for my son, I want a better future’,” said Ms Shkitenkova, an Argentinian interpreter who has been helping Russian women in the hospitals.
Birth tourism is nothing new. Birthright citizenship is the practice of granting citizenship to children born in a country, even if their parents are not citizens. Argentina gives nationality to anyone born in Argentina, and the parents of Argentinian babies are granted rights to residency and a fast track to a passport and citizenship.
Illegal birth tourism
In the United States, birth tourism is illegal. There are concerns about the impact on national security and the immigration of visitors who intend to give birth abroad. Visitor and tourist visas are not meant for pregnant mothers coming to the US solely to give birth. The US can deny entry and also ban a person from re-entering the country in the future.
In 2019, the New York Times reported that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested three southern California operators of “multimillion-dollar birth tourism businesses” catering primarily to Chinese nationals. A few years earlier, in 2015, 14 maternity tourism hotels in Los Angeles were shut down because of a huge influx of birth tourism from China and Taiwan.
Despite this, the industry is difficult to close down entirely since it is not illegal for pregnant women to travel to the USA.
Several countries have decided to end birthright citizenship, including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, France and Malta.
Countries with birthright citizenship
Countries where birthright citizenship is still in force include:
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United States
Appeal of South America
Argentina, Mexico and Brazil appeal to many international patients because of the high quality of healthcare and education and an affordable cost profile.
Language remains a barrier for many Russian women heading to Argentina to give birth. The majority of them do not speak Spanish, and it is usually their first time visiting Argentina.
Agencies operate in Argentina to help parents with birth tourism and citizenship support. According to the Federal Police, packages in Argentina for birth tourism can cost between $15,000 and $35,000.
Birth tourism is a complex subject, and authorities remain cautious about the potential for abuse and fraud, especially by organizations that could be trying to gain access to Argentinian passports for the wrong reasons.