Hotel linked to ‘passport babies’
Byron Chu, QMI Agency
First posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2012 05:05 PM EST | Updated: Wednesday, March 07, 2012 05:33 PM EST
Three townhouses in this complex at 8580 Cook Road in Richmond, B.C., are believed to serve as ‘pregnancy centres’ for women from China looking to give birth in Canada. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI Agency)
VANCOUVER – Three townhouses in Richmond, B.C., are being used to house foreign nationals pregnant with “passport babies,” and are among numerous local housing destinations for birth tourists, a QMI Agency investigation has uncovered.
Advertised online in Chinese as the Pan Pan Pregnancy Centre, the Cook Road residences offer a haven to women from the one-child policy country. But they may be birth tourists in the eyes of the federal government, which has vowed to crack down on those exploiting a long-known loophole to citizenship that gives a passport to anyone born in our borders.Women are offered a room, cleaning, meals, child care, transportation and other support services to expecting and new mothers. The service costs from $55 to $70 a day depending on the size of the room, and there is no limit on the length of stay.
Under city bylaws, the property owner is allowed to operate as a boarding and lodging facility without a licence, with up to two guests per unit. City officials say city bylaws don’t forbid a boarding house for pregnant women, regardless of their citizenship.
Land title documents show the properties are owned by Fen Fei Sun, described as an accountant. A business licence is also attached to the property under SUNC CA Consulting Services, described as offering cost consulting, bookkeeping and project management. Fen Fei Sun could not be reached for comment.
Posing as local Chinese with relatives in China interested in coming to the centre, a reporter spoke to Susan, who described herself as the owner. She insisted the centre doesn’t do anything illegal, but simply operates like a bed and breakfast for new and expectant moms – conflicting with a report in a publication in China where she allegedly bragged that her birth tourism business is booming.
“Most women here are local,” Susan, who emigrated from China over a decade ago, said through a Mandarin-speaking translator. “Currently it’s very difficult to get a visa to come to Canada. Local people come after giving birth for the post-partum period.”
When confronted later about the services she’s offering foreign nationals, Susan insisted she doesn’t counsel women on how to get into the country – only takes care of them once they’re here.
Asked what she thinks about the birth tourism industry, Susan replied: “I never think about these – I only promise myself to do legal thing. That’s all. Other people are not my business. I won’t give comments.”
An undercover reporter for Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper said wealthy clients come predominantly from Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, and some are wives of high-ranking government officials.
The newspaper reported that many are seeking to flaunt China’s one-child policy by having a second child abroad, and are anticipating the benefits of Canadian citizenship, including having the child eventually sponsor the family to Canada if they decide to leave China.
“It does concern me a great deal,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said when asked about the newspaper’s investigation, and called the practice an abuse of the spirit of Canada’s citizenship laws.
“(Citizenship laws are) are not for someone who happened to born here because their mom was coached to have a child in Canada,” he said.
Kenny wants to close those loopholes, but some critics counter the proposed policy change will come at the expense of the privacy and convenience of all Canadians.
“There are a couple of hundred passport babies born annually in Canada out of our 200 million visits per year,” said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. “To clamp down on those several hundred, the government is going to require Canadians to re-apply for their Canadian citizenship to get a
passport … That won’t do away with a couple of hundred passport babies a year, but it will do away with the privacy of 33 million Canadians.”
The Pan Pan Pregnancy Centre is not the only alleged home for passport babies in Metro Vancouver – a number of similar businesses are listed openly on Chinese online directories, offering a clean-living environment, specialized maternal care, meals and shuttle services.
One has contact phone numbers in Vancouver and Mainland China.
According to Apple Daily, expectant Chinese moms are being coached by agents and friends in China to misrepresent their real reason for coming here when questioned by customs officials, as they could be refused entry.
They are told to arrive early in their pregnancies, to wear heavy jackets and not carry anything suggesting they are expecting a baby.
THE WORST AND BEST-KEPT SECRET
In the insular but thriving Chinese community in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, it is both the worst and best-kept secret.
People talk about it at the dinner table but not on the street, to outsiders.
Ask almost anyone in Richmond, where roughly half of the 190,000 population is Chinese, if they’ve heard the phrase “passport babies” and they’ll nod in agreement. Ask them to talk about in public, or comment in the newspaper, it’s a different matter.
“It’s been a phenomenon for over 20 years,” said Thomas Tam, CEO of Lower Mainland immigration service S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which assists Chinese immigrants adjust to life in Canada. “Of course I know a lot of people in that kind of situation, but I don’t have that data or the figures to tell you how serious it is.”
Tam is one of the few in his community to speak out publicly about the prevalence of pregnant Chinese women coming to Canada to have babies, who are granted instant citizenship and can help the family jump the immigration cue – so-called “anchor babies”.
On a local Chinese language radio program Tuesday, many callers agreed something has to change. Some said current laws allow a loophole and aren’t fair to immigrants who come into the country without exploiting birth tourism.
Others fear Canadian maternity wards will soon fill up under the current laws.
Michael Mui, QMI Agency