Jan Wong: Canada’s birthright citizenship policy makes us a nation of suckers
Pregnant women are travelling to Toronto from all over—China, Iran, India, Dubai, Jamaica—to have their babies on Canadian soil, and who can blame them? We’re a nation of suckers
I don’t know about you, but I constantly congratulate myself on winning the jackpot in the lottery of life. Thank you, revered ancestor, for your wisdom in choosing Canada. My grandfather, Hooie Chong, came here as a coolie in the 1880s to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Once it was complete, he paid a special tax to stay on and continue working, as a laundryman. Later, he paid triple head taxes to bring over my grandmother, their son and his wife. Family lore has it that Grandfather Chong was the 10th Chinese person to become a naturalized Canadian (albeit without any right to vote).
Now there’s a much easier path to citizenship: birth tourism. Foreign companies are helping pregnant women take advantage of our breathtakingly generous birthright policy, which grants automatic citizenship—and all the rights and benefits it entails—to any baby born on Canadian soil. You don’t even have to touch the soil: in 2008, a girl born to a Ugandan mother aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Boston was deemed Canadian because the plane happened to be in our airspace at the moment of delivery. Currently, Canada and the U.S. are the only two developed countries bestowing birthright citizenship.
For pregnant women actively seeking to jump the immigration queue, birth tourism agencies offer comprehensive package deals. One such agency is the Canada-U.S. Childbirth Counselling Services Company, based in Nanjing, China. According to their website, “the best gift you can give your newborn is a Canadian passport.” The company’s $36,200 package includes airfare, assistance with visas and paperwork, coaching on how to get through the border, private accommodation with Wi-Fi and “a special person to cook and look after your personal needs.” Among the advantages that come with Canadian citizenship, the company lists “great educational resources” and social benefits, including welfare payments of “$500 to $700 a month for a single person,” plus a Canadian passport that provides visa-free entry to more than 200 countries, including the U.S., Japan and western Europe.
Birth tourism consultants recommend that clients apply for tourist visas early and fly before they start to show. Otherwise they are advised to wear loose clothing to the airport. While some airlines such as Air Canada require a doctor’s note to fly after 36 weeks of pregnancy, in this age of political correctness, a woman is unlikely to be questioned about girth. Once at the border, birth-tourism agencies advise expectant mothers to say they’re visiting Canada to sightsee.
From there, the visitor’s experience is fairly straightforward. When she goes into labour, she’s automatically admitted into one of the many local hospitals offering high-quality obstetric care. Wendy Lawrence, in-house legal counsel at Mount Sinai, says the hospital considers every labour a medical emergency. “No matter what, we help them deliver the baby.”
Once the baby is born, the hospital opens a file and assigns a number. Hospital staff aren’t required to check the mother’s citizenship, and they don’t. The province (which is responsible for birth registration) doesn’t ask about the mother’s citizenship either—a lapse Ottawa says it will address. When mother and baby leave the hospital, they move into a short-term rental. Thanks to Canada’s streamlined application process, the parental paperwork is a breeze. It takes just 25 minutes online to register a birth, apply for a birth certificate and acquire a social insurance number. Official documents arrive in the mail a few weeks later; a passport takes another month.
With today’s relatively cheap airfares, it’s easy for non-Canadians to fly in, have their babies and then whisk their newly minted Canadian citizens back to the motherland to raise them. Upon reaching the age of 18, the birth-citizen can return to Canada and apply to sponsor his or her parents, grandparents and siblings for immigration—all without having paid a single cent in Canadian taxes.
And sometimes without even paying the original hospital bill. Last summer, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre acknowledged its finance department is concerned because some birth tourists left without paying for their care. In response to a Freedom of Information request, Sunnybrook provided data that showed that 121 women from out of the country gave birth at the hospital in the past five years, and 29 of those (or one in four) failed to pay all or part of their bills. The worst culprits were from the Caribbean islands, including Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Bahamas. Others came from Dubai, the United States, Israel and the Philippines. (Amazingly, one woman was from North Korea.) At least five Chinese women gave birth at the hospital, but all paid in full. The total amount of unpaid hospital bills from 2009 to 2013 was close to a quarter of a million dollars.
In response to a similar access request, North York General told me 95 per cent of self-paying patients from other countries paid their bills. Over the past five years, these women accounted for 569 births, or approximately two per cent. St. Michael’s Hospital did not provide detailed billing information but told me 311 mothers without Ontario health cards have given birth there in the last five years. Mount Sinai had 318 foreign nationals over the same period. Though the numbers could include diplomats, foreign students and landed immigrants not yet eligible for OHIP coverage, that’s still potentially more than a thousand stolen citizenships and over a million dollars in lost revenue in only four Toronto hospitals.
North York General, Mount Sinai, St. Mike’s and Sunnybrook—four hospitals with high-demand maternity departments—all declined my request to interview someone in their obstetrics and finance departments. “Everyone treads very carefully,” says an ob-gyn at North York General who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I find it very disheartening. We’re the land of milk and honey—and they just sign on and get all the goodies.”
What is Canadian citizenship worth in cold hard cash? Like a birth tourist trying to decide whether to hand over $36,200, I crunched the numbers. Canadian citizenship, I calculated, is worth about $840,000 in tangible benefits, excluding welfare payments should you end up on the dole. Assuming a current average life expectancy of 81 years, free health care alone is worth at least $485,000 ($5,988 annually, but much more if you require major surgery or a long hospital stay), according to 2013 health data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Free public education is worth $174,750, according to international tuition rates charged by the Toronto District School Board. As for university tuition, a Canadian at the University of Toronto would save $58,512 over four years, because international students pay substantially more. Finally, an average old-age pension (from age 65 to 81) totals $121,624.
And those are just the measurable assets. What about clean air and water, an untainted food supply, an absence of famine and civil war, and a charter of rights and freedoms? Another incalculable advantage comes in adulthood during the job hunt. By law, many institutions can’t even consider hiring a foreigner unless there’s not a single qualified Canadian or landed immigrant applying for the job.
It’s difficult not to feel like a nation of suckers. Birth tourism is a form of immigration fraud that gives pregnant women and their families a way to jump the queue, while wasting our tax dollars and raising serious security concerns—who knows what happens to some of those passports down the line? Immigration Canada concedes it has no idea of the magnitude of the problem, because Ottawa doesn’t record whether a woman is pregnant when entering Canada. When this kind of immigration fraud is detected (a rarity), the potential consequence is, of course, deportation of the parent, but the child would still remain a Canadian citizen.
The federal government says it’s reviewing its birthright citizenship policy and, in consultation with the provinces and territories, will try to address the birth tourism problem “down the road in an appropriate way.” Here’s an idea: how about we stop lavishing our home-and-native assets on newborns unless their mothers have spent a few years in the country, preferably as landed immigrants or citizens themselves; instead, let’s issue one-way, exit-only, good-for-travel-back-to-the-motherland documents for the infants. Canadian citizenship shouldn’t be a freebie to anyone whose mother waddles through the airport arrivals lounge. I suspect Grandfather Chong would approve.
48 thoughts on “Jan Wong: Canada’s birthright citizenship policy makes us a nation of suckers”
I guess you can say the same thing about the US.
Quotes us a bunch of tiny numbers over a 5 year period and then throws in this delightful caveat: “Though the numbers could include diplomats, foreign students and landed immigrants not yet eligible for OHIP coverage….” I just love a confirmation of speculation to make a xenophobic point! But don’t worry folks, she’s quoted a xenophobic hospital staffer just for good measure.
Did Margaret Wente ghost write this article?
These birth tourists are doing exactly what Wong’s grandparent did: try to ensure a better life for their children. The only difference is that after buying a $36,000 just in case better life insurance premium, they return to their native land. The infant may never make a claim on that insurance, or ever want to sponsor family as immigrants. But they have spent more in Canada than most tourists.
Wong is fully aware of the Canada’s legislated systemic discrimination against Chinese people (the head taxes, then The Chinese Exclusion Act.) I’m surprised that she is so willing to penalize infants for the aspirational dreams of their parents.
Canada needs immigrants now and we still will in 18 years. It might be reasonable to assume that knowing the tremendous effort and expense their parents invested in their future, these potential Canadians would show appreciation for their good fortune by becoming hard working and productive citizens.
And just what, exactly, is so gosh darn horrible about us being so welcoming of other people?
In 20 years there is the potential of an influx of new comers to Canada that won’t need to be screened for entry into our country. Who’s to say that a terrorist organization won’t use this loophole to infiltrate Canada? And how about the current issue of these “fake tourists” using up hospital resources regardless of whether they pay these bills or not. I hardly see this xenophobic, people from many countries do this, it’s just that China happened to be identified as a place where one can pay a fee to have everything arranged. While I agree Canada needs immigrants and will need immigrants 20 years from now, we need to be able to control who we allow to immigrate. With an already strained social system that can’t properly support it’s own tax payers, it’s not fair to allow in people for the “free ride”.
What a gross article. Glad to see so many commenters taking Wong to task. Since when did Toronto Life turn into the National Post?
“Who’s to say that a terrorist organization won’t use this loophole to infiltrate Canada?”
I think you’ve watched too many episodes of The Americans.
I work in the immigration field and all I have to say is the following:
Clearly Jan Wong did not bother to visit CIC’s website or read the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to research the facts behind parental sponsorship. Canadian citizenship or permanent residence status is NOT the only requirement to sponsorship. You really think CIC made permanent residence (which is the first step to citizenship as a non-Canadian born individual) that easy to obtain? What kind of individual, upon turning 18, is eligible to be sponsors in this day of age? Are we assuming that these children will meet the LICO requirements right upon reaching the age of majority? The answer is: absolutely no! To be able to sponsor, you have to provide evidence and demonstrate that you have contributed to Canadian society (via taxes, education, work, etc.) in support of your parental sponsorship application.
It was never easy for the grandfather to immigrate to Canada, and you have my word that it is still not easy to immigrate to Canada – whether through legitimate or illegitimate means.
Toronto Life Magazine should really stop making outrageous claims without conducting thorough research into such topic.
Comments have it just about right. Essentially, Wong is citing an average number of less than 300 per year but fails to mention the over 30,000 live births in Toronto per year (2009 numbers last available). So less than 1 percent, some of whom may not be “birth tourists”.
No accident that Citizenship Act changes (C-24) did not include birth tourism given the small numbers and that addressing it would be complex and likely costly, not only for CIC but also for the provinces given their role in birth certificates and vital stats. Not to mention additional burdens of proof for the other 99 percent.
Her other mistake is to assume that should any birth tourists return to Canada later, they will only be a burden on Canada and not contribute to the Canadian economy.
But to her credit, she took the time to get real numbers, not just anecdotes, as are normally used in the media (and unfortunately sometimes by the government). It is her conclusions that are disproportionate to the evidence she sites.
I don’t see how this is a problem. To gain these “free” benefits such as health care the now adult born in Canada then raised in China or wherever would have to come back to Canada, get a job and pay taxes. You can’t collect pogey or the dole without working at some point.
Besides someone who did this so their child would have a better life is likely doing a good job instilling values in their child.
too many assumptions makes this a sickening article. It is immensely irresponsible too, because it provokes and arouses suspicion of anyone and everyone, especially those that dont ‘look canadian’ consequently causing distress. Frankly disgusted.
Jan Wong’s internalized racism, sexism and oppression, compounded with a pedestrian ignorance of the effects of colonialism, is reminiscent of Ann Coulter. Only more boring and less educated.
I can not agree more. While i was reading her Column i was thinking all the discriminative policies of government of Canada that has forced upon the chines population in past, not only has affected their lives at the time, but unfortunately has damaged their younger generations emotionally and psychologically too. I believe that she should get some professional help for her own sake. I myself as a Canadian Iranian immigrant have contributed so much to Canada and i know with my efforts and assets and other people like me Canada is definitely a better country than before. Of course Harper government,s new anti immigration policies might change everything in opposite direction.I am sure if Mr Harper stays in power longer he might be able to bring back all the discriminative laws back as the writer of column misses them so much.
That,s so true, I think Toronto life acts as speaker for Harper,s government,s new anti immigration laws, which comes from the same minds sets that legislated some of the most discriminative acts in the past such as ( Chinese exclusion act ). And before you know, they are going to cheer for THE anti immigration new law and demand MR Harper to strip all immigrants from their citizenship of course except for Jan Wong,s family, because they already have payed for their heads.
What are you saying CynthiaC.M. i cant see you looking like your BRITISH!!!!!! ancestors.
Great article Jan. This is an odious backdoor practice. Our citizenship should not be cheapened .
Oh shut up. This isn’t about being “anti-immigrant” and you know it. Its about stopping the disgusting SCHEMES by which SOME wannabe Canadians attempt to get all the benefits Canada offers without paying one red dime in taxes. Come here LEGALLY, and STAY here and contribute to this fantastic country and no one will challenge you. But come here illegally, or pull this SLEAZY birth tourism crap so you can get your windfall for your retirement years instead of having to stay in whatever hellhole you REALLY can’t afford to escape, well, too bad, you should be sent packing. And so should your newborn, only WITHOUT that handy-dandy passport. If this wasn’t a HUGE friggin’ scheme, why the hell would wannabe countries like China (where at least the tourists pay their fuckin’ bills, apparently) allow people to run BUSINESSES openly advertising all the “freebies” expectant PARENTS can expect once their little cash cows are born. This is all so disgusting. And here I honestly thought, like a fool, that this kind of crap only happened in places like Hong Kong, where they too had to update the laws to push back against all the immoral freeloaders from the mainland. Ugh.
And by the way, before some latecomer (like I was) to this article starts slinging the word “xenophobic” around, AGAIN, just know that I fully support ANY immigrant from ANY country who has come here to BE a Canadian and STAY in this country to make it a better place, both for themselves and their offspring. We’re a country of immigrants one way or the other, and I’m grateful for that every morning I wake up and see that diversity all around me. But the point remains: come here illegally, or use sleazy roundabout methods to avail yourself of benefits the rest of us have to PAY for our entire working lives and beyond, and you should be shown the door, white, black, yellow, brown or anything in between.
Yet another person who doesn’t see the bigger picture. It isn’t about the child returning to Canada, getting a job, paying taxes, etc. It’s about that same child later bringing the whole damn family over here to get their slice of the benefit pie even though none of them (especially the parents and grandparents) did ANYTHING to deserve it. Well, nothing besides be a birth tourist, of course. Wong’s right.
This is too much like the whole right-wing scare over so-called “anchor babies” here in the US … This is a canard and goes against all our traditions. Both Canada and the US are countries built by immigrants, not all of whom came in the front door, and all of whom had a rocky reception. But if you were born here, I don’t care how your parents got here, you should be a citizen. Besides, the numbers for these “birth tourists” are tiny compared to the overall number of immigrants and temporary workers who come in every year. And if somebody is willing to pay that much money, and go to all that trouble, to make sure their kid has a Canadian passport … Hey … More power to ’em. And welcome, fellow citizen! Shows us all that you can’t put a price on the value of Canadian citizenship, no matter how benefits you add up.
I believe one of the major problem is that these parents are cheating. People who immigrate wait years to get their citizenship while these children are automatically citizens just because they are born here. Its a fraud and unfair to those who go through the process legally.
Take this from someone who has travelled extensively throughout Europe: There are millions of people living very wealthy lifestyles in, I dare say, most countries in the world. Countries with vast land masses such as Canada do attract a large number of wealthy immigrants looking expand their enterprises, however, most Canadians and Canadians ‘by birth’ fail miserably in realizing is the fact that Canada acts as a beacon of hope for those in the lower social ranks of other countries. Please be aware that there are millions of people in China, Greece, Portugal, Italy and, essentially, in all nations, who are living a very comfortable lifestyle as members of the higher social strata who think of Canada as nothing more than an attractive skiing holiday destination. It saddens me that the Canadian media have so successfully blinded the vast majority to this indisputable fact. You need only do brief research online to assess that what I say is true.
The main flaw with arguments in this article is that the exception is being treated as a universally prevailing practice and remedies are sought to be established to mitigate the issues arising from the exception. The downsides to such remedies far outweigh the benefits and is likely to result in undue hardship to vast majority of law abiding immigrants. This article is full of factually incorrect assumptions pertaining to immigration law and is a despicable attempt to stoke the fires of suspicion, xenophobia and hatred.
Great article Jan Wong, I have nothing against immigrating through legal process and hard work to become a Canadian citizen; in fact me myself was brought here by my parents, who are skilled professionals that have been working here and contributing to the Canadian society for decades. However this “default citizen by birth” tourism chain needs to stop! These kids and their parents did not contribute to Canada for one day and yet they automatically enjoy the benefit of the social services that have been built by proper tax payers such as people like us, it makes me sick. This intentional “tourism baby” trend is sneaky, shameless and disgusting.
What a pathetic article. Jan, lets take your proposal to the extreme that you might end up with if you have decided to walk that way..
lets send everyone who got birthright citizenship back to their ancestor’s country and let them earn citizenship again to come back to Canada, YOU INCLUDED.
Lets see how you enjoy playing lottery once again. I bet you will love it.
I just read another one of your stories:
“Memoir: Jan Wong’s search for the right antidepressant”
NO wonder you are righting like this. Fix your depression first honey, then write, may be you will have different perspective?
Unfortunately only about 20 people in the country realize you speak the truth. The rest just bah, bah, bah all day and chant the mantra taught from the incessant media onslaught. About 50% of the taxes paid by working individuals goes to support health care – pay $26,000 a year in taxes then $13,000 of that is going for your “free” universal health care. Speaking from first hand knowledge $13k gets you very good health insurance/care in the US. (Even better in Switzerland!) In Canada it gets you mediocre health care, because those paying the $13k a year in health care taxes are also paying it for the benefit of several other individuals who are not paying any taxes.
…..aaaaaaand just in case anyone wonders why people experiencing things like depression tend to hide it, see asinine comments like the one above.
Not only do I believe that there no shame in suffering from depression, but I utterly fail to see what depression has to do with the subject matter of this story.
You scored a 10/10 on being a jerk, whoever you are, and that’s all that you achieved with that comment. Bravo.
Wong, I agree that you are a nation of suckers, not for the above reason though.
Canada spends the highest # of per capita war dollars, it ranks highest on the corrupt corporations list (yes highest), it has pulled out of all environmental treaties, it is opening up to guns like its backward Southern neighbour……in the countries that I visit, people speak of Canada as a petrostate…….Wong, seems like you are turned into a nation of suckers by your own government.
I have friends who happened to be in Canada while they became parents (and yes they paid for the service). Given the above facts (plus the suffocating imposition of the state on the parents in the guise of child-rights) they did not want a Canadian passport for their child. But guess what? They were told that they do not have a choice!
Someone please advice if Canadian citizenship is forced down the throat of a newborn, or are the parents offered the choice whether to avail Canadian citizenship for the child or not? Your advice could relieve my friends of their pain…..
Get rid of that rule.
Couldn’t agree more with this article. Finally, a logical article on the immigration issue!
China wasn’t allowing Canadians into China at the time, so what’s your point? “Legislated systemic discrimination” was EVERYWHERE. In fact, it still is in most places in the world EXCEPT for Western/Christian nations. That’s precisely why everyone wants to come here.
You can stop blaming Harper. As Caucasians are flooded out of the cities in Canada where we are currently the majority, they will all clamour for stricter immigration laws. And why do YOU want to live here around so many Caucasians? Why did YOU leave Iran? You don’t want to live around Iranians any more than other citizens of Canada want that! So who are YOU to complain?
If I wanted to live around Iranians, I would move to Iran.
Canada is allowing in 800 new citizens daily. Yes it IS easy to come here.
Why are you grateful for “diversity”? Canada was 90% White until around 2001 and was ranked the best nation in the world to live in. Japan is 98.5% Japanese and is one of the best nations in the world. Brazil is extremely racially diverse and is a complete dump. I have no idea why White morons love diversity so much. Homogeneous countries are typically better off in Europe and Asia.
I loved the article.
Let them stay in your house if you feel that way.
Yeah – the Parliament attack was a figment of our imaginations.
I loved the article. Excellent stuff. Wish more stuff like this got posted on here.
Yeah, and none of that suspicion is merited, right?
Stop posting here.
Evidently you only read ONE of my two prior posts . . . dumbass.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was born and raised in Canada, much as you and I were, presumably.
Sorry but you’ve been misinformed. China was not allowing immigrants from ANY country until recently in it’s long history. Canada always had a broad and generous immigration policy (in particular, Canada actively sought European and Commonwealth immigrants) but specifically excluded immigrants from China.
There is nothing racist about protecting your cultural heritage. You are zeno-stupid.
Iranians are Caucasian as well – it’s the ethnicity you’re trying to site.
What if Canada had millions sneaking in illegally? What would they do then?
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