I've been reading a lot about the birth tourism issue in Canada lately, but this issue applies to any country with birthright citizenship.

From a New York Times article describing the issue:

Under the principle of jus soli — the right of the soil — being born in Canada confers automatic citizenship. But as more pregnant women arrive each month to give birth, some Canadians are protesting that they are gaming the system, testing the limits of tolerance and debasing the notion of citizenship.


“Birth tourism may be legal, but it is unethical and unscrupulous,” said Joe Peschisolido, a Liberal member of Parliament in Richmond, who brought a petition against the practice to Ottawa, where the immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, said he would examine the issue.

Everything I read about it is either neutral or condemning the issue. This bothers me, as it appears as if everyone is against and yet there's no legislative attempts to combat it.

Is there another side to this issue that isn't commonly discussed?

The only possibility I see is that it allows wealthy families to establish themselves which could bring more money into the host country. The issue I see with that is that traveling to Canada from China is not that expensive as to be a reliable signal for wealth.

There is this question which discusses why it's possible in the first place. I'm looking for explanation about why countries have decided that it is something that they want to preserve.

  • 32
    Among professional number-crunchers, phrases like "more [x] each month" set off alarm bells. This turn of phrase is popular with those trying to make a tiny issue look big. How many to begin with? How many more? I don't know how big an issue this is, and the article only gives a clue by pointing at the most extreme case. I suspect if the journalist had more convincing numbers, they'd use them. The article also makes use of the word "growing", which is another vague word that sounds like a big number but isn't.
    – Jason
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:15
  • I am curious about this issue. It is common practice in Ukraine to get pregnant and have a child in the U.S . I know personally a few to do this , my landlord naming one. I am also curious because here one parent must posses status to declare the birth in the first place. Whereas, the U.S automatically accepts anyone being born as a citizen.
    – LUser
    Oct 1, 2020 at 15:10
  • "this issue applies to any country with birthright citizenship." There are very few countries in the world with such laws (perhaps most notably, Canada's neighbor.) Most countries require at least that one of the parents be a legal resident or even a citizen in order for their child to automatically have a right to citizenship.
    – reirab
    Oct 1, 2020 at 21:33
  • 2
    My wife used to study at a midwifery at El Paso, TX, a few miles from the Mexican border. Most of the clients there were Mexican women (to the point that my wife had to learn Spanish in order to be able to study there). A few hundred children per year got US citizenship this way at that institute. As far as I know, those families were not particularly wealthy. I guess this is what bothers people, not wealthy Chinese/Russian/etc. families. Oct 2, 2020 at 8:00

3 Answers 3


Birth tourism is a side effect of a policy adopted for other reasons. But a simple rule that everyone is born in a country is a citizen of the country is easy to explain, enforce and defend politically.

The main reason to have birthright citizenship is to prevent an underclass of people who are not citizens despite living their entire lives in a country. In the U.S. it was originally enacted in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ameliorate the ill effects of having large numbers of non-citizen slaves but subsequently also became important in assimilating immigrants. (This is an oversimplification, as the U.S. had statutory forms of birthright citizenship prior to the 14th Amendment and Native Americans didn't get it across the board until 1924, but makes a nice lies to children explanation that conveys the gist of the answer without overmuch technical detail.)

The goal is to avoid situations like that of Koreans in Japan, or Turks in Germany (pre-2000), where people can live their entire lives in a country and speak its language and know nothing else, and yet not be full fledged citizens.

This is particularly pressing in countries with lots of immigrants, like the U.S. and Canada.

The number of birth tourists is generally small and, as you note, mostly rich. And, while this doesn't really advance the primary goals of birthright citizenship, the reality of the matter is that no country is very devoted to keeping rich people out of their country, or to preventing them from investing in it economically. When birth tourism mostly involves the rich, it triggers few of the fears traditionally associated with anti-immigration sentiment. Frequently, the new birth tourism citizens won't even live in the country for the next couple of decades, and for a significant part of the remainder of their lives.

  • 12
    Good answer, and I've also upvoted @Jason comment that the subject seems to be exploited to be made more impactful than it is. But note that birth tourism doesn't necessarily mean immigration. If I give birth in Canada during a short trip, establish Canadian citizenship for my kid and then return home, safe in the knowledge that I can petition Canada to help the kid later on, that is not quite providing the benefit of a rich immigrant to Canada. Like I said however, I suspect the actual magnitude of the issue is considerably less than the dog whistlers let on. Sep 30, 2020 at 17:31
  • 1
    It seems like the law was made in a time where a poor pregnant woman was less likely to quickly "jump over the border" to give birth. And changing the law would probably require rules on minimum time-of-stay or legal status of the parents (at time of birth, or before?) - it seems like too many variables which could be endlessly debated between parties, because there are so many potential corner-cases. - So the simple law stays
    – Falco
    Oct 2, 2020 at 8:38
  • 2
    @Falco Most countries just give citizenship (whether automatic or optional) at birth to children of either citizens only or citizens and permanent residents. No country that I'm aware of has intentionally designed a law to give birthright citizenship to the children of tourists. Also, there's not much legal gray area between tourists and residents. Almost every country explicitly treats these under very different laws and your method of entering the country determines which you are. Almost every country (except maybe moving inside the EU) requires a resident visa to become a resident.
    – reirab
    Oct 2, 2020 at 12:59
  • @reirab There might not be much legal gray area, but there potentially could be, and if, as the U.S. does in the 14th Amendment and some places do via similar means or via a human rights treaty, you want to entrench this protection of minority rights against majoritarian excesses in a matter that is not just clear under current law, but is so clear that it can't be circumvented by intentional legislative efforts to undermine the protections.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 2, 2020 at 18:46
  • 1
    Good answer, only tidbit I'd add is that tourists to the United States have some constitutionally protected rights. So, being "just a tourist" is not the person has no rights under law.
    – BobE
    Oct 14, 2020 at 3:24

Generally speaking, countries have citizens, legal residents, and tourists.

  • Citizens have a right to stay, to work, etc. Citizenship is usually inheritable. Usually this right cannot be revoked unless there is dual citizenship, and often not even then.
  • Legal residents have the permission to stay and usually to work. This permission can be revoked and often there are many different grades. Temporary and permanent, for a specific purpose like study, with or without the right to work.
  • Tourists and similar categories like business travelers have the permission to visit for a short time only. Usually a tourist visa is easier to get than a residence permit.

A resident may be able to become a citizen, through a prolonged process which includes a no criminal record, economic self-sufficiency, language tests, and more. If the country also gives citizenship by birthplace, the usual intention of the law is to clarify the situation for children of legal residents. It is not to distribute citizenship by random accident, or to provide a shortcut to the naturalization process.

I'm not aware of any country that wants to preserve birth tourism as a positive feature of their immigration system. The only question is if birth tourism is bothersome enough to enact countermeasures.

  • 17
    Your last sentence bears repeating. The language in the NYT article is the kind used when the numbers aren't actually impressive, but the news outlet wants you to get excited. "growing", "more every month", etc. with no mention of actual figures. These are words that are often used to make small numbers sound big, and the article is light on actual numbers.
    – Jason
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:18
  • "This right cannot be revoked unless there is dual citizenship": many countries have such a rule, but it is not generally true, and even the countries that have this rule have exceptions.
    – phoog
    Oct 3, 2020 at 0:53
  • @phoog, I added an "usually."
    – o.m.
    Oct 3, 2020 at 4:50
  • You missed a group “illegal residents”. If I visit the USA from the U.K., I assume I’m a tourist for 90 days, then turn into an illegal resident. (In Germany and probably elsewhere you have duties because you are a resident, and illegal residents have the same duties. Like paying taxes. )
    – gnasher729
    Oct 14, 2020 at 10:28

One significant upside is that it's rather simpler to administer. Imagine what would happen if the US did away with birthright citizenship: county clerks would have to start making determinations of the citizenship of newborn children. Getting a birth certificate issued would become a much more labor intensive and time consuming process.

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