'Maternity tourism': Report recommends limiting citizenship by birth
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, August 25, 2014 10:10AM EDT
The federal government should restrict granting citizenship by birth on Canadian soil to children with at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident, according to a recently released policy reform proposal.
The document was released to Andrew Griffith, a former director general for citizenship and multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, via a Freedom of Information request. The 17-page report, marked "secret," was prepared for then-Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. It includes options for the federal government on whether to limit citizenship by birth on soil in order to ensure that babies born with citizenship "have a strong connection to Canada."
"Such a change may be considered to strengthen program integrity and protect the value of citizenship," the document says. "Similar to the first generation limit for persons born abroad to a Canadian parent, restricting citizenship by birth in Canada to children born to a parent who is either a permanent resident or citizen could also be seen as supporting efforts to protect the value of citizenship."
Under the Citizenship Act, all babies born on Canadian soil are automatically granted citizenship, except for children of foreign diplomats. Canada and the United States are the only countries to have birth on soil citizenship provisions. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries restrict citizenship by birth on soil to children of citizens or permanent residents.
Media reports about "birth tourism" and so-called "anchor babies" have fuelled a debate in recent years about whether to limit granting citizenship by virtue of where children are born. So-called "birth tourism" occurs when a foreign national travels to Canada to give birth here. The baby, a Canadian citizen, can then act as an "anchor" for other family members abroad by sponsoring them when he or she turns 18.
The document acknowledges that there is "limited data" on exactly how many children are born in Canada to foreign nationals.
The available data suggests that, out of an average of more than 360,000 births per year, fewer than 500 babies are born to foreign nationals each year in Canada.
However, the report says, "While the limited data available suggests that the incidence of children born in Canada as a result of maternity tourism may be small, anecdotal information indicates that the problem could be more widespread.
"CIC Missions report that having an 'anchor baby' may be a motivation for women coming to Canada to give birth. The phenomenon of 'anchor babies' is linked to the notion that having a Canadian-born child who acquires citizenship may provide benefits for the family down the road."
One way to reduce the incidence rates of foreign nationals giving birth in Canada would be the speedier removal of failed refugee claimants, the report says.
Canadians are concerned about fraud in Canada’s immigration system, Griffith said Monday, and the federal government likely commissioned the report because of media reports about birth tourism.
But the research has failed to turn up signs of a significant problem, he said, so reforms may not be high on the priority list.
"Minister (Chris) Alexander has very much downplayed the expectations that the government is going to do anything because it's a lower priority and there are other issues that need more attention," Griffith told CTV's Canada AM.
A statement from Alexander's spokesperson gave little indication of the government's intentions on the file.
"Those who enter Canada fraudulently or illegally just to give birth here are taking advantage of Canada’s generosity," Alexis Pavlich said in a statement to CTV News.
"This is obviously of serious concern at this point. No final decisions have been made. Decisions of this nature will be informed by facts and be made in the best interests of Canada and Canadians."
The report acknowledges that barriers to reform include a potential increase in costs to the provinces and territories, and concerns that a child born in Canada may be born stateless, in contravention of Canada’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
The government will likely continue to monitor the situation "to see if the numbers increase, which I think is good public policy," Griffith said.
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