I was recently flying with Hainan Airlines when we had to divert the plane to Zhengzhou as Xi’an airport was completely flooded out. Naturally being the sociable person I am, I decided to speak to the cabin crew just to pass the time. As we got talking one of the crew members asked me which school I worked at in Xi’an. When I told her she said ‘Wow, I took my son their recently to check out the kindergarten’ I asked why as according to Chinese law mainland students are forbidden from studying at International schools. She replied ‘My son is American’ I said ‘Oh I see, is your husband American?’ to which she said ‘No, he is Chinese. He is a pilot for this airline’ I eventually found out from her that she paid $60,000 to fly to California and give birth to their child in order for it to obtain an American passport.
I thought about this for a while and many things came to my mind. The first one was how can an air hostess and a pilot for a domestic Chinese airline afford the fees to give birth in the US? However, let’s just stay away from that topic! The second thing has to do with identity. To begin with, if you own a passport of a particular country then I do believe by law you are a national of that country. No questions asked. However, the child in question was born in the US then immediately flown back to China. The child of course has an American passport so according to law that child is American, I have no problem with that at all.
However, what we do see in this situation is a child who is American by law but is being raised in China, in a Chinese environment, without much exposure to American culture except for TV shows, fashion, the odd vacation and of course, fast food. Therefore, should the child eventually return to America, which I guess it probably will when it gets older, he is certainly going to hit a number of cultural barriers and will possibly have issues adapting to some of them. They may have an American passport, but will they feel American and will they feel like they belong in that country? I suppose they will if they only hang out in the Chinese community, but again the question springs to mind ‘Will they feel a part of wider society outside of their Chinese bubble?’
I met a guy out here in Xi’an who was born in Mexico but moved to America when he was 11 or so. He is what we can call a ‘third culture kid’ (or adult I suppose!). Meeting this guy I never got any inclination that he wasn’t American; his mannerisms, his speech and everything else to me was that of many other American’s I’ve met. He was quite an open guy, friendly enough and we could converse in any topic without feeling that there was some awkward cultural barrier in the way. Of course I assume he would also carry with him some Mexican cultural traditions from his community back home, but personally he struck me as nothing other than American.
However, what does it mean to be American or any other nationality for that matter? In my opinion being a member of a nation should be about having a shared set of values that all people can agree on for the most part. For example, I believe me being British is about holding values of tolerance and diversity. I believe in Britain we have progressed and came a long way from the days when geniuses like Alan Turin were forced to commit suicide due to ignorance and a lack of tolerance towards his sexual orientation. Something he likely had very little control over. We have come a long way since the days when black people were openly called ‘Wogs’ or any other derogative name for that matter. Of course this still does happen but for the most part I feel in Britain that many of us would not tolerate this kind of behaviour and stand against it. If an individual comes to the UK and shouts out hatred against homosexuals or members of any religion, which is different to their own, then how, can someone like that be deemed as holding British values and be part of British society? I would even say this to someone who was born or raised in the UK, whether it be a Muslim who claims Jews are all pigs or a Christian who believes that ‘A woman should follow the man.’ In my opinion, and I assume many other people’s opinions, these individuals hold values which many would now deem as nothing short of foul.
One of my part-time jobs is that I invigilate for an Australian Exam Company which is set up for wealthy Chinese who want to send their kids to an Australian Middle or High School. Today I had one child, ethnically Chinese, who participated in the exam and had a New Zealand passport. When seeing his passport I smiled to him and said “Wow, you’re a Kiwi!” to which he just looked at me with a blank expression. I thought maybe he didn’t hear me properly or maybe I had said something which wasn’t PC enough, so I said it again more cautiously to which he replied “Sorry, what do you mean?” So I explained “Well, I’m from Britain so I’m a ‘Brit’, people from Australia call themselves ‘Aussies’ and people from New Zealand call themselves ‘Kiwis’”. I could tell by the blank expression on his face that he didn’t have a clue what I was saying. I began small talking him as I checked his documents like I do with all of my students and I later found out that he told me his parents were on holiday when they gave birth to him in New Zealand. Whether or not this was a holiday of leisure or just to give birth overseas I am not entirely sure, but I have never met a person who takes a leisurely vacation to a destination which is a 12 hour flight whilst heavily pregnant. This kid is only thirteen years old so after spending time in Australia I am sure he will be able to adapt to the culture and improve his English skills without any major issues. He isn’t one of the people I am worried about will face huge cultural issues.
The longer I have lived here in Xi’an the more I have began to witness this huge surge in people buying passports from foreign countries. For example, the international school where I am working we see so many kindergarten students on the ground floor who are referred to as ‘华侨’ (Overseas Chinese). Basically their parents have paid a lot of money to go overseas, give birth, apply for citizenship and then return to China.
I remember recently after my fiancée was accepted for her 10 year US visa, one of her acquaintances who she does business with made a comment which in all honesty made my blood boil. “Hey why don’t you fly to the US and give birth to a baby so it can get a US passport?” I was furious with this because I have never once paid any taxes or made any contributions to the United States, therefore; why on earth should my child be entitled to an American passport or any welfare that country may offer? The United States is going through difficult times as it is, there are children in that country whose parents have worked hard and made contributions to that nation, why the hell should my child put extra strain on their welfare without it’s parents ever making a contribution?
So is a Chinese, Indian or Nigerian child of Birth tourism in the US a 'real' American? I suppose they can be if they are educated and raised out there, but to return to their parent's native land, be raised by natives of that country and be surrounded by family and friends who are all natives of that country whether it be China, Nigeria or India, opens up the debate as to whether or not they can be 'true' American citizens. As previously stated, many will not be tuned into the cultural aspects of that land if they are not raised and educated out there, and secondly I believe citizenship and the benefits any country offers should be given out based on those who have either made a contribution to their state or have some kind of connection to the soil i.e. parent's nationality. To me birth tourism kids do not strike me as natives of the US whenever I have met them and believe me, I have met a lot. As harsh as it may sound I see them as nothing more than Chinese or Indian kids who hold an American passport, not American citizens. This has nothing to do with skin colour or ethnicity, but is more to do with customs and being in tune with the culture.
What confuses me from all of this is the fact that Chinese will say how much they love their country, how proud they are and how great it is, but are so hell bent on spending large amounts of money in order to obtain a foreign passport. I recently went to a wedding where the guy’s brother or father, not entirely sure, who worked for the local security bureau (I believe) had spent a huge amount of money buying a house in Australia and sending his wife and Children over and claiming Australian residency and passports for them.
I have actually asked Chinese people why they do this and they say, because they have no faith that their government will protect or help them. This is not entirely accurate. For example, Chinese nationals are allowed certain privileges here in China that foreign nationals are not e.g. Mortgages, credit cards and bank loans etc. Do people seriously believe that holding a foreign passport and living in China will allow them to be better protected by the Chinese government or another country’s government? Not at all! Foreign embassies explicitly state on their web sites that they are limited as to what legal power they have in China. Not only this, but many countries, whether or not you were born or naturalized there, WILL NOT allow you to access their welfare system if you live outside of it or have not paid tax for a certain period of time. For example, if I stay outside the UK for more than two years I lose my welfare entitlements and to be honest, I have no major problems with that. In my opinion the welfare system should be there for people who reside and contribute, not some random expat who hasn’t paid taxes for ten years and only flies back home when they need an operation.
I spoke to an American about this and I asked, what reasons can you think of for Chinese people wanting to spend a large amount of money giving birth in the US instead of giving birth in China. His reply was that the American welfare system isn’t exactly the best reason as they barely have one as far as health care is concerned. The only reason he could think of is that if you study in the state you were born and live then you get reduced student fees. What I wonder is whether or not this will be applicable to someone who was born there and then has lived in a foreign country for 18 years before returning to study in their country of birth.
Overall, the more money Chinese people earn, the more I see them flying overseas to give birth. To the best of my knowledge their major destination appears to be the US. I have yet to meet one person who has flown to the UK or Australia to give birth. If any Chinese people want to add to this article and give an explanation from their perspective, then please contact me and I am more than happy to let you contribute. Hopefully you can help shed more of a light on this topic and give us your opinions.
Gary Wood - Founder of 'ilovexian'