Facing economic challenges in mainland China, some newly-married couples from wealthy families have looked elsewhere for a better future for their unborn children: one with quality medical services, educational opportunities, and the security of good, healthy food.
For several years, Hong Kong --- formally part of China, with a similar culture and a lower cost than alternatives --- was the preferred location. However, in October 2011, residents began to protest against the increasing number of pregnant women from the mainland, whom they claimed were taking benefits without paying taxes. They called on the Hong Kong government to stop issuing birth certificates to the “foreign” newborns. Since 1 January 2013, the hospitals will no longer accept bed reservation for babies whose parents are neither local residents.
Those Chinese who did not want to give up the dream came up with a solution: why not go to the US? However, they are now finding that there is not necessarily a clear boundary between an American Dream and an American Nightmare.
The plan for those who return to China with their American children is to hide the US identity to ensure sons and daughters can enjoy the compulsory education in China before entering American universities, enjoying the lower costs for US citizens. After graduation, the entire family can apply for immigration, looking forward to heavenly days.
But the path to an American heaven is not so smooth. The expenses shown in the advertisements are usually below 100,000 yuan ($16,000), however, the total expenditure will exceed 200,000 yuan ($32,000) if you expect a comfortable process. Parents are finding that their children’s US passports have to be renewed every five years, and their Chinese travel certificates every two. That is a large financial outlay, and then there are the high sponsorship fees to local kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools, and high schools. On top of this, there is the sometimes-unexpected development that since the children do not live permenently in America, they cannot enjoy any US social welfare, facing the high cost of medical care if they are sick.
Giving birth abroad enables parents to bypass the family-planning restriction. However, as soon as that second child is in China, the prospect arises of fines from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of yuan. All these costs are not mentioned in the advertisements of the agencies.
Lulu, 23, is enjoying a special vacation in Los Angeles, having recently had her second child --- her first was born in Hong Kong two years ago. While she loves her Chinese hometown and lifestyle, “I just wanted to experience better medical care when I was going to give birth to a new member of my family."
Lulu and her husband chose her obstetrician carefully and did not follow the agency blindly: “The fancy ads don’t appeal to me.” The young couple contacted their friends in the US in advance so everything would go as planned.
Lulu has a brother so she and her husband are not eligible to have their second child under Chinese law. That, however, was not the biggest problem:
I never thought about American immigration, and I find it’s ridiculous to be apart from my friends and everything I am familiar with.
Lulu will return to China with her newborn in two weeks. Her total expense for this trip is now beyond 400,000 yuan ($64,000), not including gifts to friends and family members. The future fines for the second child will be dealt by the parents of the young couple.
Lulu said that the question of US nationality of her younger child is not a concern:
I’m not an American, but I lead a happy life, why can’t my child?
I think the love between family members and good education are more important, the US passport doesn’t guarantee that. When my children grow up, if they would like to be American citizens, it’s their business.
Others are not as calm as Lulu. Some people have had trouble going through immigration, with obviously-pregnant women refused entry. Mothers have not been satisfied with the service provided by the confinement centres, complaining about the narrow room and terrible food.
Despite this, Chinese women continue to take risks and endure discomfort. They balance this against a lack of confidence in their domestic medical service, amid reports of malpractice and the indifferent, unprofessional attitude of doctors and nurses. Some are not satisfied with the state of social welfare and education and the political environment, seeing little hope for the near-future.
Chinese media has not directly commented, but the testament to this ongoing concern is the thousands of pages that can be found with keywords, most of them leading to advertisements by confinement agencies. How to deal with the situation will be a challenge for the Government. With many of those going abroad from wealthy families and some related to Government and Communist Party officials, Beijing faces the tensions between rich and poor and between the "privileged" and "common" people.