About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Why Give Birth in the U.S. When a Surrogate Can Do It For You?!

pacifierIt was only a matter of time, really. First, there was “birth tourism,” in which people from around the world who are interested in gaining a foothold in the U.S. arrange to enter as tourists and have a child here — their own little U.S. citizen “anchor baby.”  (See details in my earlier blog, on “Anchor Babies in the News.”)

Now, some parents are avoiding that nerve-wracking plane ride while pregnant, and simply arranging to have surrogate women in the U.S. give birth and cede their parental rights to them. For real. You can read about it in California Lawyer magazine.

This strategy doesn’t work in every U.S. state (because many state legislatures have made surrogacy contracts illegal or unenforceable), but it works in California, which is plenty convenient for the many Asian couples going this route.

I do need to take issue with one statement in the article on “Having a Citizen Baby,” however. It says that, “At $100,000 to $200,000–which includes legal fees, insurance, medical care, and $30,000 to $45,000 for the surrogate–hiring a surrogate is still much cheaper than taking another fast track to legal residency: paying $500,000 or more for an entrepreneur visa.”

The surrogacy route is no “fast track” to legal residency, other than for the baby, who wasn’t exactly worried about immigrating to the U.S. in the first place. Mom and dad still must wait 21 years outside the U.S. before gaining any rights here (also described in my earlier blog post). The entrepreneur or investor visa, by contrast, allows parents and children to enter the U.S. right away.

But the surrogacy route offers certainty for at least one member of the family, and doesn’t carry the risk that the business upon which the investor visa was based will fail within the  first two years–in which case green card eligibility is lost.

Newly Issued Statistics on Who’s in the U.S. With a Temporary Visa

visaThe U.S. government recently released a report called “Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Resident Nonimmigrant Population in the United States: January 2012.” It analyzes the numbers of “nonimmigrants” in the U.S. (foreign-born people with a visa as opposed to a green card or undocumented status) in terms of variables such as age, country of origin, and type of visa.

Here are some salient factoids from the report:

  •  A total of about 1.9 million nonimmigrants lived in the U.S. in 2012.
  • Almost half of these (45%) were temporary workers and their families (for example, on H visas).
  • Another 40% were students and their families.
  • Most of them (80%) were between the ages of 18 and 44.
  • About half of them hailed from an Asian country (an impressive 50% of  foreign students came from China, and 38% of workers came from India).
  • Their top destination states were California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts.

The bottom line? When you imagine a nonimmigrant, you should probably bring to mind a young Asian worker or foreign student.

Spreading the Word: California DACA Recipients Eligible for Medi-Cal

stethoscopeThe original report on this looked rather academic: In February of 2014, the UC Berkeley Labor Center issued its “REALIZING THE DREAM FOR CALIFORNIANS ELIGIBLE FOR DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA): DEMOGRAPHICS AND HEALTH COVERAGE.”

The implications, however, are huge for undocumented Californians with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status. If their incomes are below $15,850, they may qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. (Most other U.S. states do NOT offer similar health coverage to DACA recipients.)

Unfortunately, very few DACA recipients know about, or have been willing to actually take the next step and sign up for this program. The report estimated that up to 125,000 immigrants might be thus eligible.

And just to be clear, this eligibility isn’t merely theoretical. People are signing up for Medi-Cal based on their DACA status. For example, the L.A. Times described “Mayra Yoana Jaimes Pena, 25, [who] was granted DACA-status last year, and signed up for Medi-Cal this month.” Organizations such as OneLA are busy trying to spread the word.

Of course, even further under the radar are the many people who haven’t signed up for DACA, yet are eligible. It’s not too late! For information on eligibility and the application process, see the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” page of Nolo’s website.

Countries From Which It’s Hardest to Get a Visitor (B-2) Visa to the U.S.

jigsaw in blue with five missing piecesThe U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently released statistics showing what percentage of applicants from various countries have been denied tourist or visitor visas in 2013 and earlier years. In some cases, the refusal rate isn’t just high, it’s overwhelming — that is, a majority of applicants get a “No” answer.

You might as well not even try applying for a visitor visa if you’re from Micronesia or Serbia and Montenegro. The refusal rate in those locations is 100%. Yes, you read that right — everyone who asks for a visa is apparently refused. Or perhaps the few who are approved are statistically insignificant (though they should really break out the champagne).

Also high on the refusal list are Somalia (65.8%), Djibouti (62.6%), (Afghanistan (62.7%), Ghana (61.8%), Laos (61.4%), Cuba (61.1%), Liberia (59%), Tajikistan (53.7%), Burundi (52.7%), and Mauritania (50%). (Hey, are the consular officers just flipping coins in Mauritania?)

Looking over this list, a certain pattern emerges. The countries with high refusal rates also have difficult civil or economic situations, as a result of which many people may be looking for a way out — in other words, bringing the kids to Disneyland is probably the last thing on their minds or within their budgets. And the U.S. government must, by law, deny visitor visas to anyone who looks as though their real intention is to make the U.S. their permanent home.

For more on the eligibility criteria for a U.S. visitor visa, see “Visiting the U.S. for Business, Pleasure, or Medical Treatment.”

“Anchor Babies” in the News: The Pregnancy Path to U.S. Citizenship

asianbabyEvery law seems to have unintended consequences. The original intent of granting citizenship to every baby born on U.S. soil (done within the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was to avoid creating an underclass, particularly among people who were brought to the U.S. as slaves.

(Congress was responding to the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857, in which the U.S.  Supreme Court denied citizenship rights to freed slaves.)

Now, however, a cottage industry has seemingly developed to assist people from outside the U.S. — particularly from Asia — to come here on temporary visas in order to give birth to new little U.S. citizens.

The price tag for such “maternity hotel” services tends toward the tens of thousands of dollars. The fee covers travel and visa arrangements, medical care, and more. (See, for instance, “Giving birth in U.S. to get babies citizenship draws suspicion” and “In suburbs of L.A., a cottage industry of birth tourism” and “Chinese birth tourism booms in Southern California.”)

One such service reportedly advertises, “We guarantee that each baby can obtain a U.S. passport and related documents.” That’s not a hard guarantee to make, given the Constitutional backing!

Some of the reasons expectant parents give for wanting to give birth in the U.S. have immediate or short-term utility. For example, interviewees from China mentioned goals such as as circumventing that country’s one-child restrictions, or wanting to ensure that their child will be able to study in the U.S. or have the protection of the U.S. government in times of difficulty.

Other reasons, however, are remarkably long-term in scope. The families are creating an “anchor” for future U.S. immigration — and it’s one that can’t help them until the child turns 21.

To be clear, having a child who is a U.S. citizen does NOT provide any immediate rights to live or gain status in the United States. Only a U.S. citizen who is age 21 or over can petition his or her parents for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card). That application process alone will likely take at least a year.

What’s more, if the little citizens’ parents were to take a chance and attempt to remain in the U.S. illegally for the requisite 21 years, they’d become “inadmissible” — that is, ineligible for a green card — based on their history of unlawful presence here. (In fact, the “birth tourism” agencies likely warn the parents of this, since reports have it that they fly home soon after the births.)

There’s nothing in U.S. immigration law that expressly forbids birth tourism. Arguments could be made that the parents are committing visa fraud by claiming to enter as “tourists.” Still, even if the immigration enforcement authorities push this point, a finding that the parents’ committed visa fraud won’t negate the children’s status as citizens. (It will, however, make the parents inadmissible and unable to receive any U.S. visa or green card in the future.)

Whatever one might think of the practice of birth tourism, we’ve got to admire that level of long-term planning!

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