Saturday, August 6, 2016

Nothing illegal about birth tourism at B.C. hospitals


Nothing illegal about birth tourism at B.C. hospitals


Birth tourism is becoming increasingly popular, especially in Richmond, where non-resident births are steadily rising, from just 18 in 2010 to 339 in the past fiscal year. Women from China are seeking labour and delivery services at Richmond Hospital. Canada Border Services spokeswoman Sarah Lawley-Wakelin said pregnancy is “not a reason in itself to not admit a tourist.
“But if a crafty foreigner is seeking entry to Canada for the express purpose of undergoing medical treatment and can’t show they have the money to pay for it, then that could be deemed by a CBSA officer as a potential excessive demand on health service, thus making that individual inadmissible.”
Chinese nationals must have a temporary (tourist/visitor) resident visa (TRV) to enter Canada and must state the purpose of travelling to Canada, said Nancy Caron, spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
“People should always be honest about the purpose of their visit when applying to come to Canada. It is a serious crime to lie or to provide false information or documents when dealing with (IRCC). Lying on an application or during in an interview with an IRCC officer is fraud and it is a crime,” Caron said.  
Asked if there have been any investigations, charges or convictions against foreigners who didn’t admit they were coming to Canada to have a baby, she said:
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada isn’t aware of any investigations into foreigners who didn’t admit they were entering Canada solely for the purpose of giving birth to a baby.”
Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said the increasing popularity of birth tourism would appear to be so mothers can obtain Canadian citizenship, passports, birth certificates and other documents for their newborns. “You’ve got women who do it to help their child and those who think it will give them a leg up on their own immigration efforts. So these are so-called anchor babies, yes.”
Since 1947, the Citizenship Act has guaranteed Canadian citizenship for those born here, Meurrens said, and although the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper explored changes to the Act, nothing was done.
Meurrens said while birth tourism may “leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths” Canada has forever been a “settler society” and birth on soil citizenship is “central to our laws.”
Meurrens said while birth tourism may "leave a bad taste in some people's mouths" Canada has forever been a "settler society" and birth on soil citizenship is "central to our laws."
Meurrens said while birth tourism may “leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths” Canada has forever been a “settler society” and birth on soil citizenship is “central to our laws.” SUN MEDIA ARCHIVE / PNG
“Where the real problems arise is when people skip out on their medical bills,” he said.
Freedom of information documents supplied to Postmedia by the B.C. government show that half of non-resident bills related to births are paid. Meurrens said since there are agencies or birth tourism brokers running birth houses — 26 at last count that the government is aware of — it may be possible for authorities to collect funds from them.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen pregnant Richmond residents were turned away from their local hospital in the past 18 months because it was too full to accommodate them.  
By comparison, St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver has had 17 diversions to date in 2016. Diversions occur due to lack of beds or high risk births requiring special services. (Fraser Health hospitals don’t track the number of diversions at hospitals in that region).
“It seems there are not enough resources in the way of staff and beds at the Richmond Hospital to accommodate both foreigners and local residents,” said Richard Belleza, whose wife is expecting a second child next month.
Richmond residents Richard and Kelly Belleza with their daughter who was born at Lion's Gate Hospital after the couple were told to go there because Richmond was full. The couple is expecting again in September and hoping they don't go through the same experience.
Richmond residents Richard and Kelly Belleza with their daughter who was born at Lion’s Gate Hospital after the couple were told to go there because Richmond was full. The couple is expecting again in September and hoping they don’t go through the same experience. PNG
They were bumped out of Richmond Hospital two years ago and told to drive to Lion’s Gate Hospital in North Vancouver after Belleza’s wife Kelly had already spent four hours at the Richmond Hospital in labour. Now they’re worried about that happening again. 
Gavin Wilson, spokesman for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), which operates Richmond Hospital, said it is a community hospital and maternity services provided there “can be provided at any other community hospital in the Lower Mainland.” Agreements are in place to allow a patient to be transferred between hospitals when maternity units are full.
“It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we can ensure that patients receive the same excellent level of care,” he said. “The decision to divert a patient is based on their clinical care needs such as stage of labour at the time, not their citizenship.”
Wilson said health officials are now drafting new policies to ensure maternity patients pre-register with the hospital six to eight weeks before their due date. The policy, which will come into effect later this year, is meant to help plan for space and workforce needs and “to ensure that we are able to provide safe care to everyone who needs it.”
Caron of IRCC said she can’t “speculate” on whether the government plans to revisit changes to Citizenship Act laws. 
Birth tourists are charged fees set by the provincial government in consultation with health authorities. VCH officials have made contradictory statements recently about whether birth tourism is a revenue-generating stream or whether it’s merely cost recovery.
In freedom of information documents obtained by Postmedia, ministry of health officials state hospitals are non-profit entities so hospitals can’t operate on a revenue-generating, medical tourism basis. But a VCH official, Diane Bissenden, told a Richmond newspaper that non-residents are asked to put a $7,500 deposit down for an uncomplicated birth and $13,000 for a C-section, roughly three times what the hospital gets from the Medical Services Plan for insured B.C. residents.
Wilson said foreigners might get a refund if the cost of their care is less. If it’s more, they’re charged additionally.
“The exact cost varies from patient to patient, depending on the circumstances of their care. Our mandate is to recover as much of the costs as possible. This includes doctors’ fees, drugs, supplies, other health care staffing, etc. We are in the business of providing care, not making profits,” he said. 
Wilson said VCH has received little criticism about how hospitals are handling birth tourism.
I don’t doubt that concerns have been expressed in the community but we have heard very little of it directly. We have a feedback line that receives 8,000 emails a year and we have not recently received any complaints on this issue. The administration at Richmond Hospital has not directly received any complaints or concerns either.”