Birth tourism brings Russian baby boom to Miami

MIAMI — Lured by the charm of little Havana or the glamour of South Beach, some 15 million tourists visit Miami every year.

But for a growing number of Russian women, the draw isn't sunny beaches or pulsing nightclubs. It's U.S. citizenship for their newborn children.

In Moscow, it's a status symbol to have a Miami-born baby, and social media is full of Russian women boasting of their little americantsy .

"It's really common," said Ekaterina Kuznetsova, 29. "When I was taking the plane to come here, it was not only me. It was four or five women flying here."

Ekaterina was one of dozens of Russian birth tourists NBC News spoke to over the past four months about a round-trip journey that costs tens of thousands of dollars and takes them away from home for weeks or months.

Why do they come?

"American passport is a big plus for the baby. Why not?" Olesia Reshetova, 31, told NBC News.

"And the doctors, the level of education," Kuznetsova added.

The weather doesn't hurt, either.

"It's a very comfortable place for staying in wintertime," Oleysa Suhareva said.

Image: Oleysa Suhareva traveled from Russia to Miami to give birth.

It's not just the Russians who are coming. Chinese moms-to-be have been flocking to Southern California to give birth for years.

What they are doing is completely legal, as long as they don't lie on any immigration or insurance paperwork. In fact, it's protected by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says anyone born on American soil is automatically a citizen.

The child gets a lifelong right to live and work and collect benefits in the U.S. And when they turn 21 they can sponsor their parents' application for an American green card.

As president, Donald Trump has indicated he is opposed to so-called chain migration, which gives U.S. citizens the right to sponsor relatives, because of recent terror attacks. And as a candidate, he called for an end to birthright citizenship, declaring it in one of his first policy papers the "biggest magnet for illegal immigration."

"You have to get rid of it," he said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "They're having a baby and all of a sudden — nobody knows — the baby is here. You have no choice."

In a twist, as the Daily Beast first reported , condo buildings that bear the Trump name are the most popular for the out-of-town obstetric patients, although the units are subleased from the individual owners and it's not clear if building management is aware.

There is no indication that Trump or the Trump Organization is profiting directly from birth tourism; the company and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Roman Bokeria, the state director of the Florida Association of Realtors told NBC News that Trump- branded buildings in the Sunny Isles Beach area north of Miami are particularly popular with the Russian birth tourists and Russian immigrants.

"Sunny Isles beach has a nickname — Little Russia — because people who are moving from Russian-speaking countries to America, they want … a familiar environment."

"They go across the street, they have Russian market, Russian doctor, Russian lawyer," he added. "It's very comfortable for them."

Image: Oleysa Suhareva traveled from Russia to Miami to give birth.

Reshetova came to Miami to have her first child, hiring an agency to help arrange her trip. The services — which can include finding apartments and doctors and obtaining visas — don't come cheap. She expects to pay close to $50,000, and some packages run as high as $100,000. Bokeria says some landlords ask for six months rent up front.

One firm, Miami Mama, says it brings about 100 Russian and Russian-speaking clients to the U.S. per year, 30 percent of them repeat clients. The owners are Irina and Konstantin Lubnevskiy, who bought Miami Mama after using the firm to have two American children themselves.

The couple says they counsel clients to be completely transparent with U.S. immigration officials that they're expecting.

"We tell every client, 'You have the documents, you have to tell the truth. This is America. They like the truth here,'" Konstantin said.

"I would like the American people to understand they don't have to worry," he added. "Those who come here want to become part of the American people."

But Miami Mami has drawn scrutiny from law enforcement. In June, it was raided by the FBI, and an employee was convicted of making false statements on passport applications. The owners say they knew nothing about it, fired the worker and their business license was renewed.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment on the case, and the FBI said it could not discuss "an active investigation."

There is no official data on birth tourism in the United States. The Center for Immigration Studies, which wants stricter limits on immigration, estimates there are 36,000 babies born in the U.S. to foreign nationals a year, though the numbers could be substantially lower. Florida says births in the state by all foreign nationals who live outside the United States have jumped 200 percent since 2000.

Customs and Border Protection says there are no laws governing whether pregnant foreign nationals can enter the country or give birth here.

"However, if a pregnant woman or anyone else uses fraud or deception to obtain a visa or gain admission to the United States, that would constitute a criminal act," the agency said.

When federal agents raided California "maternity hotels" catering to Chinese clients in 2015, authorities said in court papers that some of the families falsely claimed they were indigent and got reduced hospital rates.

In Miami, the Jackson Health System said 72 percent of international maternity patients — who represented 8 percent of all patients giving birth last year — pay with insurance or through a pre-arranged package.

Reshetova said she understands the concerns some have about birth tourism, because it's also an issue in Russia.

"But I pay by myself," she said. "I pay with my money, bring it here to America. I'm not going to take something to America.

"I don't know what my daughter will choose in future. But if I can spend money — my money — for her choice, why not?"

Cynthia McFadden and Sarah Fitzpatrick reported from Miami, and Tracy Connor from New York. Anna Schecter contributed reporting from New York, and Natasha Lebedeva from Washington.

birth tourism miami

Cynthia McFadden is the senior legal and investigative correspondent for NBC News.

Sarah Fitzpatrick is a senior investigative producer and story editor for NBC News. She previously worked for CBS News and "60 Minutes." 

birth tourism miami

Tracy Connor is a senior writer for NBC News. She started this role in December, 2012. Connor is responsible for reporting and writing breaking news, features and enterprise stories for NBCNews.com. Connor joined NBC News from the New York Daily News, where she was a senior writer covering a broad range of news and supervising the health and immigration beats. Prior to that she was an assistant city editor who oversaw breaking news and the courts and entertainment beats.

Earlier, Connor was a staff writer at the New York Post, United Press International and Brooklyn Paper Publications.

Connor has won numerous awards from journalism organizations including the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.

She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

birth tourism miami

Anna Schecter is a senior producer in the NBC News Investigations Unit.

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Nightlife Beaches and Birthing - Miami as a Birth Tourism Destination

birth tourism miami

Miami is consistently a popular destination for tourists, and with its exciting nightlife, beautiful beaches and fantastic weather year-round, it’s not difficult to see why. For a growing number of Russian women, however, it’s the prospect of giving birth in another country that brings them to this city in a process known as birth tourism. ‍

So, what is birth tourism? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Today, we will shed some light on this concept. ‍

What is Birth Tourism?

The definition of birth tourism involves travel to another country for the express purpose of giving birth there. Popular destinations include the United States, with Miami being a favorite destination for mothers from the CIS region and Southern California for Chinese mothers. Other popular destinations include Canada and Hong Kong. ‍

Why Birth Tourism?

The growth of birth tourism can be broken down into these three factors:

Secure Citizenship for Children

Securing citizenship for the child is the primary factor for the rise in birth tourism. Many parents want to give birth to their children in another country so that their children will acquire citizenship in that country  or  have dual citizenship in their birth country as well as their parent’s homeland. ‍

Some nations, like the U.S., follow the doctrine of ‘ jus soli, ‘ meaning ‘ right to earth.’  This suggests that if one is born in a particular place, then the child has the right to live and work in that country. Furthermore, some nations provide services to their citizens such as free education and healthcare that the child would qualify for as well. ‍

Safe and Healthy Delivery

According to the  World Health Organization  (WHO), approximately 830 women die each day due to preventable complications from childbirth and pregnancy, 99% of which occur in developing countries. Many mothers feel more protected with medical practitioners in other countries and prefer to go where they feel more confident in safe delivery. ‍

Political Realities at Home

Some countries may have policies influencing the parent’s ability to have children. China, for example, limits the number of children a family can have to two. As such, the parents travel to another destination to give birth. This act would not violate China’s two-child policy because the third child has citizenship from another country. ‍

What does Birth Tourism Look Like?

A niche industry has grown in destination countries to help mothers organize their birth tourism trips. From securing accommodations to booking doctors and obtaining a passport for the child, companies like SVM-MED and Miami Mama help these families throughout the entire process. They also counsel them on how to deal with U.S. immigration officials. ‍

“We tell every client, ‘You have the documents, you have to tell the truth,’” says Konstantin Lubnevskiy, owner of Miami Mama, in an interview with NBC News. “This is America. They like the truth here.” ‍

The packages can range from  $20,000 for a 3-month stay in a Miami suburb and medical care  to an almost $100,000 package that includes a chauffeur and a gold-tiled bathtub in Trump Tower II in Miami. One birth tourism facilitator even boasts about the accommodations they offer as “designed by the American multibillionaire Donald Trump himself.” ‍

These packages obviously cater to the people who can afford them. Therefore, giving birth in Miami is a status symbol in Russia. It is common on Instagram to see shots of mothers with their newborns in their arms accompanied by the Russian hashtag “#BirthsInMiami.”

The growing middle- and upper class in China and Russia are fueling this trend, but for these parents birth tourism is about more than just being fashionable. It is about providing a better future for their children. ‍

While there is no official data on the number of birth tourists who travel to the U.S., the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimates that 36,000 babies in the U.S. are born to foreign nationals each year.

Since 2000, the number of foreign nationals who give birth in the state of Florida has increased by 200%. Currently, there are no laws that dictate whether pregnant foreign nationals can give birth in the U.S., but a shifting political environment could lead to potential changes in the future. ‍

Stay on top of the latest changes and trends in the medical tourism industry by joining the  Medical Tourism Association .

Unveiling the Power of Social Media Marketing in Medical Tourism

Korea: turning the focus to an emerging global leader in medical tourism, exploring the surge of cosmetic tourism: trends and considerations in aesthetic procedures abroad, holistic healing: exploring integrative medicine and wellness retreats, meeting the surge: the growing demand for knee replacement surgeries and advances in the field, stem cells show promise for hair thickening, stem cell injection for back and neck pain, in pursuit of excellence: ceo spotlight with ms. artirat charukitpipat, south korea, a medical tourism leader pioneering the future of medicine  , continue reading, informed decision-making in medical tourism: the significance of clinical outcome reports, avoiding pitfalls: top 5 mistakes medical tourism startups should steer clear of, reshaping cataract surgery with advanced technology, featured reading, medical tourism magazine.

The Medical Tourism Magazine (MTM), known as the “voice” of the medical tourism industry, provides members and key industry experts with the opportunity to share important developments, initiatives, themes, topics and trends that make the medical tourism industry the booming market it is today.

South Florida sees a boom in Russian ‘birth tourists’

Svetlana Mokerova, 25, and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

MIAMI – Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards – unlike dismal clinics back home – can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of “birth tourists” that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows “birthright citizenship” and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed “Little Moscow.”

“With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That’s actually really cool,” said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for “green card” immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

“Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave,” said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump’s proposals, said the practice couldn’t be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

“We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can’t forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

“Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens,” Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it’s good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

“We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits” of a U.S. passport, she said.

“We just knew that it was something awesome,” added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like “a stay in a good hotel.”

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

“And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise,” Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as “mommies,” as opposed to “rozhenitsa,” or “birth-giver” – the “unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics.”

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn’t allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) – middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but “now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14,” he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in ‘birth tourism’

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MIAMI (AP) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of “birth tourists” that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows “birthright citizenship” and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed “Little Moscow.”

“With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That’s actually really cool,” said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for “green card” immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

“Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave,” said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump’s proposals, said the practice couldn’t be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

“We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can’t forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

“Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens,” Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it’s good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

“We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits” of a U.S. passport, she said.

“We just knew that it was something awesome,” added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like “a stay in a good hotel.”

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

“And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise,” Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as “mommies,” as opposed to “rozhenitsa,” or “birth-giver” — the “unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics.”

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn’t allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but “now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14,” he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

birth tourism miami

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Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in 'birth tourism'

MIAMI (AP) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows "birthright citizenship" and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow."

"With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That's actually really cool," said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for "green card" immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

"Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave," said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump's proposals, said the practice couldn't be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

"We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can't forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

"Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens," Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it's good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

"We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits" of a U.S. passport, she said.

"We just knew that it was something awesome," added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like "a stay in a good hotel."

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

"And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise," Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as "mommies," as opposed to "rozhenitsa," or "birth-giver" — the "unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics."

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn't allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Watch CBS News

South Florida Sees Boom In 'Birth Tourism'

March 22, 2019 / 1:57 PM EDT / CBS Miami

Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Some people come to Florida for the weather, others for the beaches, and still others for our theme parks.

But did you know that every year hundreds of pregnant women travel to the US, often to Florida, to give birth so their child will have all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows "birthright citizenship" and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large.

Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, said about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow."

"With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That's actually really cool," said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for "green card" immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

"Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave," said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump's proposals, said the practice couldn't be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

"We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can't forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

"Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens," Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it's good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

"We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits" of a U.S. passport, she said.

"We just knew that it was something awesome," added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like "a stay in a good hotel."

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

"And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise," Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as "mommies," as opposed to "rozhenitsa," or "birth-giver" — the "unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics."

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn't allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said.

(©2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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Do rich foreign women give birth in miami then not pay the bill, as rubio said.

Amy Sherman

Marco Rubio brought up a new wrinkle in the country’s immigration debate that hits especially hard, he argues, in Miami.

"I see people that fly in on their private jets into Miami, Fla., have a child because they are eight and a half months pregnant when they get here," Rubio said at a town hall in Iowa on Jan. 24. "They are wealthy. They fly back home on the private jet. Their kid is now a U.S. citizen, and they don’t pay the hospital bill."

It sounds like insult to injury for taxpayers -- the babies get citizenship, residents get the unpaid tax burden. But is this really even happening in South Florida, like he says?

Yes, and no. The evidence is too murky for us to draw a firm conclusion, so we decided not to rate his statement on our Truth-O-Meter.

Births by foreign women are on the rise in Florida, and some Miami doctors openly welcome birth tourists. But it’s not at all clear these women are then stiffing hospitals, at least two of which require proof of payment upfront.

Birth tourism

Some Republican presidential candidates have raised the alarm about "anchor babies," but this isn’t the situation Rubio talked about in Iowa.

Under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, babies born on U.S. soil are American citizens regardless of their parents’ citizenship. The child becomes an "anchor" that their parents may hope helps them avoid deportation.

Rubio was talking about wealthy foreigners who don’t want to settle here and instead fly back home after giving birth. Under this scenario, American citizenship is an extra benefit their children will be able to take advantage of later in life. Or perhaps the parents simply prefer the American health care system.

The business of "birth tourism" drew attention in March 2015 when federal authorities raided maternity hotels in California. Authorities were looking for evidence of harboring undocumented visitors, misuse of visas, tax evasion and other potential crimes. No indictments have been issued.

A Rubio spokesman sent us a 2013 NBC News report about wealthy foreign women paying tens of thousands of dollars for lodging, airfare and medical expenses. The article focused on California and only briefly mentioned Miami as a city that has advertised birth tourism centers.

Still, we found other news articles about birth tourism in Miami.

In April 2014, the Moscow Times reported that expectant Russian moms spend up to $50,000 to give birth in the United States. The head of one company estimated there are about 40 to 60 women a month who travel to give birth in Miami.

A pediatrician in Miami, Wladimir Lorentz, told PolitiFact Florida it is common for obstetricians in Miami to deliver foreigners’ babies. He started a high-end concierge service for foreign expectant parents about three years ago, and he estimates that he delivers about four babies a month through that part of his practice. (He also has American patients.)

Lorentz’s Portuguese language website "Ser Mamae em Miami," which means "Being Mommy in Miami," features a photo of a pregnant mom on a beach and a cartoon drawing of a baby wrapped in an American flag. It includes referrals for legal advice, Brazilian restaurants, and personal shoppers. The cost for a natural childbirth at one hospital is $9,849, which includes  prenatal care starting at 32 weeks, the hospital cost and then care for the baby through the first two months.

He disagreed with Rubio’s characterization of rich foreigners flying in on jets and then skipping town without paying their bill.

"Nobody comes here on a private jet -- that’s absurd," he said. "They come here on regular flights. They pay every single penny ahead of time for the services. ... They even ask for receipts to show they paid every penny."

We found no comprehensive data on whether foreign women giving birth here pay their bills; however, Miami-Dade hospital systems Baptist Health South Florida and Jackson Health System require foreigners to show ahead of time that they can pay through insurance or out of pocket. The foreign women represented about 2 percent of their births, spokespersons said.

As for how often foreign women give birth in Florida in the first place, state data show 625 such births in 2014. This marked an increase from the previous four years, where births ranged from 550 to 589.

The largest group, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, was 382 in Miami-Dade County followed by 108 in Broward County.

The actual number for mothers from foreign countries could be higher due to quirks in recordkeeping for foreign deliveries. That includes 135 deliveries in which the zip code was unknown.

The most common countries the pregnant women were from were Venezuela, Russia and Mexico, said Bill Sampsel, founder of HealthScope Software Solutions, a company that tracks hospital patient data in multiple states including Florida.

Our Sources

Ser Mamae em Miami , Accessed Jan. 26, 2016

Center for Immigration Studies, "Birth tourists come from around the globe," Aug. 26, 2015

Center for Immigration Studies, "There Are Possibly 36,000 Birth Tourists Annually," April 28, 205

Des Moines Register , Recording of the Iowa town hall with Sen. Marco Rubio, Jan. 24, 2016

Washington Post , "Inside the shadowy world of birth tourism at maternity hotels," March 5, 2015

Wall Street Journal , "Miami emerges as fertile ground for Brazilian babies," Dec. 24, 2015

NBC News, "Born in the U.S.A.: Birth tourists get instant U.S. citizenship for their newborns," March 7, 2013

Moscow Times, "Russian Women Flock to Miami to Give Birth to U.S. Citizens," April 15, 2014

CBS4, "Shortcut to citizenship," April 30, 2014

Miami Herald , "International patients who pay cash may be target market for Metropolitan Hospital buyer," Feb. 7, 2014

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking the claims about 'anchor babies' and whether illegal immigrants 'drop and leave,'" Aug. 6, 2010

Interview, Jaime Caldwell, South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association interim president, Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, Linda Quick, South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association former president, Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, Alex Conant, Marco Rubio campaign spokesman, Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, Dori Alvarez, Baptist Health spokeswoman, Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, Wladimir Lorentz, pediatrician, Jan. 26, 2016

Interview, Lidia V. Amoretti, Jackson Memorial spokeswoman, Jan. 27, 2016

Interview, Bill Sampsel, Founder, HealthScope Software Solutions, Jan. 28, 2016

Interview, Amy Erez, Broward Health spokeswoman, Jan. 29, 2016

Interview, Shelisha Coleman, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman, Feb. 9, 2016

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by amy sherman.

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Russian ‘birth tourism’ brings boom to south florida.

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Denis Wolok, the father of 1-month-old Eva, shows the child's U.S. passport during an interview with The Associated Press in Hollywood, Fla.

MIAMI — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of “birth tourists” that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows “birthright citizenship” and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the US specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the US, then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

A doctor performs an ultrasound examination for Svetlana Mokerova in Miami Beach, Fla.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed “Little Moscow.”

“With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That’s actually really cool,” said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for “green card” immigration status for the parents.

A US passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the US on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

“Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave,” said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the US-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-US citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump’s proposals, said the practice couldn’t be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

“We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can’t forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

“Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens,” Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it’s good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova, 25, a fitness instructor, takes a selfie in Miami Beach, Fla.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

“We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits” of a US passport, she said.

“We just knew that it was something awesome,” added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like “a stay in a good hotel.”

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

“And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise,” Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as “mommies,” as opposed to “rozhenitsa,” or “birth-giver” — the “unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics.”

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn’t allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about $4,500 — middling by US standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but “now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14,” he said.

Rich Russians flock to Florida to deliver American babies

Sunny Isles Beach (United States) (AFP) –

Issued on: 25/01/2019 - 04:02

In southern Florida's Sunny Isles Beach, Russian tourists Anna and Helen sip coffee with their husbands and newborn babies: a common scene in what has become a prized destination for well-off foreigners looking to secure US citizenship for their children.

Under the shadow of luxury skyscrapers -- among them Trump Towers -- exists an army of well-dressed women, either pregnant or pushing top-of-the-line strollers. Most are Russian or from former Soviet Union countries.

The weather, white-sand beaches and dazzling turquoise waters are common reasons given for traveling to give birth in this city of 20,000 people, north of Miami.

But one 34-year-old, who gave her name only as Anna, was more direct.

"For the American passport!" she told AFP, smiling. She arrived in the US while expecting now two-month-old Melania.

Both she and compatriot Helen, mother to a three-month-old, said tens of thousands of dollars and months of planning went into their trips.

The attraction is clear. President Donald Trump does not like it, but according to the US constitution, children born on American soil automatically gain citizenship, opening up highly sought-after opportunities to study and work.

And why Sunny Isles specifically?

"Feel home, lot of Russian," Anna said.

Upon turning 21, baby Melania will also be able to sponsor visas for her parents to come to the US -- another policy that has disgruntled Trump.

The trend is big business: Miami Mama, a company in neighboring Hallandale Beach, has been organizing travel packages for Russian mothers since 2009.

Charging between $6,900 and $49,000, they will coordinate everything from interpreters and apartments to medical care and citizenship documents, according to the firm's website.

And none of this is illegal, according to US immigration laws.

But according to NBC, the FBI raided Miami Mama in 2017, arresting one employee for making false statements in federal documents to obtain passports for children.

Miami Mama -- whose logo shows a pregnant woman against the backdrop of an American flag -- did not respond to AFP's requests for comment.

- Little Moscow -

So-called "birth tourism" to the United States isn't just popular with Russians. Expectant Chinese parents have for years travelled to California, while South Americans -- particularly Brazilians -- prefer Florida.

A tentative estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies -- a conservative group that advocates curbs on immigration -- suggested in 2015 that maternity tourism to the United States could account for some 36,000 births each year.

But there is no reliable data on how many US citizens the practice creates.

In 2014, Vera Muzyka, head of a firm helping Russian mothers in Miami, told The Moscow Times that in that city, 40 to 60 babies were being born each month to citizens of Russia or former Soviet Union countries.

Sunny Isles Beach earned itself the nickname "Little Moscow" from around 2010, when Russian beauty salons, supermarkets, restaurants and realtors started to crop up.

Nowadays, you're more likely to find syrnikis -- a type of sweet cheese pancake -- than Cuban croquetas, while dried fish has become a staple bar snack.

And while southern Floridians are used to seeing shop signs in English and Spanish, in Sunny Isles it's English and Russian -- with real estate offices, notaries and businesses offering "passport services" the most common around town.

According to a 2017 report by The Daily Beast, many Russian families stay in luxury Trump Tower condominiums.

But while connections between Trump and the Kremlin have been under investigation for over two years, there is no evidence the president benefits from Russian tourism in Florida.

Suspicious of the press, most of Sunny Isles Beach's Russians won't speak to the media, and those who do prefer to remain anonymous or give only their first name.

That included Kate, eight months pregnant with her fourth child, who would only tell AFP: "We plan to give birth."

Entering a specialty Russian supermarket with her husband and children, the 35-year-old added -- true to form -- that it was the balmy climate that brought them to Florida.

The content you requested does not exist or is not available anymore.

"Anchor babies” are a myth. Here are the real reasons women like me give birth in the US.

by Kateryna Panova

Front page of a birth agency website. "American and Russian documents for the newborn in two weeks", says the ad. The agency, based in the US, offers all-inclusive packages for birth tourists from Russia.

On the day my son Eden was born, the only thing I was anxious about was the paperwork. I'm from Ukraine and my husband is from Israel, and even though we both knew that the United States has birthright citizenship, I still wondered if my son would indeed get a birth certificate and become an American.

I made sure I met the hospital birth registrar well in advance, on a tour of the hospital. I bought her candy according to my country's tradition of thanking — or, more accurately, bribing — the right people. I felt like I needed to pull strings to get my son his passport. I even bought a onesie with a black tie so that Eden would look all formal in his photo shoot for the American passport.

It was a big day when my son's passport finally arrived in mail. My husband and I stared at its blue cover, and then turned every page carefully and respectfully. I showed it to all of our relatives on Skype, and they admired it. Ever since, they call Eden "the American" and seldom by his name. I still find it especially mind-blowing that the passport says the secretary of state requests to give my son "all lawful aid and protection." I'm happy for such a generosity. But I can't stop thinking that my son and I didn't do anything to deserve this privilege.

I didn't set out to have an American baby. I came to the United States three years ago on an exchange visitor visa to study at New York University. One summer I had an internship in Miami, where I met a cute guy on OKCupid. A couple of weeks later, I accidentally got pregnant. Several months after, I went into labor at Memorial West Hospital in Florida and gave birth to "the American." (I also married the guy afterward.)

Still, there are tens of thousands of women (estimates vary widely, from 36,000 globally to 60,000 from China alone) per year who go to great lengths to have babies here: "birth tourists," they're called. Women — usually wealthy — from all over the world come to the US around seven months into their pregnancy, give birth, stay until they receive the baby's passport, and go back home. They have special Facebook groups and forums where they write reviews on the doctors, buy used strollers, and discuss how to avoid problems on the border.

Birth tourism is controversial — Donald Trump has said he wants to end birthright citizenship because he believes it's "the biggest magnet for illegal immigration." Countries such as China and Taiwan are starting to crack down on citizens who go to the US to give birth.

But it's also poorly understood. I ended up making a documentary about birth tourism, interviewing seven women from Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe about their experiences having babies in the US. Here's what I learned from my research and my own experience.

Eden__1_.0.jpg

The author's son in his tie onesie. (Kateryna Panova)

Birth tourists don't break any laws

Expectant women come to the US on tourist visas. These are easy to obtain — you fill out an online form, go to the US Consulate in your home country, and give the officer your passport and supporting documents like proof of employment, bank statement, air tickets, and a hotel reservation.

Usually birth tourists are rich, so they have no problems getting those visas. Some claim they are just going to the US for a vacation and apply before the pregnancy is obvious. Many women don't show until month five, and officers wouldn't ask, avoiding the risk of insulting an overweight woman.

Other women prefer to say openly that they are going to give birth. And that's totally legit, especially if it's a high-risk pregnancy, because there's such a thing as a tourist visa for medical treatment in the USA. Women just have to collect several letters from the physicians.

Birth tourists prepare thoroughly for any encounters with immigration officers but are rarely asked any questions. Here's how Svetlana from Moscow describes her experience at the border control in the airport upon arrival to Miami: "I was pregnant, and it was obvious. I was wearing a tank top, and I wasn't hiding it. I had documents with me to show that we are paying [the hospital for the delivery], that we have an invitation from the doctor, bank statements, real estate records, and so on. I was holding all these in my hands. And no immigration officers asked to see them. I was kind of disappointed."

Birth tourism is legal, and probably the only three opportunities to break the law along the way are opening a maternity hotel, which violates zoning and tax regulations; avoiding paying the medical bills; or lying to an immigration officer.

In an interview for my documentary, Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said he estimates Medicaid fraud by birth tourists costs the US government up to $400 million per year. I doubt this number, since I only know one birth tourist who tried to apply for Medicaid to cover the delivery of her baby. She failed, but maybe others were more fortunate than she was.

Foreign women who give birth in the US do not feel proud. They feel guilt, shame, and sometimes fear.

I didn't tell the Fulbright fund, or people at NYU, that I got pregnant. I hid it from my classmates. Once I was late for a class because of morning sickness, and my professor yelled at me and made me bring a note from the doctor. After that, I could not look him in the eye.

More on birth tourism

GettyImages-520827511.0.0.0.jpg

Why a Taiwanese woman gave birth on a plane — only to be separated from her child

When I went back to Ukraine to renew my visa, I hid my belly from the US consulate officer under a winter jacket. I did the same at the passport control in JFK Airport. Being pregnant isn't a crime, but I still felt like I was smuggling my unborn son into the country. All birth tourists I know feel like that.

Women also feel guilty for choosing not to give birth in their home countries. "I feel uneasy in front of my compatriots," confesses Olga, a birth tourist from Kiev, my hometown."They can't afford [to be] doing what I can, giving their children the opportunity that I am giving to my child. I feel like I am not patriotic enough."

Governments in Asia and Eastern Europe alike nurture such feelings in birth tourists, but Russia also has strong anti-American propaganda.

"Aren't you afraid to give birth to Americans given the US sanctions against Russia?" asks a woman on a Facebook group for birth tourists.

"On Russian TV they show Americans are torturing children," said Viktoria from Moscow, who gave birth in New York.

"If you are in Russia, the idea of coming here seems a bit crazy," said Maria, who came to Miami from Moscow. "But once you come here and learn more, it changes your mind."

Many "birth tourists" come to the US for its superior health system

Apart from the child's citizenship, there are medical reasons to have a baby here. US health care, with all its flaws, is better than in China, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Lots of women are afraid of complications during birth, and also don't want to be in pain. So they come to the states for the NICUs and epidurals.

And there are further potential benefits for the child. I know a mother of an American baby who is a health care official in Ukraine. Unlike many of the birth tourists I spoke to, she is not rich. She didn't stay in a fancy apartment with an ocean view — she slept on a couch at a friend's place in Harlem, and then gave birth with a midwife. She saved every cent to be able to make it. "If my baby gets really sick, I want her to come and receive treatment in the US," she said. "In Ukraine, children die because their parents can't afford cancer treatment. I don't want anything like this to happen to my daughter."

Most mothers don't stay in the US after they have their babies

For me, the term "anchor baby" is not insulting, but it's also not accurate. I didn't give birth to my son here to stay in the States. Even if I wanted to, Eden wouldn't be able to sponsor me or his father for legal status until he turns 21. That's very long-term planning. I can't imagine a woman thinking: "Oh, I'll have this baby, change thousands of diapers, mess up my career, lose sleep and my social life. But then in 21 years my child will finally petition me to get a green card. Yay!"

It also doesn't make any sense in terms of money. Raising Eden in our neighborhood in Florida, we will spend around $500,000 on food, housing, child care, and other costs by the time he is 18. I know people who got a green card spending just $30,000!

A baby is too expensive as an "anchor." There are a lot of other ways to gain legal status that are cheaper and quicker. Some people are lucky and win the diversity visa lottery, spending less than $200 in application fees. Others find a US citizen spouse, real or fake. There are also people who seek political asylum and pay around $5,000 to a lawyer who prepares all the paperwork.

Even if you have no luck, nobody is persecuting you, and you have zero grounds to become an American, you can become one with an investment visa — and such visas give a path to citizenship. If you have the money to come here and have a baby in the first place, investment is cheaper than raising a baby in the States. I know a person who did as little as opening a nail salon investing around $30,000, and got his green card.

When you think of it in those terms, having an "anchor baby" is a pretty silly financial decision.

Most of the birth tourists I spoke with don't plan to raise their kids in the USA anyway. They go home: They don't burden the US medical system, care providers, and social services. "Our baby will be a citizen of the world," an expectant mother from Ukraine told me. "She will have Ukrainian, Russian, and American passports, and she will be able to live anywhere. My husband and I want to provide her with a choice and all the available opportunities." She plans to go back to Ukraine with her newborn, then move to Moscow and send the "American baby" to America no sooner than college.

There are exceptions, of course: I know a white Russian woman who came to Miami to give birth to a baby she'd conceived with her Nigerian boyfriend in Holland. The boyfriend ditched her while she was pregnant, so she ended up as a single mom with no money and few personal belongings.

She was afraid to return to Russia because racial discrimination is rampant there. Her own relatives were unwilling to accept a nonwhite child into the family. So she applied for political asylum in the US. Now, is her daughter an "anchor baby"? Yes, probably. But she wouldn't have a future in Russia.

As for my family, we haven't decided what we are going to do: We are not sure if we want to live in the United States or go elsewhere. But no matter what we decide, Eden's US passport allows him to go to 174 countries without a visa, and that's more travel freedom than my husband and I enjoy. If my son decides to do so, he will be able to live, study, and work in the United States without the bureaucratic difficulties his parents experienced.

ksenia.0.jpg

Ksenia Gusarova, a birth tourist from Russia, with her newborn daughter Vlada at North Shore Medical Center in Miami. Ksenia says that Florida's sunny weather is nothing like cold and dark Saint Petersburg where she came from.

Still, the babies and their parents pay taxes

Undocumented immigrants come to the States to make money, and often they end up having babies, because that's how life goes. Unlike them, birth tourists come to the States to spend money. They pay around $10,000 out of pocket in doctor and hospital bills alone. They also pay sales taxes.

Moreover, the "American babies," no matter where they live, must pay US taxes. You can exclude the first $100,800 you earned abroad from your taxable income, but you still have to file taxes every year. That's a pretty good deal for the US — children, raised by foreign parents elsewhere, using other countries' schooling, medical care, and social services, end up being haunted by the IRS and contributing to the US economy once they grow up and have a solid income.

Even filing US taxes may become big trouble for birth tourists, once you think of compliance with American legislation, tax consultants, and the many ways things can go wrong.

My worst nightmare is Eden's grandparents opening an account in his name. I would probably have to report it somewhere and file taxes for him, but I have no idea how and where this has to be done. So I easily see us all ending up tax evaders by accident.

Birth tourists believe in the American dream

Some people argue that birth tourism cheapens the whole concept of US citizenship, turning it into something instrumental. I asked a birth tourist from Moscow, Svetlana, about it. She looked at me with her big blue eyes full of childish amusement: "I wanted a passport for the child. Why not? He will decide himself if he wants to use it or not. It's possible. Not forbidden. So why not?"

More from First Person

GettyImages-470457004.0.0__1_.0.jpg

I spent the last 15 years trying to become an American. I've failed.

None of the birth tourists I interviewed saw an ethical problem with treating citizenship as something designed only for the benefit of their child, taking advantage of the rights and disregarding the obligations that come with it.

But America is about taking advantage of an opportunity.

Over and over, women would tell me that the US is the best country in the world, and they wanted the best for their kid and never thought some people might have a problem with it.

Well, Donald Trump and apparently lots of other people don't like it. They think that babies like my son shouldn't have US citizenship, and "no sane country would do that," as Trump's policy paper on immigration says.

Yes, no sane country would do that. Only the greatest country in the world would.

"There are people who don't realize how amazing this country is, and that it is an amazing gift that they were born here," Dr. Ernesto Cardenas, a Miami doctor who proudly admits many birth tourists from Latin America, told me. "But that's our Constitution. It protects it. It makes our country very special compared to other countries."

He argues that trying to secure a baby's future is "very American," and trying to change the Constitution and close opportunities is "un-American." I couldn't agree more. After all, Dr. Cardenas, an immigrant himself, served in Afghanistan to earn his right "to stand shoulder by shoulder with fellow Americans." What did Mr. Trump do?

Kateryna Panova is a multimedia journalist from Ukraine and a former editor in chief of a website for Russian speakers in the US. Her writing, pictures, and videos have been published in Forbes, National Geographic, CBS, and Newsweek. You can see her documentary about birth tourism here and read more about her work on katepanova.com .

First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines , and pitch us at [email protected] .

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Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in ‘birth tourism’

MIAMI (AP) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of “birth tourists” that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows “birthright citizenship” and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed “Little Moscow.”

“With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That’s actually really cool,” said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for “green card” immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

“Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave,” said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump’s proposals, said the practice couldn’t be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

“We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

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Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can’t forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

“Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens,” Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it’s good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

“We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits” of a U.S. passport, she said.

“We just knew that it was something awesome,” added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like “a stay in a good hotel.”

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

“And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise,” Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as “mommies,” as opposed to “rozhenitsa,” or “birth-giver” — the “unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics.”

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn’t allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but “now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14,” he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Russian 'birth tourists' are flocking to Miami, and Trump condos, to give birth to American citizens

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Russian birth tourism is big in Miami

A growing number of pregnant Russian women have been traveling to Miami to give birth, with the wealthier ones buying birth tourism packages and those of more modest means putting together DIY packages. Giving birth in the U.S., and Miami in particular, is a status symbol in Moscow, NBC News reports , and the big draw is birthright citizenship. All children born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. "The child gets a lifelong right to live and work and collect benefits in the U.S." NBC News says. "And when they turn 21 they can sponsor their parents' application for an American green card."

President Trump, a critic of birthright citizenship, has been insisting on getting rid of such "chain migration" in immigration talks going on in Washington. But as The Daily Beast reported last year , Trump-branded condos in Miami, especially its Sunny Isles Beach area — dubbed "Little Russia" — are especially popular birth tourism bases for women who can afford the rent. Some Russian birth tourism outfits tout the Trump name in their packages. "There is no indication that Trump or the Trump Organization is profiting directly from birth tourism," NBC News says , though The Daily Beast notes that Trump's company "does benefit from Russian patronage of the nearby Trump International Beach Resort."

Birth tourism is perfectly legal — for now — as long as the birth tourists don't lie on their immigration or insurance forms, and California is a popular destination for Chinese mothers-to-be — as Jeb Bush awkwardly highlighted in 2015 . There are no official numbers for how many foreign women come to the U.S. to give birth to U.S. citizens each year, but Florida says the number of births there by all foreign nationals who live outside the U.S. has spiked 200 percent since 2000.

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Pregnant Russian women flocking to Florida to give birth to new American citizens

AP logo

MIAMI, Florida -- Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards - unlike dismal clinics back home - can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows "birthright citizenship" and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S., specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather, but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow."

"With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That's actually really cool," said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for "green card" immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the west, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

"Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave," said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups, and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump's proposals, said the practice couldn't be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

"We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can't forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

"Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens," Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it's good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

"We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits" of a U.S. passport, she said.

"We just knew that it was something awesome," added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like "a stay in a good hotel."

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

"And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise," Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as "mommies," as opposed to "rozhenitsa," or "birth-giver" - the "unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics."

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn't allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) - middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said.

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Mother Russia: South Florida Sees a Boom in ‘Birth Tourism'

The russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from china and nigeria, published march 22, 2019 • updated on march 22, 2019 at 12:28 pm.

Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship.

They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well.

And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of "birth tourists" that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria.

President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows "birthright citizenship" and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

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There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow."

"With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That's actually really cool," said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for "green card" immigration status for the parents.

A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months.

Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

"Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave," said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son.

Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump's proposals, said the practice couldn't be ended with an order.

But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

"We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can't forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

"Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens," Zhirinovsky said.

Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it's good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue.

Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

"We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits" of a U.S. passport, she said.

"We just knew that it was something awesome," added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like "a stay in a good hotel."

In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

"And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise," Zemlyanaya added.

She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as "mommies," as opposed to "rozhenitsa," or "birth-giver" — the "unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics."

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn't allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary.

Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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IMAGES

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  3. Birth tourism brings Russian baby boom to Miami

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  4. Birth tourism brings Russian baby boom to Miami

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COMMENTS

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    South Florida sees a boom in Russian 'birth tourists'. Iuliia Stashevska. Associated Press. 0:04. 1:02. MIAMI - Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to ...

  4. Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in 'birth tourism'

    Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow. Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14," he said. ___ Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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    More. MIAMI (AP) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship. They pay ...

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    Russian birth tourism to Florida to 'maternity hotels' in the 2010s is documented. Birth tourism packages complete with lodging and medical care delivered in Russian begin at $20,000, and go as high as $84,700 for an apartment in Miami's Trump Tower II complete with a "gold-tiled bathtub and chauffeured Cadillac Escalade."

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  8. South Florida Sees Boom In 'Birth Tourism'

    Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed "Little Moscow." "With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give ...

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  11. Mother Russia: South Florida Sees A Boom In 'Birth Tourism'

    MIAMI — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship. They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

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    Russian 'birth tourism' brings boom to South Florida. Denis Wolok, the father of 1-month-old Eva, shows the child's U.S. passport during an interview with The Associated Press in Hollywood ...

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    If you go through a birth tourism company to book a babymoon package in a Trump apartment, you're looking at a cost of at least $75,000. A top-tier package through SVM-MED will get you a home ...

  17. Miami Is Gaining Popularity As a Major Birth Tourism Destination

    Mild climate, warm ocean temperatures, buzzing nightlife - Miami has been a favorite tourist destination for Eastern Europeans for years. But lately, many of...

  18. Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in 'birth tourism'

    Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow. Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of ...

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    A growing number of pregnant Russian women have been traveling to Miami to give birth, with the wealthier ones buying birth tourism packages and those of more modest means putting together DIY ...

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  21. Mother Russia: South Florida Sees a Boom in 'Birth Tourism'

    Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow. Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but "now we are coming back to the good numbers of ...