CNMI POPULAR DESTINATION FOR PREGNANT TOURISTS

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Aug. 30) - Tourists, even in an advanced stage of pregnancy, travel to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to take advantage of an immigration system that automatically grants U.S. citizenship to children born here regardless of the nationality or immigration status of their parents.

One of them, in her eighth month of pregnancy, arrived on Saipan from Korea early Wednesday morning. Other pregnant tourists also from Korea are expected to arrive on Saipan in September, it was learned.

In the last few months, tourists have given birth to their U.S. citizen children at the Commonwealth Health Center and then left the CNMI when they received their children’s birth certificates and passports.

Division of Immigration director Melvin Grey yesterday reiterated that there is nothing in federal or local laws that prevents travel into the CNMI by pregnant women or makes pregnancy a ground for "exclusion."

"There is no law preventing the travel of pregnant women and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says all persons born in the United States are citizens of the U.S.," said Grey.

Some airlines, however, do have policies restricting the travel of women in an advanced stage of pregnancy for medical and liability concerns but these can be easily circumvented.

Under the CNMI visa waiver program and the visitor entry program, tourists are allowed to remain in the islands initially for 30 days but this can be extended for up to 60 days for a total of three months. Grey said tourists sometimes ask for extensions while waiting for the release of the newborn’s passport.

"You cannot force them out," said Grey, adding, however, that Immigration is "looking into whether there’s criminal interest" or fraud in instances where third parties may be getting money from tourists giving birth in the CNMI.

Grey said while it is not illegal for tourists visiting the CNMI to give birth here, some members of the community may see this as "not right," and as a moral issue. Grey, a former immigration official on the U.S. mainland, cited instances of women from Mexico crossing the border just to give birth in the United States.

However, Grey said Immigration is very much aware of the concern about tourists taking advantage of the immigration system. The U.S. Constitution grants automatic U.S. citizenship to those who are born in the U.S. The CNMI, as a U.S. commonwealth, is covered by this provision.

The CNMI’s visa waiver program applies to citizens from South Korea, along with those from other countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and most European countries. Citizens from these countries can come to the CNMI without a visa and don’t need individuals to "sponsor" them during their stay here.

However, Variety learned there are some individuals in the CNMI who have been "sponsoring" pregnant tourists and their families in exchange for a hefty fee and help them extend their stay for up to 60 days after the initial 30-day stay.

But as Grey says, there’s no law against pregnant women traveling or against giving birth in the CNMI by anybody regardless of their immigration status.

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