Chinese national pleads guilty to running 'birth tourism' scheme in US

Thousands of pregnant women from various countries enter the United States every year on valid visas to give birth to children who automatically gain US citizenship.
Thousands of pregnant women from various countries enter the United States every year on valid visas to give birth to children who automatically gain US citizenship.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A Chinese national pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Sept 17) to federal charges of running a "birth tourism" scheme in California that catered to wealthy Chinese clients, including government officials, who paid large sums of money so their children would be United States citizens.

Dongyuan Li, 41, admitted in her plea agreement that between 2013 and March 2015, her company - called You Win USA Vacation Services - assisted mainly Chinese foreign nationals who were pregnant to travel to the US and give birth.

The company website advertised that it had catered to more than 500 Chinese birth tourism customers who, according to officials, were housed in 20 apartments in Irvine, south of Los Angeles.

The authorities say Li charged between US$40,000 (S$55,000) and US$80,000 for her services, and over two years amassed US$3 million in wire transfers from China.

According to a series of indictments filed earlier this year against Li and 19 other defendants in relation to the "birth tourism" scheme, customers were coached on how to bypass US immigration control and conceal their pregnancies.

Li admitted that her customers were advised to book two flights - the first from China to Hawaii, where the women were told to list the Trump International Hotel in Honolulu as their destination.

 
 
 

They were then told to take a flight to Los Angeles.

As part of her plea deal, Li agreed to forfeit more than US$850,000, a residence worth more than US$500,000 and several Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

She faces up to 15 years in prison at her sentencing on Dec 16.

Thousands of pregnant women from various countries enter the US every year on valid visas to give birth to children who automatically gain American citizenship.

The practice is legal as long as the mother does not lie on the visa application and can pay for medical care.

The Trump administration has lashed out at the practice and floated the idea of revoking birthright citizenship.