Why Chinese Couples Choose U.S. Surrogates to Create American Babies

U.S. citizenship is the obvious draw, but there are other perks to having an American passport as well

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Tony Jiang poses with his three children at his house in Shanghai September 16, 2013. In December 2010, Jiang, a Shanghai businessman and his wife welcomed a daughter, born in California to an American surrogate he calls "my Amanda".

American citizenship is something many Chinese dream of—and they’re even reaching into strangers’ wombs to realize this aspiration. A Reuters report pinpointed a tiny but growing trend of Chinese who hire American surrogates to deliver babies whose DNA is that of the Chinese parents. By U.S. law, anyone born in the States qualifies as an American citizen and can apply for green cards for their parents after they reach 21 years of age. Compared to investor visas that the U.S. has been granting with greater frequency to Chinese, surrogacy is a cheaper route to American passports, costing around $120,000 to $200,000 per package, according to Reuters.

The prospect of American citizenship is alluring for Chinese who worry about quality of life in a country suffering from choking pollution and various health and food safety scandals. Some others at the apex of the income pyramid have been spooked by an anti-corruption campaign that could target any ill-gotten wealth; they are looking for ways to send their assets—and families—overseas. Still others want their kids to be educated in America, where academic pressure is not nearly as intense as in China. Not all Chinese are tiger mothers and fathers.

Surrogacy is illegal in China, reports Reuters, although that doesn’t stop plenty of shady transactions from taking place in Chinese cities everyday. Still, Chinese couples who cannot conceive naturally can find themselves looking overseas for fertility help. International surrogacy also may allow some Chinese to circumvent the one-child policy, which limits some Chinese families to a single offspring. But in reality, many of those wealthy enough to hire a surrogate would likely be rich enough to pay any fines for extra procreation levied by Chinese family-planning officials. The one-child policy has already been relaxed for many segments of society, such as couples who are only children themselves, but remains in effect for others, particularly government officials who would look hypocritical siring multiple kids.

Two decades is a long time to wait for green cards for Chinese parents of a U.S.-born child. It’s impossible to know whether U.S. citizenship will still hold the same allure in the future. Already, some Chinese have expressed a preference for other Western passports, in part because of the U.S. habit of taxing global income and assets of expatriate Americans—a rarity among developed world nations. Birth, death and taxes—the concerns of rich Chinese aren’t so different from wealthy people everywhere.