A Chinese national was sentenced in absentia on June 30 to more than 3 months in prison for participating in a large-scale birth tourism and visa fraud scheme that organized trips to the United States for foreign nationals to give birth in order to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children.
Chao “Edwin” Chen, 35, sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Selna, pleaded guilty in June 2016 to visa fraud, marriage fraud, and filing a false tax return. He fled to China after pleading guilty and became a fugitive, according to a statement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Together with three accomplices, Chen operated a business named You Win USA based in Orange County, California which assisted pregnant women of foreign nationality to come to the United States to give birth so their U.S. born children would obtain U.S. citizenship.
Chen’s partners in crime, Dongyuan Li, 42, along with her husband, and Qiang Yan, 44, were all involved in visa fraud by instructing the foreign nationals who were to give birth in the United States how to cheat the U.S. authorities at ports of entry by misinforming the true purpose of their visit to the United States.
Chen’s company advertised, mostly to pregnant women in China, that its “100-person team” in China and the United States had served more than 500 Chinese birth tourism customers.
The advertisement emphasized the benefits of giving birth in the United States such as “13 years of free education from grade school to high school,” “less pollution than China,” “an easier way for the whole family to immigrate to the United States,” and “priority for jobs in U.S. government, public companies, and large corporations.”
Chen and Li used 20 apartments in Irvine, Orange County for their pregnant customers charging each customer from $40,000–$80,000 for their services.
They both have received $3 million in international wire transfers from China in two years.
When pleading guilty, Chen admitted that he served at least 60 customers, including Chinese government employees.
One of his customers, Xiao Yan Liu was indicted in November 2018 for visa fraud and lying to federal investigators. Liu stated in her visa application that she was a Chief Physician at a power supply company staff hospital in Shangqiu, Henan province.
In his plea agreement, Chen admitted that he met in 2014 with an undercover agent of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) posing as a birth tourism customer. An agent’s co-conspirator in China, after uploading a visa application containing false personal information, was put in touch by Chen with his “trainer” who instructed her how to hide her pregnancy and cheat the U.S. customs.
Chen has also pleaded that he entered a sham marriage with a U.S. citizen to obtain a green card and filed a false tax return to legitimize his fictitious marriage.
At least 10 other defendants charged in these birth tourism indictments have fled to China, according to the statement. Among them are two Chinese nationals who paid only a small portion of hospital charges related to the birth of their baby in Orange County, according to court documents.
US Government Response to Birth Tourism
“As these cases clearly demonstrate, HSI will leave no stone unturned in aggressively targeting those who would exploit our nation’s generosity and legal immigration system—only to make a mockery of our laws and values in order to enrich themselves,” said David Prince, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles.
The U.S. Department of State changed the rules for visa issuance to travel to the United States in January to prevent the exploitation of the law to obtain U.S. citizenship.
“Birth tourism poses risks to national security. The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes, as reflected in federal prosecutions of individuals and entities involved in that industry,” the State Department justified this change to visa rules.
The rule change “would help close a potential vulnerability to national security that would be posed by any foreign government or entity that sought to exploit birth tourism to enhance access to the United States,” the State Department said.