The State Department announced new regulations on Thursday that allow officers examining visa applications to turn away pregnant women if they believe those women are visiting the U.S. just to give birth. The rule, which will go into effect Friday, is meant to target so-called birth tourism—one of the immigration issues President Donald Trump has railed against in his campaign to limit refugees and immigrants coming to the U.S.
According to the new regulations, pregnant women who look as if they may be traveling just to give birth so their children can be U.S. citizens will now need to prove they have the money to cover living expenses and medical treatment. These are rules similar to those already in place for visa applicants citing medical needs. It’s unclear still how an officer making such a decision will determine how far along the pregnancy is or even if a woman is pregnant to begin with. The officers are not authorized to ask women if they are pregnant.
Already, according to the New York Times, it was possible for consular officers to decline visas for women they believed were traveling just to give birth. But the new rule states explicitly that “birth tourism” is not a valid reason to visit the U.S. and gives visa officers greater authority to turn pregnant women away.
According to the State Department, the rule is meant to deal a blow to businesses that organize trips for pregnant women. “This rule will help prevent operators in the birth tourism industry from profiting off treating U.S. citizenship as a commodity, sometimes through potentially criminal acts,” the rule said. It is not illegal for women to travel to the U.S. to give birth, but some businesses that organize “birth tourism” trips are prosecuted for visa fraud or tax issues.
The rules will only be relevant to consular officials abroad and when dealing with visas for vacation, medical treatment, and visiting family and friends.
Trump and his supporters have insisted that “birth tourism” is a major source of immigration, and the president has repeatedly complained about “anchor babies,” who he believes cheat the system. Trump has also openly questioned the idea—enshrined in the Constitution—that everyone born in the U.S. should receive citizenship. It’s not clear if there is a significant number of women participating in birth tourism, as there are no confirmed statistics.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the new rule would “protect the United States from the national security risks” and “defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism.”