Chinese storks on a flight path from the US…

Rich Chinese have American surrogate mothers bear their heirs, securing a ‘Green Card’ in the bargain

Surrogate motherhood seems to the the answer to the growing, dramatic problem of infertility in China, as well as a path to US citizenship. Children born on American soil are automatically US citizens and can apply for a Green Card for their parents when they turn 21. This is the bare bones of the matter as reported by the Reuters agency. Some wealthy Chinese are paying as much as US $120,000 (roughly €89,000) for a surrogate mother to give birth to their baby in the United States, gaining the eventual right to emigrate themselves, in order to better protect their wealth in a country with a stronger rule of law than their homeland. The process is handled by both US and Chinese fertility clinics and surrogacy agencies, which are vying for a slice of the new surrogate motherhood market. They won’t reveal the number of requests they’ve had for gestational surrogates, but say that demand has, without a doubt, risen greatly. 

According to Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post, the new trend exploded in 2006, when it was discovered that a couple in the southern province of Guangdong had eight babies born to two surrogates at the same time, for the price of one million yuan (€121,400). A public outcry ensued.In China, gestational surrogacy is illegal, whereas in vitro fertilisation – fertilisation of the egg and sperm of a sterile couple, or an egg and donor sperm, outside the body – is not. Gestational surrogacy is a contractual agreement wherein a woman carries and delivers a child that is not biologically hers for a sterile couple or single person.

In 2001, the Ministry of Health introduced the Administrative Measures for Human Auxiliary Reproductive Technology, banning all manner of trade of fertilised eggs and embryos and prohibiting medical institutions and staff from performing surrogacy procedures. It also requires assisted reproductive technology to be introduced in line with national family planning policy, ethical principles and the law. In other words, a strong government deterrent to the use of a gestational surrogate. Surrogacy agencies however have been able to bypass legal obstacles by presenting themselves as intermediaries who recruit ‘volunteer’ surrogates. The agencies’ mushrooming websites painstakingly avoid any unwelcome reference to the outlawed ‘reproductive technology’.

Yet the legal framework is not very clear. For example, contract law does not cover surrogacy agreements. But business is business: and the Chinese parents themselves are inclined to keep surrogacy secret. Gestational surrogacy has, however, brought to light the inequalities created by the implementation of the controversial one-child family planning law, one of Mao’s social policies that has had the most serious repercussions. Every Chinese family for the past thirty years, with very few exceptions, has been required to comply with the national quota set by government of one child per couple, and those who have any more children have to pay heavy penalties. In theory, the law applied to everyone, from ordinary citizens to Communist Party officials, rich and poor alike, yet the growing cases of surrogacy, in China and elsewhere, point to a clear divide between rich, powerful families and the poor. The former have managed to circumvent restrictions and have babies, even quite a few, complete with US passports; while the latter suffer the most brutal effects of a law that seriously undermined human dignity. In fact, the biggest news from China’s Third Plenum – the important political summit that in November approved reforms for the next ten years – is the relaxation of the draconian one-child policy, a measure that is bound to have a major impact on China. The reform now will grant couples the right to have a second child if just one of the parents is an only child – a step in the right direction compared to previous policy changes that had only allowed couples to have a second child if both parents were only children. The reform has been introduced to try and amend and redress the gender disparity between men and women in China.

In 2012 the gender imbalance led to a new sex ratio among newborns in China: 118 males for every 100 females. Having an American woman carry your child doesn’t come cheap. Basic surrogacy packages run from $120,000 (€89,000) to $200,000 (€148,000), yet according to Reuters there are Chinese agencies that offer all-inclusive gestational surrogacy packets which include acquisition of US citizenship as well for just US$300,000 (€220,000), a real deal, of sorts, if you consider that the current cost of obtaining American citizenship via the EB-5 procedure calls for investments upward of US$500,000 (€370,000). So you end up getting to emigrate, along with your money, and with two children thrown into the bargain. It seems that some Chinese will pay any price for the chance to give their progeny US citizenship, and emigrate themselves. John Weltman – president of the Boston-based Circle Surrogacy agency, which handles about 140 surrogacy cases a year, 65% of which for couples outside the US, especially from China – says that most of his Chinese clients seek surrogate mothers in order to safeguard their family’s money from possible political oppression at home, as has happened in the past. Future developments in a fast-changing China aren’t that clear, and many fear they might be the targets of public or government anger if there were more social unrest in the country. One can hazard a guess that the recent anti-corruption campaign launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping has some big fish getting away: fish that, oddly enough, have been overwhelmed by a yearning for parenthood.