Why Russian women fly to Argentina to give birth

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ATHE RGENTINA IS has always been a country of immigrants. In the 19th century, millions of Italians and Spaniards came to plow the country’s fields. Recently hundreds of thousands of Bolivians, Paraguayans and Venezuelans have arrived. But the last wave is different. According to Florencia Carignano, the head of Argentina’s immigration authority, around 22,000 Russians entered Argentina last year – and an unusually high number were pregnant women, many of them close to term. Restaurants in Palermo, a posh area of ​​Buenos Aires, have posted menus in Russian. The town’s Russian Orthodox church is suddenly busy. Why do women travel halfway around the world to give birth?

Argentina’s permissive immigration laws, introduced in the 19th century to encourage European migration, remain loose today. Many foreigners, including Russians, can enter as tourists without a visa and stay for 90 days. Health care is free, and, as in America, children born on Argentine soil to foreign parents automatically receive citizenship. Having an Argentinean child can cut the time it would normally take parents to get a passport to just two years.

That’s a big draw. An Argentine passport allows visa-free travel to some 170 countries, 53 more than a Russian passport, according to the Henley passport index. In fact, it seems plausible that getting Argentine citizenship for babies is the main reason that pregnant Russians come to the country. More than half of the Russians who came to Argentina last year, including 6,400 women, have already left. Ms. Carignano has said that about 2,500 have applied for residency.

The phenomenon of Russian pregnancy tourism is not new. In the late 2010s hundreds of wealthy Russian women traveled to Miami, where there was already a small Russian community nicknamed “Little Moscow”, to give birth. But from 2021 almost all Russians who want to travel to America will have to apply for visas in other countries.

That has made several Latin American countries more attractive. A number of pregnant Russians seem to be heading to Brazil, which also offers birthright citizenship. But Argentina’s food, architecture and culture all feel more “European” to Russian visitors. A small industry of companies has sprung up offering travel packages to pregnant Russians, including accommodations, translation services and medical visits, for thousands of dollars. (They tend to exaggerate the ease with which Russian parents of babies born in Argentina can obtain citizenship themselves.)

The influx of pregnant Russian women has caused concern in Argentina and abroad. The fear is that Russian criminals or spies may be able to obtain Argentine passports by posing as the husband of a pregnant woman, or by using the business that has rise to citizenship applications at a rapid pace. In January two Russian spies with fake Argentine passports were arrested in Slovenia.

The Argentine government argues that Russian women who travel to the country to give birth should not be allowed to enter as tourists, and instead must apply for residency – although this is not a point of law clearly established. In February, immigration authorities arrested six Russian women who are believed to have entered the country to give birth there, and could not prove they were visiting for tourism. They have since been released. The judge is also investigating several of the organizations that support Russian mothers. On February 11, Argentina began suspending the residence permits of Russians who entered the country to give birth but did not stay.

For now, Argentina appears to be stuck with its loose immigration regime. But the authorities know the risks are serious. In a television interview, Ms Carignano said: “The security of our passports is at stake. ”

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