Prior to boarding a Hong Kong Express Airways flight to Saipan, Japanese citizen Midori Nishida was stunned by the airline’s request to take a pregnancy test. Nishida was flying from Hong Kong to Saipan, a U.S. island part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific, to visit her parents.
Though it had already been clarified that Nishida was not pregnant through the check-in questionnaire she was given prior, the 25-year old woman was asked to take a “fit-to-fly” assessment, pregnancy test included. Nishida was allowed to board after she complied and the test came back negative. However, she called the experience “humiliating and frustrating.”
A representative for Hong Kong Express Airways noted that the policy was created in response to immigration concerns.
“In response to concerns raised by authorities in Saipan, we took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure U.S. immigration laws were not being undermined,” the airline said. “We would like to apologize unreservedly to anyone who has been affected by this.”
The test is part of Hong Kong Express Airways’ efforts to quell “birth tourism,” a process in which women purposefully give birth in a foreign country as it gives their children eligibility for the country’s citizenship.
“We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it,” the airline stated.
Pregnant women are not banned from entering Saipan, but immigration officials can deny tourists entry into the U.S. territory if they appear to be visiting the island with the intent of giving birth.
The concern does not lie solely on immigration status, however; press secretary for the Saipan governor’s office, Kevin Bautista, worries how the practice affects the health of the mother and child. Mothers who practice birth tourism often travel late in their pregnancies with no medical records of the care they have received.
Saipan has been struggling to quell the spike in visitor births, while still keeping the visa-waiver program active for Chinese travelers, who are deemed necessary to the island’s economy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection shortened the visa-free tourist period from 45 days to 14 days on October 3, 2019. Though not required, it is recommended that tourists be in possession of a roundtrip ticket when visiting the island.
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