Chinese Look Overseas for Surrogates
by ALEXANDRA HARNEY - Tuesday, September 24, 2013
by ALEXANDRA HARNEY - Tuesday, September 24, 2013
NEW YORK — Wealthy Chinese are hiring U.S. women to serve as surrogates for their children, creating a small but growing business in $120,000 “designer” American babies for China’s elite.
Surrogacy agencies in China and the United States are catering to wealthy Chinese who want babies outside the country’s restrictive family planning policies, who are unable to conceive themselves or who are seeking U.S. citizenship for their children.
The possibility of emigration is another draw — U.S. citizens may apply for green cards for their parents when they turn 21. While there are no figures for the total number of Chinese who have sought or used U.S. surrogates, agencies in both countries say demand has risen rapidly in the past two years. U.S. fertility clinics and surrogacy agencies are creating Chinese- language Web sites and hiring Mandarin speakers. Circle Surrogacy, based in Boston, has handled half a dozen Chinese surrogacy cases over the past five years, said John Weltman, its president.
“I would be surprised if you called me back in four months and that number hadn’t doubled,” he said. “That’s the level of interest we’ve seen this year from China and the very serious conversations we’ve had with people who I think will be joining us in the next three or four months.” The agency, which handles about 140 surrogacy cases a year, 65 percent of them for clients outside the United States, is opening an office in California to serve clients from Asia better. Mr. Weltman said he hoped to hire a representative in Shanghai next year. The increased interest from Chinese parents has created some cultural tensions. U.S. agency staff members who ask that surrogates and the prospective parents develop personal relationships have been surprised by potential Chinese clients who treat surrogacy as a strictly commercial transaction.
In China, where surrogacy is illegal, some clients keep secret the fact that their babies were born to surrogates, going so far as to fake pregnancies, agents say.
Chinese interest in obtaining U.S. citizenship is not new.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives anyone born in the United States the right to citizenship. A growing number of pregnant Chinese women travel to America to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children by delivering there, often staying in special homes designed to cater to their needs. While the numbers are unclear, giving birth in the United States is now so commonplace that it was the subject of a hit romantic comedy movie, “Finding Mr Right,” released in China in March.
Over all, the number of Chinese visitors to the United States nearly doubled in recent years, from one million in 2010 to 1.8 million in 2012, U.S. immigration statistics show.
Mr. Weltman said that prospective Chinese clients almost always want U.S. citizenship for their babies. Other agencies pointed to a desire to have children educated in the United States.
Some wealthy Chinese say they want escape routes overseas because they fear they will be the targets of public or government anger if there is more social unrest in China. There is also a perception that their wealth will be better protected in countries with a stronger rule of law. At least one Chinese agent promotes surrogacy as a cheaper alternative to the American EB-5 visa, which requires a minimum investment in a job-creating business of $500,000. While the basic surrogacy package Chinese agencies offer costs between as much as $200,000, “if you add in plane tickets and other expenses, for only $300,000, you get two children and the entire family can emigrate to the U.S.,” said a Shanghai-based agent.
That cost still means the surrogacy alternative is available only to the wealthiest Chinese. Prospective parents typically pay the surrogate between $22,000 and $30,000, an agency fee of $17,000 to $20,000 and legal fees as high as $13,000. If egg donation is required, that can cost an additional $15,000 and prenatal care and delivery fees can run between $9,000 and $16,000. Indeed, surrogacy in the United States is so expensive that in recent years hundreds of American parents have reportedly turned to surrogates in India. It is often infertility that sends Chinese couples to U.S. surrogacy agencies.
More than 40 million Chinese are considered infertile, according to the Chinese Population Association. The incidence of infertility has quadrupled in the past two decades to 12.5 percent of people of childbearing age. Tony Jiang, a Shanghai businessman, and his wife, Cherry, were among them. They turned twice to domestic surrogates after struggling and failing to conceive on their own. Both attempts were unsuccessful and left them unimpressed with the impersonal nature of in vitro fertilization treatment in China.
Mr. Jiang researched surrogacy in Thailand, India and Ukraine before settling on the United States, in part because of its superior health care system. In December 2010, he and his wife welcomed a daughter, born in California to an American surrogate he calls “my Amanda.” The same surrogate later carried twins for the couple. Friends began to ask him to help them do the same thing and in 2012 he set up his own agency, DiYi Consulting. He has handled 75 surrogacy cases for Chinese parents so far.
Agents said that while many of their clients struggled with infertility, a substantial portion already had one child — some in their teens — and were looking to have a second child outside China’s 1979 family planning policy, which restricts couples, in most cases, to one.
They count among their clients government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises, for whom having a second child would be a firing offense. Members of the Chinese Communist Party would also face disciplinary action if a second child were discovered. Families who violate the one-child policy face the prospect of forced abortions, sterilizations and fines, policies that have been most brutally enforced in poor, rural areas. Seeking surrogacy overseas is not in itself illegal. Technically, Chinese who deliver their second children overseas still violate family planning policies, but in practice the government has little ability to enforce this, said Zhong Tao, a Shanghai-based lawyer who has handled similar cases.
Obtaining a Chinese household registration, which is necessary to enjoy subsidized health care and enroll for lower tuition as a local student in state schools, is more complicated, if not impossible for second children. For children who are foreign citizens, parents must apply for visas and residence permits. Chinese surrogacy clients typically want to use their own eggs and sperm, which allows them to have children who are fully biologically theirs, agents said. A growing number, though, are open to egg donation.
Often Chinese donors will seek ethnically Chinese or Asian egg donors, commonly with Ivy League degrees. But others want tall, Eurasian children, agents said. “Lots of clients that are Chinese do use tall, blond donors,” said Jennifer Garcia, case coordinator at Extraordinary Conceptions, a Carlsbad, California-based agency where 40 percent of clients are Chinese. Agents said that clients believe these taller, biracial children will be smarter and better looking. Chinese clients also often request boys, a consequence of a cultural preference for male children.
While sex-selective abortion is illegal — though still common — in China, gender selection is technically straightforward through in vitro fertilization in the United States, where it is used in surrogacy cases. Genetic screening also allows prospective parents to rule out inherited conditions. “You can basically make a designer baby nowadays,” Ms. Garcia said.