Covid-19 Travel Update for International Intended Parents: Building New Pathways

Travel Issues for International Intended Parents and Babies Born to U.S. Surrogates During Covid-19:  Building New Pathways Where None Existed Before

Our IFLG team has been working non-stop since the covid-19 pandemic hit, and I’m happy to report that, so far, we have been successful in helping intended parents from other parts of the world get here safely for their babies’ births and/or return home safely with their new families. Most of those we’ve helped have been our existing surrogacy clients, although we have been proud to help those who simply needed help with their travels as well. The countries involved include France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Monaco, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and China.

Since the sudden worldwide disruption of daily life caused by the coronavirus covid-19 outbreak earlier this year, the carefully laid plans of intended parents, surrogates, donors, agencies and fertility physicians have been thrown into disarray. Intended parents from outside the U.S. planning to be present at their baby’s birth in the U.S. faced cancelled flights or even indefinite travel bans. Visas and ESTAs (Electronic System for Travel Authorizations allowing visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver) were abruptly cancelled. Adding to parents’ heartbreak of possibly being unable to welcome their babies into the world was the very real concern about who would care for their babies after birth until the parents were able to get here, as well as guardianship and insurance issues for the newborns. On top of all that, many international intended parents who had traveled to the U.S. for the birth of their children have found themselves stranded, unable to get their babies home when the U.S. State Department ceased expedited processing of newborn passports for all but a life-or-death emergency, as certified by a doctor.

Of course, these potentially life-endangering dilemmas were the unintended consequences of public health agency and government actions to protect human life and stop the spread of the virus. Likely no one in the position of having to implement these public safety measures thought about what would happen to the baby just born to a surrogate, who would now be potentially stranded alone in a foreign country with parents unable to travel. But in the United States, the sudden travel bans, the U.S. State Department closure of non-essential offices, and the moratorium on passports left intended parents with few options.

I’m proud to say that fertility professionals and non-profit advocacy organizations all over the world have stepped up quickly to address the problems and answer questions for those caught up in this unprecedented crisis. IFLG partner Molly O’Brien and I have participated in a number of webinars for intended parents with experts from all over the world (available in our multi-media archive of covid-19 resources).

All of us have had to rise to the occasion and find new pathways where none existed before.

To help intended parents get to the U.S. for their babies’ births, our new process in the era of covid-19 is to start with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest the intended parents’ home. Typically, we help the client prepare a file or dossier of documents to establish the parents’ qualification for one or more of the very limited exceptions to the travel bans outlined in the Presidential Proclamation. These may include an attorney letter and a physician’s letter confirming the fertilization process, the surrogacy arrangement, the parent-child relationship and the argument(s) for why their travel to care for their child is in the national interest of the United States. Through this process, the intended parents have succeeded in having their visas or ESTAs reinstated, or, in some cases, they have received special visas to travel for the birth.

Getting the babies born to surrogates in the U.S. back to their home countries: Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, international intended parents would typically apply to the U.S. State Department for an expedited passport (typically issued in three to five business days) to take their newborn back home. However, in response to the covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. State Department has temporarily ceased processing expedited passports, except for doctor-certified life-and-death circumstances.

Here, too, we have had to help parents find a new path. Currently, our IFLG team works with attorneys in the intended parents’ home countries to obtain travel documents issued by the home country to bring the babies home. Sometimes this is a passport from the home country (which were previously not available until the family had returned home, and often months later), laissez-passer travel documents (laissez-passer is French for “let pass”), or emergency travel documents (ETDs) from the home country (usually only valid for the flight home). Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, these travel document solutions were never applied to surrogacy matters. Perhaps these new solutions can be a glimpse of the future. Out of chaos, compassion and grace often thrive in abundance.

The covid-19 emergency and its impact on international travel have required an extraordinary level of planning and preparation of intended parents, surrogates, physicians and attorneys. But having helped thousands of intended parents and surrogates navigate the long, arduous journey to parenthood—having witnessed their resilience, commitment and determination—I have no doubt our ART community will overcome whatever obstacles nature and bureaucracy can throw at us.

If you or someone you know is having difficulty with international travel for surrogacy during the pandemic or during any current (or future) covid-19 travel bans, please feel free to contact us. For more resources and information about assisted reproduction and surrogacy during covid-19, visit our covid-19 resource center.





Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.