20 Apr 2020 U.S. Must Help International Intended Parents, Babies Stranded by Covid-19
As the coronavirus covid-19 crisis wears on, the dilemma of intended parents from other countries planning to have babies through surrogacy in the United States has made for compelling headlines: International intended parents unable to travel to be present at their babies’ births. Babies born to U.S. surrogates with no legal parents in the country to take custody. Parents and babies stranded in the U.S. by pandemic-related travel bans and unable to return to their home countries. But a growing chorus of medical and legal professionals is urging the U.S. State Department to find a solution.
As reported by The Washington Post, currently nine in 10 people live in countries with pandemic-related restrictions on international travel. In addition to the impact on international surrogacies, international adoptions also have been disrupted by the crisis.
Surrogacy professionals and fertility specialists are advising all clients not to begin fertility treatments or schedule any new donor or IVF procedures until social distancing policies and prohibitions on non-essential services have been relaxed. But that advice obviously comes too late for intended parents and surrogates who are already expecting. And a large proportion of intended parents who live in countries where surrogacy is banned choose to come to the U.S., where, in most jurisdictions, they are able to obtain pre-birth parentage orders.
Babies born to surrogates in the United States are U.S. citizens and must obtain a U.S. passport in order to go home to their and their parents’ home country. But due to the covid-19 outbreak, U.S. passport processing has been temporarily suspended except for emergencies. Infant passports for babies born via surrogacy are not considered to be emergencies, although there is a growing chorus of surrogacy professionals calling on the U.S. State Department to make an exception. A recent New York Times article cites a State Department spokesperson who indicated officials are considering a policy change to accommodate international intended parents.
For the past several weeks at International Fertility Law Group, our team has been helping international clients navigate cancelled flights, accelerated travel plans and temporary guardianship arrangements for intended parents unable to reach the U.S. for their babies’ births. As The New York Times reports, letters from international clients requesting special permission to enter the U.S. for their babies’ birth have been successful on a case-by-case basis—at the mercy of individual U.S. immigration officials who may be more or less sympathetic to the circumstances.
While none of us can know how long the travel restrictions and hospital visitation crackdowns will continue, we do know the crisis will pass eventually, and life will return to normal. In the interim, we encourage intended parents to use the time to obtain attorney and physician letters and other essential documents, ahead of what is certain to be a flood of pent-up demand post-pandemic.
While surrogacy agencies and fertility lawyers are working frantically to help intended parents and surrogates develop alternate travel plans and arrange temporary guardianships, the media spotlight on families in crisis may spur U.S. authorities to do more to help ease the bureaucratic hurdles that are an unforeseen consequence of public health efforts.
For more information and resources on the covid-19 pandemic for intended parents and surrogates, see our videos, featuring me and ART attorney Molly O’Brien, on travel to the U.S. for surrogacy and on getting back home with your baby, as well as our full archive of coronavirus-related articles, videos and webinars.