Costs soar in HK for mainland moms

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Fees for expectant mainland mothers who want to give birth in Hong Kong have more than doubled this past month in anticipation of next year's hospital ban on nonresidents.

Maternity clinics in the special administrative region will be banned from accepting nonresidents in 2013, a move aimed at freeing up services for Hong Kong residents.

Agencies and care centers that help mainland mothers-to-be give birth in Hong Kong have raised fees to about 250,000 yuan (US$39,500), roughly 150,000 yuan more than in April.

Yet despite the increase, competition for places is fierce.

"Few hospitals in Hong Kong have vacancies for expectant mothers from the mainland, and it's very hard to get a bed through normal procedures," said Guan, an agency consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity.

His employer, Jingjing Information Consultancy in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, which borders on Hong Kong, provides assistance to pregnant women from the mainland hoping to give birth in Hong Kong.

The company has recently raised its fees from 100,000 yuan to 250,000 yuan, which includes 20,000 yuan for the agency, 60,000 yuan for medical expenses and 170,000 as a "quota fee".

"The few spots that we win, including at the Baptist Hospital, come through cooperation over a long period with doctors in Hong Kong," Guan said.

However, when contacted by China Daily, a spokeswoman for the hospital denied any link with Jingjing Information Consultancy.

"We're not connected to any such companies from the mainland," said Ching Ting-kong, from the hospital's public relations department.

"Pregnant women from the mainland have to come to our hospital in person for the certificate of delivery appointment and no substitute by any relative or company is allowed," she added.

The hospital is already fully booked up for this year, Ching said.

Other Hong Kong hospitals said that their bed quota was also used up or fully booked.

"The birth quota for mainland pregnant women in our hospital has been used up this year," said Cleve Wong, manager of the administration and finance office at Precious Blood Hospital in Kowloon. "Patients have to come to our hospital themselves and no third party can get involved."

However, intermediary agencies say business is still booming in the mainland.

"Introducing mainland women to Hong Kong to give birth is still a gray area in China," Guan said.

He said that if a pregnant woman is diagnosed with an abnormal fetus or other problems during the first prenatal examination in Hong Kong, she will be refused by Hong Kong hospitals. The vacancy will then be offered to an istill booming in the mainland.

"Introducing mainland women to Hong Kong to give birth is still a gray area in China," Guan said.

He said that if a pregnant woman is diagnosed with an abnormal fetus or other problems during ntermediary agency by some doctors.

The doctors and nurses involved will receive "bed fees" in exchange, Guan said.

"It's not difficult to go through the customs, and only women without any certificate of delivery will be turned down by Hong Kong customs."

Hong Kong has always been an attraction for mainland mothers-to-be who contacted his company, Guan said.

Lin Xiaoshan, mother of a 4-year-old boy, said she decided to give birth in Hong Kong because "I want my boy to study abroad and a Hong Kong identity card will help a lot."

Besides Hong Kong permanent residency, which is granted to every child born in the city, many clients also opt for overseas birth to circumvent the family planning policy, which limits most families to one child.

Zhang Lixuan, a 37-year-old mother from Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, went to Hong Kong to give birth to her second baby in 2009.

"Due to the family planning policy, I had no choice but to go to Hong Kong to give birth," she said. "Or I would have to pay a heavy fine."

Zhang also mentioned Hong Kong's bilingual education and world-renowned institutions.

According to Guan, expectant mothers hoping to give birth in Hong Kong are relatively well off and do not care too much about the cost.

Other choices

However, the 2013 ban on mainland women will have consequences for the agencies and their focus is turning elsewhere.

Women will now be advised to go to the United States or Canada if there is no availability during their expected delivery date, Guan said.

"Going to the US is half the price now of going to Hong Kong," Guan said. "Besides, there is no quota if you give birth abroad."

Wang Congran, 27, said she decided to go to the US to give birth after considering the cost.

"Besides better education and medical facilities, my baby will also become a US citizen," she said, noting the country's extensive welfare programs.

"I believe more people will choose the US."

Guan said if pregnant women can spare three months to stay in the US, it is a better choice.

"There is no such thing as a quota, so you can give birth there as long as you get the visa," he said. "With the hospitals in Hong Kong slamming the door to the mainland forever, we will further expand our business abroad."

Mao Shoulong, executive deputy director of the Academy of Public Police at Renmin University of China, said the high cost of giving birth abroad is being driven by the lack of competitiveness of welfare and treatment in the mainland.

"If the public on the mainland could enjoy more welfare and the same opportunities, the amount of people giving birth abroad would surely be reduced," he said.

Mao said Hong Kong was left no alternative but to turn away mainland women.

"With only a certain amount of welfare, an increasing amount of people can only result in fewer benefits for each person," he said. "The solution in the long run is to raise the welfare in the mainland."

Mao said pregnant women considering childbirth in Hong Kong should also think of safety issues.

The public security departments of the mainland have stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal intermediaries that help mainland women give birth in Hong Kong, said Li Zhaoxing, spokesman of this year's plenary session of the National People's Congress, during a news conference in March.

Ngai Sik-shui, vice-chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association in Hong Kong, also said they are increasing efforts to crack down on the illegal influx of mainland pregnant women.

However, not all pregnant women are optimistic about giving birth far away from home, due to concern about the qualifications of the companies and subsequent inconveniences that might follow.

"Unless I am completely determined to send my child to study abroad, I will not give birth in Hong Kong or the US," said Zhang Yuping, a native of Tianjin who is five months pregnant. "You have to pay more for the child's education if he ends up studying on the mainland, which in turn will be another financial burden.

"Giving birth should be a happy and joyous occasion, yet this seems too big a risk to take."

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