20 March 2012

US immigration laws see IVF children denied citizenship

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An American woman who gave birth to twin girls in Israel had her children's request for American citizenship denied under US immigration laws because she utilised in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to get pregnant.

US immigration

Under current US immigration laws, children born to American parents outside the US via IVF treatment are ineligible for citizenship.

Ellie Lavi applied for citizenship at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and was asked whether she got pregnant at a fertility clinic. When she answered yes, the embassy informed her that under US immigration laws, her children are ineligible for citizenship unless she could prove an American citizen supplied either the egg or sperm.

"It was humiliated and horrified," said Ms Lavi. "We're talking about the children I gave birth to; of course they're my children."

A child automatically receives citizenship if they are either born in the US, or are born abroad and either parent is an American citizen. Overseas adoption is exempt from the law and foreign children adopted by Americans are eligible to become Americans.

Children born by IVF overseas are ineligible for citizenship unless proof either the sperm or egg donor was American can be attained. As donor clinics typically have legally binding confidentiality agreements with their donors, immigration experts say this is an unfeasible and unfair requirement.

"The problem is that the law hasn't kept up with the advances in reproductive technology," said Melissa Brisman, an American lawyer specialising in fertility issues.

"Although the regulations are designed to prevent the abuse of American citizenships laws through fraudulent claims of parentage, they're also hurting infertile Americans who simply want to pass on their citizenship to their kids."

Ms Lavi says being asked whether the children were hers or not at the embassy was an inappropriate question in itself and considered it an invasion of privacy.

A spokesperson for the US State Department defended the decision, stating it was merely following the clearly defined law although it did state it was examining the law to see if concessions could be made to allow Americans "to transmit American citizenship to their children born abroad through artificial reproductive technology in a broader range of circumstances."

Changes to immigration law typically spark fierce debate between advocates and opponents for the change but it would appear as though Ms Lavi faces few disparagers.

"The law exists for a very good reason, to avoid having people claim that other people's kids are their own for the purpose of obtaining US citizenship," said a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a conservative leaning organisation which favours stricter border control.

"This is one of those unique instances that might require special consideration."

Ms Lavi said she has since given up trying to attain US citizenship for her daughters.


The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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