Millions of foreign tourists visit the United States every year, and a growing number return home with a brand new U.S. citizen in tow.
Thousands of legal immigrants, who do not permanently reside in the United States but give birth here, have given their children the gift of citizenship, which the U.S. grants to anyone born on its soil.
The number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Total births rose 5 percent in the same period.
Among the foreigners who have given birth here, including international travelers passing through and foreign students studying at U.S. universities, are "birth tourists," women who travel to the United States with the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their child.
Catering to the women is a nascent industry of travel agencies and hotel chains seeking to profit from the business.
The Marmara Manhattan, a Turkish-owned luxury hotel on New York's City Upper East Side, markets birth tourism packages to expectant mothers abroad, luring more than a dozen pregnant guests and their families to the United States to give birth last year alone.
"What we offer is simply a one-bedroom suite accommodation for $7,750, plus taxes, for a month, with airport transfer, baby cradle and a gift set for the mother," Marmara Hotel spokeswoman Alexandra Ballantine said.
The hotel estimates the total cost of the package at $45,000.
Most women stay for two months, Ballantine said, and they make medical arrangements on their own. "Guests arrange and pay for these by themselves," she said of hospital costs that can approach $30,000.
For those with the means to pay, it's a small price to give a child the full benefits of U.S. citizenship, including the ability to travel freely to and from the United States, easy access to a U.S. education and a chance to start a life here.
"We found a company on the Internet and decided to go to Austin [Texas] for our child's birth," Turkish mother Selin Burcuoglu told Istanbul's Hurriyet Daily News. "I don't want [my daughter] to deal with visa issues. American citizenship has so many advantages."
The greatest of those advantages may be the ability of the citizen child to later sponsor the legal immigration of his or her entire family permanently to this country, experts say.
The "birth tourism" industry, which is difficult to track and remains largely anecdotal, has been on the rise for years, according to government and participants reports.
Of the 4,273,225 live births in the United States in 2006, the most recent data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics, 7,670 were children born to mothers who said they do not live here.
Many, but not all, of those mothers could be "birth tourists," experts say, although it is difficult to know for sure. The government does not track the reasons non-resident mothers are in the United States at the time of the birth or their citizenship, meaning births to illegal immigrants who live in the United States are counted in the overall total.
In recent years, many women have come from Mexico, South Korea, China and Taiwan, but the trend now extends to countries in Eastern Europe, such as Turkey, where as many as 12,000 children were born in the United States to Turkish parents since 2003 by one estimate.