A Japanese citizen was reportedly asked to take a pregnancy test to prove she was not pregnant before boarding a Hong Kong Express Airways flight to Saipan, a U.S. island part of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.
Midori Nishida was reportedly flying from Hong Kong to Saipan to visit her parents. Once the 25-year-old woman got to the airport for her flight, she says the airline asked her to take a “fit-to-fly” assessment, which includes a pregnancy test — despite the fact that Nishida had already marked that she was not pregnant on the check-in questionnaire she was given.
Nishida complied and the test was negative, but called the experience “humiliating and frustrating.”
“In response to concerns raised by authorities in Saipan, we took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure U.S. immigration laws were not being undermined.”
A representative for Hong Kong Express Airways did not immediately respond to a comment request from Fox News, but apologized for the incident in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, noting that the policy was created in response to immigration concerns.
“In response to concerns raised by authorities in Saipan, we took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure U.S. immigration laws were not being undermined,” the airline said. “We would like to apologize unreservedly to anyone who has been affected by this.”
“We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it.”
The test is part of Hong Kong Express Airways' efforts to quell birth tourism, which has continued to rise in recent years, sparking immigration concerns in Saipan. In the past decade, the U.S. commonwealth has become an increasingly popular destination for foreign women to give birth as it gives their children eligibility for U.S. citizenship.
More tourists than residents gave birth on the Northern Mariana Islands in 2018, the Journal reported. The island is specifically popular with Chinese citizens as it does not require them to get a visa. In 2013, Chinese travel agencies started cracking down on pregnant Chinese women visiting the islands.
Though pregnant women are not banned from entering the U.S. territory, immigration officials can deny tourists entry if they appear to be visiting the island with the intent of giving birth.
More than an immigration concern, press secretary for the Saipan governor’s office, Kevin Bautista, expressed worries over the practice for the health of the mother and child, who often arrive late in their pregnancies with no medical records of the care they have received.
"However, over the course of the last several years, birth tourism in the CNMI has been a growing concern for both local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, and local healthcare providers. Babies born to foreign tourists have increased every year since 2013," Bautista said in a comment to Fox News.
"This administration, as well as previous administrations, our Congressional Delegate's office, and our Commonwealth Legislature, have expressed their concerns with this harmful practice because it endangers the life of the mother and baby because they come into the CNMI during the latter months of their pregnancy with no records of prenatal care."
Though the government does not "control" airline police and called the incident with Hong Kong Express "very unfortunate."
"When we learned of the incident with Hong Kong Express, it was very unfortunate, especially since the individual that was tested is a resident of the CNMI. We do hope that any airline's policy, regardless of what it is, prioritizes the privacy and safety of the passenger."
In 2019, Saipan sought legislation to limit birth tourism in the area. As of Oct. 3, 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection shortened the visa-free tourist period from 45 days to 14 days. Tourists are also recommended to be in possession of a roundtrip ticket when visiting the island.
Saipan has been struggling to quell the spike in visitor births, while still keeping the visa-waiver program active for Chinese travelers, who are deemed necessary to the island’s economy.
Fox News has contacted Hong Kong Express Airways for further comment.