22 May 2020
International surrogacy crisis: babies and parents separated amid lockdown
With many countries imposing lockdown measures and international travel largely restricted, some parents find themselves stuck at home and unable to travel to bring their new babies, born internationally through surrogacy, home. Some are also stranded overseas having travelled pre lockdown. Babies are being cared for by third parties, nurses and in some cases their surrogate mother. Bringing your baby home is one of the most magical and emotional milestones for parents –the uncertainty and distress caused by the current global pandemic must be immeasurable for those families involved.
The global pandemic hit with such force and speed that governments imposed restrictions on travel almost overnight. These are certainly unprecedented times and even with the most careful of planning, the true impact of the current pandemic could not have been foreseen. There have been numerous press articles about clinics having to take care of babies in hotels as their parents cannot travel to them; babies and their parents stranded overseas with no prospect of getting home and also surrogate mothers having no choice other than to care for babies who should have been with their surrogate parents from birth.
B P Collins’ lawyers work with parents who embark on surrogacy journeys to build their families, be it in the UK or internationally. Ordinarily, in an international surrogacy arrangement, parents living in the UK would travel overseas at several points in their surrogacy journey with relative ease – researching clinics and agencies, meeting their surrogate, starting fertility treatment and being present at the ultrasound scans. Travel arrangements are usually made well in advance to ensure that parents will be present for their baby’s birth and, of course, caring for them right from the moment they are born.
There are immigration and nationality issues to consider in respect of surrogate babies born overseas – these vary depending on which country the baby is born – and have been made increasingly complex in light of the pandemic. There is now a well established path for UK parents embarking on surrogacy arrangements in the US and travel is usually smooth due to the ESTA visa waiver programme but this is currently not in operation. Usually the quickest route for babies to come home is with a US passport, however, passport offices were closed in light of the pandemic.
In other countries, for example Ukraine, babies are not entitled to a Ukrainian passport and so as well as nationality considerations, parents need to apply for a UK passport for their babies to travel home. Surrogacy arrangements and the babies having been born overseas, make these applications more complicated and onerous in terms of supporting documentation and it is usual for this process to take up to six months meaning parents often live overseas during the first few months of their baby’s lives.
The current situation can only be described as nightmarish for those who are currently separated from their babies and it is positive to hear emergency passport applications have been granted by the Home Office in some situations, recognising the importance of getting babies home and reuniting families. International surrogacy arrangements are ordinarily such joyous and positive experiences for the parents involved, it is very much hoped that with the easing of lockdown restrictions there will be more certainty about the future landscape for international travel and resolving the current crisis.