A Hong Kong airline has apologised for demanding a passenger take a pregnancy test before boarding a flight the US Pacific island of Saipan.
Midori Nishida, 25, from Japan, was checking in for the flight at Hong Kong International Airport, with low-cost carrier Hong Kong Express, when a member of its staff presented her with a pregnancy test as part of its 'fit to fly' policy, to prove she wasn't expecting.
Nishida told The Wall Street Journal it was a "humiliating and frustrating" experience, and the airline, owned by Cathay Pacific, later said it had apologised "unreservedly" and stated it had "immediately suspended the practice while we review it."
The reason behind the bizarre intervention? Saipan has become a popular destination for foreign mothers to give birth in, since under US law any child born in its territory is automatically granted American citizenship.
Saipan, which has a population of just 50,000, is part of the US commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and has different regulations that, unlike mainland America, allow some nationalities to enter without a visa, Chinese among them.
Last year, more tourists gave birth in Saipan than locals; 90 per cent of them Chinese. As part of a government crackdown, carriers are reportedly being pressured to pre-screen incoming passengers, as was the case with Nishida.
The airline stated: "We took actions on flights to Saipan from February 2019 to help ensure US immigration laws were not being undermined.
"Under our new management, we recognise the significant concerns this practice has caused. We have immediately suspended the practice while we review it."
It is not illegal for a pregnant tourist to enter the US, provided they don't lie about their purpose of travel, but the commonwealth's House of Representatives is currently seeking to apply new limits regarding its citizenship policy.
There has been at least one case of a woman prosecuted for running a 'birth tourism' operation that helped Chinese clients manipulate the system in the Mariana Islands.
The practise of deliberately travelling abroad to countries that offer unconditional birthright citizenship is concentrated almost entirely in North and South America.
Some countries have abolished this right entirely, India included, which did so in 2004 in response to its escalating population. Others have adjusted their policies so that at least one parent must be a citizen or permanent resident for a child born on their soil to be granted status as a national; the UK, France, Australia and South Africa among them.
Saipan is the second largest island in the Mariana Islands archipelago after Guam. It fell under American administration after the Second World War, and became a US commonwealth in 1978.
Prior to that, it changed hands between the Spanish, from 1565 to 1899, Germany, from 1899 to 1914, and then Japan.
Today, with tropical year-round temperatures in the high 20s, tourism accounts for its main source of income, with popular activities including windsurfing, golf and scuba diving.
Casinos are also big business. Currently under construction is the Chinese-owned Imperial Pacific Resort, a sprawling collection of leisure attractions including a luxury hotel and gambling club. Still, the island remains largely off the radar for European holidaymakers.
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