Covid-19 and International Surrogacy

Popular destinations for international surrogacy arrangements are USA, Canada, Georgia and the Ukraine. Babies born in the US and Canada are classed as citizens and are entitled to a passport, which normally come through in a couple of weeks. In the Ukraine it can take up to 16 weeks and it is therefore important for IP(s) to do their research. If no local passport is available, then it may be necessary to apply for a British passport to get the child home. The IP(s) are recognised as the legal parents of the child in these countries and will be named on the birth certificate. The surrogate in the Ukraine has no status as a parent to a child born by surrogacy, even if they are genetically linked. However, this will not be sufficient to establish parenthood once the family returns to the UK and a parental order is still required. This is very different to England where parental responsibility is automatically conferred on the birth mother.

Covid-19 has presented some unique and challenging problems to international surrogacy arrangements. The travel ban has put some IP(s) and their surrogates in legal limbo with some countries closing their borders. In some cases, it has not been possible for IP(s) to travel to attend the birth and collect their babies. It was reported in the Guardian that a US surrogate had no choice but to care for the child she had birthed when the parents were unable to collect their baby from China. The surrogate was not related to the child but agreed to look after him until the parents could enter the US following the travel ban on Chinese nationals in January 2020.

In the Ukraine, there have been reports of 35 newborns born to surrogacy being looked after in a hotel room by a rota of nannies. There have been reports of IP(s) being turned away at the US border as they are only allowed to enter post-birth. The emotional risks presented by the surrogate bonding with the baby have led to surrogacy case workers looking after the babies themselves. Even when the IP(s) can enter the country, the nationwide closure of the passport office will cause issues in obtaining the required documentation for the baby to leave. The financial and emotional cost for IP(s) is devastating while they also miss out on precious bonding time. The stakes are increased with many babies also being uninsured for treatment should they catch Covid-19. The average cost of a US surrogacy is between £150,000 to £250,000, which for some who have been caught will have doubled.

For all those considering international surrogacy at this time, careful thought should be given to the logistics in view of the potential for a second wave of the pandemic. This is an extremely difficult balance for IP(s), as the wait is usually longer than most.