SANTA ANA, Calif. – A Chinese national was sentenced in absentia today to 37 months in federal prison for participating in a large-scale birth tourism scheme that engaged in visa fraud that allowed foreign nationals to come to the United States and give birth so their children would receive U.S. birthright citizenship.
Chao “Edwin” Chen (陈超), 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna. Chen pleaded guilty in June 2016 to visa fraud, marriage fraud and filing a false tax return. Soon after pleading guilty, Chen fled to China and remains a fugitive.
This case, as well as the others named below, is the result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Los Angeles and IRS Criminal Investigation. Substantial assistance was provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Irvine Police Department.
“As these cases clearly demonstrate, HSI will leave no stone unturned in aggressively targeting those who would exploit our nation’s generosity and legal immigration system – only to make a mockery of our laws and values in order to enrich themselves, said David A. Prince, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “The public safety and national security implications of visa fraud and the crimes associated with it are real – and will simply not be tolerated.”
Along with Dongyuan Li (李冬媛), 42, of Irvine, and Li’s husband, Qiang Yan (闫强), 44, Chen was charged in the nation’s first cases alleging organized birth tourism operations. Chen operated an Orange County-based business named You Win USA, which they marketed to pregnant foreign nationals – mostly from China – who wanted to come to the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children. As part of the scheme, Chen, Li and Yan coached the foreign nationals to misrepresent the true intentions of their visits to United States at ports of entry.
Chen operated an Orange County-based business named You Win USA, which they marketed to pregnant foreign nationals – mostly from China – who wanted to come to the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children. As part of the scheme, Chen, Li and Yan coached the foreign nationals to misrepresent the true intentions of their visits to United States at ports of entry.
You Win USA advertised that its “100-person team” in China and the U.S. had served more than 500 Chinese birth tourism customers. Chen and Li used 20 apartments in Irvine, charged each customer $40,000 to $80,000, and received $3 million in international wire transfers from China in just two years. You Win USA promoted the benefits of giving birth in the United States rather than in China, which included “13 years of free education from grade school to high school,” “Less pollution” than China,” “An easier way for the whole family to immigrate to the United States,” and “Priority for jobs in U.S. government, public companies, and large corporations.”
When he pleaded guilty, Chen admitted that he had served at least 60 customers, including People’s Republic of China government employees. For example, one of You Win USA’s customers, Xiao Yan Liu (刘小燕), was indicted in November 2018 for two counts of visa fraud and one count of lying to federal investigators. According to her visa application, she was the “Chief Physician” at the Henan Shangqiu Power Supply Company Staff Hospital.
Chen admitted in his plea agreement that in June 2014, he met with an HSI undercover agent (UCA) posing as a birth tourism customer, which resulted in a co-conspirator uploading a visa application in China that contained false information about the UCA’s length of travel, location of stay, and personal information. After that fake visa application was uploaded, Chen put the UCA in touch with his “trainer” in China to teach the pregnant customer how to trick U.S. customs and enter the United States without her pregnancy being detected.
Chen admitted that in addition to the birth tourism scheme, he also engaged in marriage fraud for himself. According to his plea agreement, Chen entered into a sham marriage to a U.S. citizen and paid the woman $25,000 so he could obtain a green card. In February 2014, Chen also filed a false 2013 federal income tax return in order to prove the legitimacy of his sham marriage, which falsely claimed his gross receipts were $227,453.
Li was sentenced in December 2019 to 10 months in federal prison for her role in the scheme.
Yan, who is a fugitive believed to be in China, was indicted in December 2018 on three counts of visa fraud for filing an application for an “O” visa premised upon being an “alien of extraordinary ability,” which falsely claimed that he had co-authored two books. According to Yan’s indictment, when HSI special agents searched his and Li’s home in 2015, he claimed to have more than $10 million in his Chinese bank accounts.
At least 10 other defendants charged in these birth tourism indictments have fled to China, including Jun Xiao (肖俊) and LongJing Yi (易珑静), who were indicted in February 2018 on charges of conspiracy, visa fraud, obstruction of justice, and criminal contempt. According to court documents in their case, Xiao and Yi paid only $4,600 of the $32,291 in hospital charges related to the birth of their baby in Orange County. The indictments also detail communications from Xiao after he had fled to China, where he continued to denigrate a federal court order requiring him to stay in the United States: “U.S. can’t do anything to me.”
In January 2020, the U.S. Department of State cited these birth tourism cases when changing the official rules for issuing visas for travel to the United States for the purpose of giving birth.