The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic is impacting each of us in different ways. For one British couple who worked with a surrogate in the U.S. to start their family, COVID-19 has thwarted their plans to return home with their newborn son. When James Washington and his husband tried to obtain a passport for their baby, they learned that the U.S. Department of State has stopped issuing routine passports. For the time being, they are only working on passport applications for life or death emergencies.
Because the baby was born in the U.S. and is not technically the couple’s child yet, the British authorities will not issue travel documents for him. Until the British court issues a parental order, the gestational carrier and her husband are his legal custodians, at least according to UK law. So, instead of being able to enjoy these first few weeks with their son in the comfort of their own home with all of their own belongings, the new family is sheltering in place in a vacation rental in Portland, OR.
Unfortunately, the Washingtons are not the only people dealing with this nightmare scenario. We in the assisted reproduction community estimate that there are hundreds of people from around the world who are working with U.S. surrogates and are now either trapped here like the Washingtons are, or are stuck in their home countries, potentially unable to get to the U.S. for the births of their children.
We are advocating for our clients and are working hard to try to get the U.S. Department of State to recognize surrogacy as an emergency situation, so passport applications can be processed quickly. Of course, the passport authorities must themselves balance workers’ and customers’ health and safety during this pandemic and have made existing policy decisions with this in mind. The result for our families stuck in the process has been frustrating, to say the least.
While there is uncertainty surrounding when and how this current crisis will abate, we have heard from James and Rob Washington’s legal counsel in the U.K. that they will be able to board a flight in early April as planned to return home with their newborn. At The Surrogacy Law Center, we continue to monitor this issue in the hopes that a State Department policy change will help all those who are in this precarious position.