Pregnant and scammed: Investigating the Russian women flying to Argentina to have babiesComments
Olga wonders how well she'll have to integrate into local society. Nastya wants to know if any other expectant mothers will travel in June. Valentina is concerned about living in a time zone far from Russia, and how inconvenient it would be to work remotely.
These are just some of the Russian women who posted on popular forums for "baby tourism" – a phenomenon that has been growing since the Kremlin launched an invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Since then, authorities say thousands of young Russians have flown to South America, Argentina in particular, where they don't need a visa to enter the country, and where their babies are guaranteed a less restrictive foreign passport.
The Moscow-Buenos Aires route is also an easier way for the mothers to acquire local nationality. But now officials are concerned about the sheer scale of the problem after one Ethiopian Airlines flight landed in February with 33 pregnant Russian women on board.
A Euronews investigation has uncovered the network of Russian travel agencies and support services that charge up to $35,000 (€32,840) to pregnant Russian women and make false promises that lawyers say are tantamount to criminal activity.
"The second fastest passport in the world for parents!"
Those Russian-owned businesses typically advertise Argentina as having "the second fastest passport in the world for parents," and there's money to be made in their services.
RuArgentina is a website which offers information and assistance to Russian women who are interested in going to Argentina to give birth.
For $100 (€94) you can get a phone consultation to ask questions about the process; and for $5500 (€5187) you get access to the "Economy Class" package which includes meetings with doctors, and some documents for the child.
And this is where lawyers say false information about the process is being peddled, and Russian families are being conned.
RuArgentina's website promises "citizenship for parents immediately upon birth of child" in Argentina – and also says there's no necessity to live in the country to obtain citizenship. Those two claims are false information.
Christian Rubilar is an attorney who represented multiple Russian women in their citizenship cases, and says that RuArgentina misleads people seeking citizenship.
He tells Euronews that he filed a complaint against RuArgentina, denouncing them as a criminal organisation because "they promise they can get citizenship for the parents, even if you leave [Argentina] and don't come back. This is absolutely not true."
"I believe we should talk about criminal organisations because these are not law firms, these are not travel agencies," Rubilar tells Euronews.
Deeper in RuArgentina's website there is more accurate information about the Argentinian citizenship process, but the 'shop window' of the website which advertises their services, is patently misleading.
Euronews contacted the company's founder, Kirill Makoveev, a Russian businessman who has lived in Argentina since 2014, but he declined to answer questions, citing an ongoing police investigation into his business operations.
"A million-dollar business and illicit network"
Argentinian authorities are cracking down on the "baby tourism" industry, carrying out police raids on multiple locations in Buenos Aires during February.
Criminal investigations have been opened into several companies, including RuArgentina, says lawyer Christian Rubilar.
However, despite the legal woes, RuArgentina is still advertising its misleading services for Russian women, and there have been no new visa immigration controls imposed on Russian passengers who wish to enter Argentina.
Rubilar explains that this is due to the constitution that protects anyone who wishes to live in Argentina; and changing the Constitution would be a drawn-out process.
Meanwhile, Argentinian newspaper La Nación reports that another inquiry has been underway since December to probe a "million-dollar business and illicit network" run by a married Russian couple Ruslan Yuslashev and Elena Kuklina.
They are suspected of delivering fake documents for Argentinian citizenship in record time to Russian nationals. Police reportedly found a large amount of money, and seized laptops and phones, at the couple's home.
Why do Russians want to go to Argentina to give birth?
There's no doubt how much more valuable an Argentinian passport is than a Russian one, especially after a raft of travel sanctions were imposed on Russia by the international community.
Immigration laws allow Russians to enter Argentina and settle without a visa. Children born on Argentinian soil benefit from free healthcare and automatic citizenship: and it's then easier for the parents to obtain citizenship too.
An Argentinian passport allows entry to 171 countries without a visa – a very attractive option when a Russian passport only allows visa-free travel to 87 countries.
"The doctors here are cheaper," says Alya Lykhina, a Russian who arrived in Argentina in May 2022.
"That's nice and it's not so difficult to get documents. The process is very clear."
Aleksei and his wife Dina had their daughter Emilia in Argentina last June. They are also delighted with healthcare quality and their future Argentinian passport "but that was not the real reason why we moved from Russia," he says. "The real reason was the war."
Since January 2022, more than 10,500 pregnant Russian women entered the country, figures show.
"The numbers have been increasing in the last few months," Florencia Carignano, the national director for migration in Argentina, to a local news channel.
"In the last three months, 5,819 women who were about to give birth entered."
"They don't need to spend any money"
Not every Russian couple who goes to South America to have a baby uses one of the controversial travel agency services.
"We didn't use any of these agencies," says Anatolyy, who flew to Buenos Aires with his wife Irina, who is already nine months pregnant.
"We do not understand why people would use these kinds of services as Russians can come to Argentina without a visa and stay 90 days," he tells Euronews.
Russians don't need to spend big money to come to Argentina and to apply to eventually get citizenship – even with a lawyer, the costs would likely be around 10% of what the agencies are charging.
Anatolyy and Irina were able to manage almost everything by themselves, "the only struggle was to find an apartment," he says.
"Now we're in a hotel, and expecting the baby anytime soon."