Hong Kong is to impose a birthing fee of upto $6,150 on women from mainland China crossing the border to give birth in the city's public hospitals, officials said Monday.
The fee - expected to be imposed from February - comes after the number of mainland Chinese women giving birth in the city of 6.8 million swelled from a few hundred to more than 10,000 a year.
Cheung Wai-lun, spokesperson for the city's hospital authority, said the charge for non-native women giving birth in Hong Kong would range from $5,000-6,150.
Non-native women who book ahead and have a record of prenatal treatment in Hong Kong would be charged $5,000. Women with no record of prenatal treatment would be charged $6,150, he said.
'We will try to implement the fees and charges as soon as possible and we expect to complete the procedures in time to implement the charges from February,' Cheung told the state-run RTHK radio.
Only 620 non-resident women gave birth in the city in 2002, but in 2005, the number had grown to 9,200. There were more than 10,000 births in the first nine months of 2006.
The overwhelming majority of the non-resident women are mainland Chinese taking advantage of relaxed border controls to give birth in Hong Kong's public hospitals.
Doing so gives babies automatic citizenship in the wealthy former British colony and entitlement to free schooling, medical benefits and welfare payments.
However, the massive influx of Chinese mothers giving birth has stretched public hospital facilities at a time when, ironically, Hong Kong birth rates are at an all all-time low.
A $2,500 fee for non-resident women was introduced at the beginning of 2006 and led to a 20 percent fall in admissions of pregnant Chinese women.
However, many women leave the territory without paying, and an audit report earlier this year found that bills totalling over $40 million had been left unpaid in the past five years.
Some legislators said the only solution is to stop pregnant women from entering the territory or denying birth certificates to claim residency for their children until their hospital bills were settled.
Hong Kong was a British colony for 156 years before reverting to Chinese rule in 1997 under a 'one country, two systems' arrangement, under which it retains border controls with neighbouring southern China.