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Fashion Models Strut Into U.S. More Easily Than Engineers

Topics: Current Events

If you’re tall, thin, gorgeous and make a living off those traits it’s easier to get an American work visa than university-trained engineers. A puzzling 20-year-old decision by Congress allowed models to be included in the H-1B class of visas, an oversight that has led to relatively preferential treatment for foreign-born beauty over brain.


A 1990 revision of immigration law allowed performers, athletes, religious workers and Nobel Prize laureates in the same category as very skilled workers like scientists, engineers and others with higher education and training. Models are the only exception in the highly coveted employer-sponsored H-1B category that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, notes a May 20 article in Bloomberg. Demand for H-1Bs was so great this year that the government reaches its application cap just five days after the April 1 opening of the filing period, the article notes.

“It’s the one exception that we all scratch our heads about,” Neil Ruiz, an analyst at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, tells Bloomberg.

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Let’s look at the numbers.

Models are have double the chance of receiving an employer-sponsored visa than computer programmers or engineers, Bloomberg tells us. The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services report they they OK’d 250 of the 478 visa applications submitted by models in 2010, the article says. That’s a 52 percent approval rate. 

How fares it for college-educated applicants?

In an example of the nation’s mis-prioritized immigration policies, only 28 percent (or 90,800 of the 325,000 submitted) visa H-1B applications for technology workers were approved, the report states.

Interesting side note: “Former Democratic representative and potential New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner tried to allow even more models in under the program, but he was pressured to resign after being caught sending sexually tinged social media messages,” according to CNN Money.

Though models under the visa class tend to have no college degree, it should be noted that they generally earn more. Overall, more than 99 percent of H-1B applicants held at least a four-year degree compared to a little more than half of H-1B models applying without even a high school diploma, Bloomberg says. Despite that, models earned on average $161,000 – triple the median annual household salary in the U.S.

Thankfully for everyone involved, Congress is looking to up the annual cap on H-1B visas, so more people get a shot. After all, both fashion and high-tech workers generate billions for the U.S. economy.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think about current U.S. work visa policies? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments!

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(Photo credit: c London Gatwick Airport – Flickr)

Jennifer Wadsworth
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