Having the Legal Right to be a
Model in the United States
agencies protect their corporate clients by assuring that the models they represent
are legally able to work in the US. US citizens and aliens admitted for
permanent residence (“green card” holders) have that right, but others must
have a visa or work permit from the State Department. There are lots of
ways of getting that: win the green card lottery, marry an American, come to
the US on a cultural exchange, get a modification to a student visa (after the
first year) and many more.
Even though all of those are
intended for other purposes, they can be used for modeling as well as whatever
their original intent was. But for someone who wants to come to the US
specifically to be a model, there is provision in the law for that: an
H-1B3 visa. Here is the State Department description of what it takes to
qualify for one:
The H-1B3 category applies to a fashion model who is nationally or
internationally recognized for achievements, to be employed in a position
requiring someone of distinguished merit and ability.
Petition Document Requirements
The petition (Form I-129) should be filed by the U.S. employer with:
- A certified labor condition
application from the Department of Labor;
- Copies of evidence
establishing that the alien is nationally or internationally recognized
in the field of fashion modeling. The evidence must include at least two
of the following types of documentation which show that the person:
- Has achieved national
or international recognition in his or her field as evidenced by major
newspaper, trade journals, magazines or other published material;
- Has performed and
will perform services as fashion model for employers with a
- Has received
recognition for significant achievements from organizations, critics,
fashion houses, modeling agencies or other recognized experts in the
- Commands a high
salary or other substantial remuneration for services, as shown by
contracts or other reliable evidence.
- Copies of evidence
establishing that the services to be performed require a fashion model of
distinguished merit and ability and either:
- Involve an event or
production which has a distinguished reputation; or
- The services are as
participant for an organization or establishment that has a
distinguished reputation or record of employing persons of distinguished
merit and ability.
To show “recognition” in
the field of modeling you need to show several (from 12 to 20 or so)
significant fashion tearsheets. Frequently models will work in Europe or
Asia to get fashion jobs which will qualify them for a visa.
You need to have a sponsoring fashion agency in the US which, in effect, holds
your visa. For this purpose the fashion agency is considered the
“employer” even though that is not generally true for other purposes under US
You need to pay a filing fee (in addition to legal costs) which, with special
processing, can be in the thousands of dollars.
The H-1B (of which the H-1B3 is a part) is widely used by corporations to bring
in experts to assist in the US economy. In FY2001, 2002 and 2003 there was a cap of 195,000 H-1B Visas allowed. In part in
reaction to Homeland Security concerns, that number was cut to about a third of
that in FY2004 and beyond. The effect was that all of the 2004 H-1B visas had
been given out by February, 2004, and the 2005 H1B visas were all gone in the
first few days of October 2004.
Only 65,000 H1B visas were
authorized for fiscal year 2010 (beginning October 1st, 2009). As of September 18, 2009, approximately 46,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions
had been filed. USCIS will continue to accept both cap-subject petitions and advanced degree petitions until a sufficient
number of H-1B petitions have been received to reach the statutory limits, taking into account the fact that some of
these petitions may be denied, revoked, or withdrawn. Status of the number submitted for FY 2010 can be found at
the US CIS page.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that they will now allow some students in the US on F-1 visas
to change them to H1B under some circumstances. Whether this will apply to models is uncertain. If it does, it may open
up a new way for models to enter and work in the US.
Those who follow US politics know that immigration issues have been very volatile in the last few years, with several
legislative attempts to change the number of work visas allowed, and to whom. None of these has passed, however.
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