The H-1B visa allows people in “specialty occupations” to live and work in the United States temporarily. A lesser-known aspect of the program also allows fashion models to come to the U.S. to work. Federal law limits the annual number of new H-1B visas that the government can issue, meaning that many individuals seeking an H-1B visa for a particular fiscal year will be disappointed. Several other types of visas are available for fashion models who want to come to the U.S. for work, provided they meet the qualifications. Fashion model visas have been the subject of media attention in recent months, largely due to allegations arising from the presidential election. Specifically, several models formerly employed by one candidate claim that they were present in the U.S. with tourist visas, which would not have allowed them to work as models.
Federal immigration law provides a specific type of visa for workers in “specialty occupations” or “fashion models.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). A specialty occupation job that qualifies for an H-1B visa must require an advanced degree and the specialized knowledge or skills that come with such a degree in order to perform the work. The total number of new H-1B visas available each fiscal year is capped at 65,000. Id. at § 1184(g)(1)(A). Immigration officials receive a substantially higher number of H-1B petitions every year.
The H-1B fashion model visa, also known as the H-1B3 visa, is available to individuals of “distinguished merit and ability in the field of fashion modeling,” who want to come to the U.S. “to perform services which require a fashion model of prominence.” 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(i)(C). Federal immigration regulations define “prominence” in fashion modeling in a rather circular manner, as being “renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of fashion modeling.” Id. at § 214.2(h)(4)(ii). A model or their employer may establish their “prominence” in the field with documentation of their past work and with affidavits from people with knowledge of the industry. Id. at § 214.2(h)(4)(vii). They must also provide a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(n)(1).