US Model Hitch Imperils Aspiring Elles

2 July 1991

o-1 visa

Legal Highlights:

Full Text: Australian models aspiring to follow in Elle Macpherson's footsteps may be in for a disappointment. From October, million-dollar faces from such faraway lands as Australia, Kenya and Germany may not be posing for the paparazzi inside US borders. Controversial new immigration rules would shut out all but the superstars. The head of Elite modelling in New York, Mr John Casablancas, said: "The models are now in a category where they have to be Nobel Prize winners to get into the country." The reason: a Congressional oversight. Last November, Congress passed a sweeping immigration law designed to make it tougher for all but the most prominent foreigners to work in the US. The idea was to keep US jobs safe for Americans. Under regulations designed to implement the law, foreign workers would have to prove their success, their "extraordinary ability", in their fields to obtain a US visa. Actors would have to prove their box-office clout. Scholars would have to produce prestigious awards. Artists would have to show a history of major exhibitions. The same went for models, except a model's success is measured by tearsheets from famous magazines. In its law, Congress failed to recognise models' tearsheets for the so-called O-1 visa. Mr Casablancas said: "It was not too easy before, either. We had to prove they had unique talent through their tearsheets - but not through diplomas." Modelling industry spokesmen said far from protecting jobs, the tougher restriction would drive many Americans out of work. Most models draw an entourage of make-up artists, assistants and hair stylists who could lose their jobs. The models earn up to $US200,000 ($A262,460) a year, spend money on flats, restaurants and nightlife - and pay US taxes. US modelling moguls are predicting disaster for the fashion industry unless Congress undoes the damage. The president of New York-based modelling agency Zoli Management, Ms Barbara Lantz, said: "It benefits nobody. These models make a lot and spend a lot." Mr Casablancas said without foreign models, the billion-dollar-a-year industry could fade as quickly as yesterday's cover girl. Though they are a minority, they provide the "look" coveted by many manufacturers for their products. Ford Modelling Agency's executive vice-president, Mr Joe Hunter, said the law could directly cost 5,000 jobs and imperil 20,000 more in businesses servicing the fashion industry. Congress hopes to fix the hitch with an amendment allowing models to apply for a P-1 visa and use tearsheets as proof they are prominent enough to work in the US. US agencies fear that, without foreign models, the modelling industry would pack up and move to Europe and take its billions to such glamour centres as Paris and Milan. Most of today's supermodels are not American: Australia's Elle Macpherson, best known as the cover girl for Sports Illustrated's sell-out swimsuit edition, also Paulina Porizkova, whose face pitches Estee Lauder products, and Claudia Schiffer. As undeniable superstars, the new law would not affect them. But it would have barred them five years ago when they were virtual unknowns. Future foreign stars will be out of luck if Congress does not amend its law.

Source: Knight-Ridder Newspapers