Non-American fashion models typically enter the U.S. to work in one of two Visa categories. For those models that are able to prove that they have risen to the top of their field, they may qualify for an O-1 visa (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement). The majority of fashion models, however, apply for an H-1B visa (H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models), which is available for models of distinguished merit and ability, a much easier standard to meet.
I. H-1B Work Visa
U.S. businesses use the H-1B visa program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require the theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, including but not limited to: scientists, engineers, or computer programmers. The H-1B3 visa, in particular, is available to “fashion models” that are renowned, leading or well known. (USCIS).
In order to be eligible for the H-1B3 Fashion Model visa, the applicant:
- Must be a “prominent” fashion model, and
- Must be coming to the U.S. to perform services that require a fashion model of “distinguished merit and ability.”
Applying for an H-1B3 Visa
Evidence submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) in connection with a fashion model’s H-1B petition should include the following documentation:
- A Labor Condition Application must be submitted to the Department of Labor for certification by the American employer, or in most cases, the model’s American management company;
- Form I-129, which is filed by the U.S. employer, or in most cases, the model’s American management company; and
- At least two of the following types of documentation:
o Evidence that the model has achieved national or international recognition in his or her field;
o Evidence that the model has performed and will perform services as fashion model for employers with a distinguished reputation;
o Evidence that the model has received recognition for significant achievements;
o Evidence that the model commands a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services; or
o Affidavits submitted certifying to the recognition and distinguished ability of the fashion model must specifically describe the model’s recognition and ability in factual terms.
Timeline and Availability
There is a limit or “cap” of 65,000 H-1B visas available each fiscal year.
The filing season for H-1B visas opens on April 1st, as H-1B petitions for positions starting on or after October 1, the first day of the fiscal year, may be submitted up to six months ahead of the requested start date. Note: “Demand was so high [in 2013] that the government’s cap on applications was reached only five days after the filing period opened on April 1.” (Bloomberg).
With an H-1B visa, a model may be admitted for a period of up to three years. “The time period may be extended, but generally cannot go beyond a total of six years, though some exceptions do apply under sections 104(c) and 106(a) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21).” (USCIS).
II. O-1 Visa
An alternative to the H1B visa for fashion models is the O-1 visa, which applies to models of “extraordinary merit and ability.” This requirement is significantly higher than the “distinguished merit or ability” requirement of H-1B3 work visas, making the O-1 visa process more complicated.
Applying for an O-1 Visa
In order to satisfy the O-1 visa requirements, a model/petitioner must:
- Have his/her American employer file a Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions. The petition may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for the alien's services. To avoid delays, the Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment. The petitioner must submit Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and the following documentary evidence;
- Include a “Consultation Opinion” in his/her petition, which is “a written advisory opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations) or a person with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability;"
- Exceptions to the “Consultation Opinion: “If the petitioner can demonstrate that an appropriate peer group, including a labor organization, does not exist, then the decision will be based on the evidence of record. A consultation may be waived for an alien with extraordinary ability in the field of arts if the alien seeks readmission to perform similar services within 2 years of the date of a previous consultation. Petitioners should submit a waiver request and a copy of the previous consultation with the petition.”
3. Provide a copy of any written contract between the petitioner/employer and the model or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which the model will be employed;
4. Provide an explanation of the nature of the events or activities, the beginning and ending dates for the events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary for the events or activities, if applicable;
5. Provide evidence that the model has “extraordinary merit and ability.” This may be established via:
o Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards;
o Membership in organizations that require outstanding achievement;
o Published materials about the model;
o Reviews of the model’s ability from recognized industry individuals;
o Proof that the model has been employed in an essential capacity at an organization with distinguished reputation; and/or
o Evidence that the model has commanded, or will command, a salary above that which others in the industry receive.
6. The O-1 visa does NOT require that a Labor Condition Application be submitted to the Department of Labor for certification by the American employer, or in most cases, the model’s American management company. (USCIS).
Timeline and Availability
The O-1 visa is that it is not subject to annual quotas. As such, it can be filed throughout the year.
An O-1 visa is initially granted for up to three years. Thereafter, it may be extended for one year at a time. There is no limit to the number of extensions that may be granted.