Beauty beats brains, and it's better to be sexy than tech-savvy--at least if your goal is to work in the United States under an H-1B visa.
The highly coveted visas, which allow U.S. employers to employ foreign workers temporarily in certain specialized occupations, go quickly. Last month, the government announced that within five short days, it had received 124,000 petitions for 65,000 H-1B slots in the first week of the filing period.
Exactly who some of those visas are going to might surprise you. A new analysis by Bloomberg's Frank Bass and Kartikay Mehrotra shows that foreign fashion models are more than twice as likely to be granted H1-B visas than foreign computer programmers.
An oversight (maybe)
According to Bloomberg, the situation stems from the unintended consequence of an immigration law overhaul two decades ago.
When Congress created a separate type of visa for celebrity occupations, including people like "performers, athletes, Nobel Prize laureates and religious workers," Bloomberg said, "lawmakers realized they hadn't put fashion models in a separate category."
So, they lumped them in at the last minute with tech workers and other specialty occupations, under the H-1B visas. Subsequent efforts to move models to the category for performers and athletes have failed.
The result has been that while the volume of fashion models applying for H-1B visas is much lower than for other occupations, their likelihood of having their applications approved is considerably higher.
Roughy 478 foreign applications were "made for fashion models in 2010," according to Labor Department data that Bloomberg culled, 250 of which were approved." At the same time, 90,800 visas were granted to "computer-related occupations," out of a total of 325,000 applications.
Better likelihood of success
Result? A 51 percent success rate for fashion models, versus a 28 percent success rate for computer professionals. Besides having a better shot of getting into the U.S. (and we assume, better looks), foreign fashion models also stand out from other applicants in at least four ways:
Less education. Fashion models comprise the only category of H-1B applicants who don't need to have earned at least a bachelor degree. A bit over 50 percent of fashion model applicants had no high school diploma, according to Bloomberg. Among other applicants, over 99 percent have at least a bachelor's degree.
Make much more money. On average, H-1B fashion models made $161,000. American fashion models make far less--about $27,330 a year on average, "with the average magazine shoot paying about $100 daily," former model and "Boston University sociologist" Ashley Mears told Bloomberg.
From South America. Roughly a quarter of the fashion model applications were made on behalf of Brazilian women, according to Bloomberg.
Work for New York City companies. More than half of the model applications came from New York-based firms, including Trump Model Management and Ford Models. Other employers included Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Playboy Enterprises Inc. and Dallas-based Wilhelmina International Inc.
The report comes at a time as Congress is debating how to bring more skilled foreign workers to the United States, an expansion that is supported by some of the biggest U.S. tech companies. Among the proposals are to increase the number of H-1B visas allowed (from 65,000 to 110,000 a year), and to "increase fees on employers who depend heavily on the foreign workers," Bloomberg said.