LESS-THAN-MODEL CONDITIONS Immigration law will make it difficult for all but superstars to work in this country


Miami Beach, Fla. -- Starting in October, million-dollar models from such faraway lands as Kenya and Germany may not be posing for the paparazzi inside U.S. borders. Controversial new immigration rules would shut out all but the superstars.

"The models are now in a category where they have to be Nobel prize winners to get into the country," said John Casablancas, head of Elite modeling in New York.

The reason: a congressional oversight.

Last November, Congress passed an immigration law designed to make it tougher for all but the most prominent foreigners to work in America. The idea was to keep American jobs 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 U.S. visa.

From October on, Congress said, actors would have to prove their box-office clout. Scholars would have to produce prestigious awards.

The same went for models. Except a model's success isn't measured by academic awards, box office receipts or record sales. Tear sheets from famous magazines are the yardstick. But in its law, Congress failed to recognize models' tear sheets as documentation for the so-called O-1 visa.

Far from protecting Americans' jobs, the tougher restriction would drive many of them out of work, say spokesmen for the modeling industry. Most models draw an entourage of makeup artists, assistants and hair stylists who would face hard times under the new law.

Joe Hunter, executive vice president of the Ford Modeling Agency, said the law could directly cost 5,000 American jobs and imperil 20,000 more workers in businesses catering to the fashion industry.

This summer, Congress will try to fix the problem with a technicalamendment. Mr. Casablancas and Mr. Hunter said that without foreign models, the modeling industry would pack up and move to Europe -- and take its billions to such glamour centers as Paris and Milan, Italy.

Most of today's supermodels aren't American: Paulina Porizkova, Claudia Schiffer, and Elle Macpherson, for example.

As undeniable superstars, the new law would not affect them.

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