Why Are Fashion Models More Likely to Get H-1B Visas Than Computer Programmers?

A new study reveals that fashion models are more likely to obtain H-1B visas than computer programmers. What’s the reason for this imbalance?
A new study reveals that fashion models are more likely to obtain H-1B visas than computer programmers. What’s the reason for this imbalance?

By Lisa Marie Chirico

Immigration reform is grabbing its share of headlines lately. The Senate voted 84-15 to begin consideration of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” compromise legislation this week. Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable and former governor of Minnesota, recently commented, “If you think of this (immigration reform) as a stew instead of a roast…there’s enough elements for compromise here.”

Mr. Pawlenty makes an astute point. It seems that nearly everyone is weighing in on immigration reform. From Mark Zuckerburg, who recently launched the organization Fwd.us to advocate for the legislation, to environmental organizations such as Greenpeace who are fighting the “immigration is bad for the environment” myth. Aside from border security and amnesty, the annual H-1B visa cap is another pressing element of this issue, especially for foreign-born fashion models and computer programmers.

To help illustrate the current plight of these two professions, let’s pretend for a moment that the competition for H-1B visas is the World Series, and it’s the programmers versus the models. Can you guess who could brag about consecutive sweeps? Believe it or not, it would be the models. In the heated competition for H-1B visas, fashion models who desire to work in the United States are handily taking the lead with a 51 percent success rate, in contrast to computer programmers, who have only a 28 percent success rate for acquiring H-1B visas. Is beauty prevailing over brains when it comes to who is chosen to work in the U.S.?

According to data collected by Bloomberg reporters, in 2010, the Labor Department detailed that they granted 250 visas for fashion models out of approximately 478 applications which they received for that trade. For occupations described as “computer-related,” 325,000 applications were received, and just 90,800 of them were approved for a visa. Overall, there are fewer fashion models (modeling, incidentally, being the only profession that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree to apply for a H-1B visa) that apply for visas than foreign workers in the high-tech category, yet they are far more likely to have their visa applications approved.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s website says the H-1B program “applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.” Currently, the government sets an annual limit of 65,000 for the H-1B visa. In 2012, the government closed applications for H-1B petitions after only 72 days. This year, the cap was reached in just five days. The current Senate immigration bill plans to increase this cap to at least 110,000, and depending on employer demand, raise it to 180,000. Also, employers will pay new fees if they use H-1B visa holders for 30 percent or more of their workforce.

Has the H-1B visa cap affected the influx of much-needed STEM workers to the U.S.? Indeed, it has. Computer industry entrepreneurs, along with Microsoft’s Bill Gates, have actively lobbied Congress over the years to expand the high-tech visa category in order to slow down the rate that their companies lose skilled workers to other nations. In spite of a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute that concluded there is “more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations in the U.S.,” other experts disagree. “Publicly available government data and common sense reject the notion that there are ‘too many’ high-tech workers in the United States,” said economic advisor Ian Hathaway.

Behind the seemingly unexplained phenomena of fashion models capturing more visas than computer programmers is a simple explanation: a slipup. Twenty years ago, when Congress set about creating an individual type of visa for people who worked in less conventional occupations, fashion models were inadvertently left out. Realizing their error, lawmakers made a “quick fix” and added models to the category comprised of high-tech workers and other specialty occupations. Then, in 2007, former congressman Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill in an attempt to “even the score” and fix this oversight. He proposed that 1000 new visa slots be created for fashion models, and that they be moved into the category shared by athletes and entertainers. Weiner’s bill stalled in the Senate during that session, and the ensuing follow up has fallen flat.

That same year, the Judiciary Committee said that losing models “can have a negative effect on the U.S. economy.” It’s not hard to see why. According to the Brookings Institution, in New York City, one in 20 workers is tied to the fashion industry, which generates nearly $10 billion in wages. Fashion Week, which is held semi-annually in Manhattan, generated an economic impact of $865 million in 2012.

When it comes to salaries, fashion models have a wide range in pay. The foreign-born supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who ranked eighth in Forbes 2012 “Entertainment’s Highest-Paid Women” list, earned $45 million. For other foreign-born models, the pay is quite a bit less, but still good – they earn an average salary of $161,000. The salary is much lower for American fashion models. According to one runway model, she earns from $800 to $1,000 per show with international mass brands. Boston University sociologist, author, and former model Ashley Mears conveyed that the average U.S model earned $27,330 in 2009.

So, how do “techies” compare on the salary scale with fashion models? Looking at the bigger picture, H-1B visa holders are paid more than U.S. native-born workers with a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, the median salary for Web developers was $77,990. In spite of reports of downsizing, such as IBM’s recent announcement that they laid off 1,300 U.S. employees as part of their global restructuring plan, the strong demand for workers with specialized technical skills is driving up salaries. One Web developer described his job offer this way: “…these were the terms: $120,000 in salary, a $10,000 signing bonus, stock options…there has never been a better time to do what I do.”

Surely, both high-skilled and low-skilled workers are needed to assist in the resurgence of the American economy. We are a nation of immigrants. Will our new immigration legislation accurately and fairly reflect that?

[Image Credit: Art Comments, Flickr]

Lisa Marie Chirico

Lisa is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She is a marketing communications specialist who is focused on pursuing green solutions for our planet’s longevity.

30 responses

  1. It takes special amount of nerve to title a piece “Why Are Fashion Models Getting More H-1B Visas Than Computer Programmers?” by comparing 250 out of 478 models to 90,800 out of 325,000 computer programmers.

      1. Here is the math. 90,800 is GREATER than 250.

        THe article states “What are Fashion Models Getting More H-1B Visas Than Computer Programmers”.

        Fashion models are NOT getting more H-1B visas than Computer programmers.

        1. Yeah, it’s total BS. If they want to compare distribution, then why does such a high percent go to body shops? The model issue is simply a distraction. They can’t win the debate on merit so this is an attempt to convolude the issue with comparatively meaningless data.
          The corporate owned media is in an all out misinformation campaign. This article will sway the people with the fewest number of brain cells. The author can’t see the forest for the trees.

        2. Wait what? The author was claiming that 90,888 is less than 250? CLASSIC! I see they “changed” the article later.

  2. If you are going to compare, then compare # of visas per profession out of total number of visas granted.

    It seems by your own numbers, and the correct comparison, the odds are higher to find an H-1b recipient is computer related than fashion related.

  3. ~40,000 H-1b visa are used each year by the Offshore Outsourcing companies, to remove jobs at all levels and pay grades. The reality is our domestic tech companies are barely using this government program.

    The aweful irony isn’t fashion models, that’s just an artifact of business groups lobbying the government for a piece of the pork. It is a fact that the most common usage of H-1b is to bring in a liaison that will remove hundreds of U.S. jobs to overseas locations.

    If Offshore Outsourcing companies were barred from the H-1b program (as they should be), we would never have seen a year where we ran out of visas. We have to face the fact that just like in taxes, companies will game the system. The reality is that it costs more to find and hire an American citizen (in interview time and in terms of an offer) than to hire an H-1b (that you likely already have hired overseas).

    And it should also be no surprise, that the biggest domestic users of the H-1b system, also have extensive overseas operations. The reality is that even among our domestic companies, the most common scenario is NOT to fill a job that americans can even apply for, but rather to bring over a worker who can serve as liason for the removal of jobs to overseas locations.

    The ability of our domestic tech companies to even find local workers has been damaged by the easy access to H-1b visas, and the dramatic reduction in the cost-to-hire that this program has allowed. Hey, half of U.S. born STEM graduates fail to find a STEM job, after 5 years of looking! That should tell you that companies need greater motivation to find and retain local STEM workers.

    We have let the whining of a few domestic tech executives, whose influence can be measured in campaign dollars, create a monster job destroying U.S. government program.

  4. If you take the time to comment on an article, perhaps you should read it and understand it first? Let me help those who seem to be totally perplexed here: 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. Models have a 51 percent success rate, versus a 28 percent success rate for computer professionals. Check the links too and you notice that real journalists from real publications – not the Onion – actually wrote about this topic. Oh, and the math I learned in grade school taught me that 51% is more than 28%.

    1. Were the article’s headline to avoid resorting to sensational, it might warrant my reading. Were it not to use a less common ratio-based interpretation of “more” over the standard purely absolute numeric meaning, I might not draw references to The Onion.

      I’ve read some of the real journalist articles and they’re using a glitch that lumped fashion models into an otherwise wholly unrelated visa category to create an attention grabbing headline and sexy picture to attach to the topic of high-skilled immigration.

      Still not having read this article, let me take as stab at its point. It is easier for vapid inconsequentials than critical, needed brilliance to gain access to the US on H-1B. This is a travesty and means we should reconsider the visa’s requirements and restrictions. The upshot: expand the H-1B or other skilled immigration. How’d I do?

      The qualifications for this outlier niche have zero bearing on the qualifications for the vast majority of other uses. Nor does it speak to the debatable validity of how this visa program has been, is or should be used.

      In short, just because congress overlooked a miniscule slice of temporary immigration so lumped it into another unrelated work-based category does not validate it as a consideration in the actual debate.

      1. FYI, the title of the article has changed since comments lambasting the phrasing “Why Are Fashion Models Getting More H-1B Visas …” to considering the likelihood over absolute count. Thank you for the correction.

    2. Melinda,
      Your ignorance is exceeded only by your arrogance.

      Sometimes more than grade school math is required to interpret trends behind numbers.

      The volume of applicants in each pot is significant enough such that a valid comparison could not be made. When there is a difference by order of of magnitude then we go further than grade school math.

      If one seamstress applied for and got an h-1b, yes that would mean that 100% of seamstresses who applied were successful. While your grade school math might say 100% is greater than 51% or 28%, it would not be an intelligent interpretation that any seamstress has a higher chance than a fashion model or computer programer now would it?

  5. There is a shortage of good looking women in the US; there is NO shortage of computer programmers. I believe that we should grant fewer H-1B visas for computer programmers, and more H-1B visas for good looking women.

    1. There’s always a “shortage” of what you, personally, want more of – for whatever reason. You’re right that there’s no shortage of computer programers. Thomas Sowell pointed out the other day that there’s no such thing in economics as “needing” more workers, either.

  6. There shouldn’t be any H-1bs given out to computer programmers. We have a extreme shortage of jobs for programmers right now. There is no reason to bring in additional people on H-1b.

  7. H-1B “skilled visas” are almost all used for middle-tech and take middle-class jobs.

    These visas have destabilized the STEM job market and thus crush real innovation. We are already a poorer country due to these greed and foolishly driven visas. Penny wise and pound foolish, to say the least.

    1. Nick,

      You must first ask why only 478 models applied while 325,000 computer programmers applied. This is where the discrepancy is significant and meaningful.

      Even by changing the headline, the blatant disregard for the significance of the raw numbers makes your article seem like a tongue-in-cheek joke.

      If only one model applied and that one model got the H-1B visa, would you really write an article questioning why 100% of models who applied got through?

    2. Must be the mobile version, or maybe cached version, that I am reading because it is still the same, so my last comment is reflective of that. Thank you for making the right call.

  8. This headline is incredibly misleading and wreckless. The IT industry sponsors more workers than any other. 42,501 H-1b visas were granted to just 12 offshore outsourcing providers in 2012. Most were programmers or connected to software development. Then you have L-1 and B visas.

    This is the worst form of journalism. Its industry propoganda. What you should be asking is why industry wants indentured servants and has no real interest in genuine (permanent) immigration. This is almost entirely about labor arbitrage.

  9. All this arguing about the headline, when the real scandal is that there is an H-1B program at all. Unemployment numbers at every skill level are pervasively high. The generation graduating college will have their lifetime earnings capabilities affected by how things have been going for years on end. In fact, 90% of Americans have had stagnant real wages for the last 30 years: http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/economy/middle_class/index.htm

    We don’t need more labor. Period.

    PS – Guest worker programs are the worst way to bring in additional labor. It’s only a boon to the employer – who gets an employee incapable of leaving the sponsoring business.

  10. The author needs to understand conditional probability.

    The probability an applicant will get a visa given they are a dime-a-dozen programmer with a job offer from Microsoft is lower than if they are top model or Nobel Laureate.

    The probability that a company is racist given it has 40 programmers, they are all Swedish and it is located in India, is high.

    The probability that a company is refusing to employ Americans given that a division employs 40 programmers, they are all Indian, and it is located in a country with a million unemployed American programmers is high.

    The probability that a person who testifies before Congress is a barefaced liar given they are a lawyer and work for Microsoft tends to infinity.

    The probability that a person finds Microsoft a “great” company to work for given they are desperate for a Green Card is higher than if they they can tell their manager where to shove it because they are a free agent.

    The probability you will “find” a hijacker “wildly attractive” given they threaten to throw you off the plane is higher than if you have bulletproof vest, a motorcycle helmet, a machine gun and a job with Homeland Security as a bouncer.

    I hope this helps demystify Bayesian Inference a little.

  11. OK, here’s a very easy way to fix the problem: make the salary paid to an H1B worker as some significant raise (e.g., 50%) from the average mid-career (i.e., “senior”) American worker, and for the metro area that is the highest (so here presumably, the Bay Area would be used for computer programmers.) This will ensure that if a highly talented foreign worker is truly needed, the employer will still be able to get him. However, what this will do for the “ordinary” programmer jobs is make it such that employers would essentially be forced to hire the “stupid”, “obsolete” American programmers, as they would be paid the regular pay rate. which would be much less than the H1B rate.

    As an early middle-aged “obsolete”, “unemployable” American programmer, with an H1B system like this in plane, I could get off of welfare and become a taxpayer again.

  12. The author is a complete and utter fool. This is a perfect example of how cheap labor shills use lapdogs in the media to push their agenda through. WHAT IS THE TOTAL NUMBER OF FASHION MODELS GETTING H-1B’S AS OPPOSED TO TECHNOLOGY WORKERS,YOU DUNCE?

    1. The author isn’t very bright, we have determined that much. The whole article is nothing more than shilling for corrupt H-1b outsourcing visas. All her statistics are a joke. It reminds me of when the tobacco industry put out studies showing that smoking cigarettes was good for your health.

  13. NO programmers should be awarded an H-1b outsourcing visa. With unemployment through the roof for programmers, why bring in more on the corrupt H-1b outsourcing visa?

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