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New York "Suffering" A Foreign Fashion Model Shortage

Fashion Model
AP
Fashion Model

There's a model shortage in the fashion capital of the world and New York Representative Anthony Weiner is working to right that wrong. Seriously.

Weiner is sponsoring a bill that gives models “of distinguished merit and ability” their own visa classification (P-4 status) which would group them with entertainers and athletes.

Believe it or not (might not be hard to believe for those of you who are critical of our visa policies or ever applied for one yourself), models coming to work in the U.S. compete with high-tech workers for the same type of H1-B visa. The problem is that there are only 85,000 available visas and typically 165,000 applicants. In other words, each visa given to Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell means that one fewer biotech researcher or computer technician can enter the country.

As the competition for visas has gotten tougher in recent years, the number of models granted permission to enter the country has waned. According to Politico.com, ”the government issued between 614 and 790 visas to models in each year between 2000 and 2005. But the number began falling after that, and it was all the way down to 349 in fiscal year 2007.”

So why does Representative Weiner care about this slim piece of immigration reform? Weiner says the lower numbers of foreign models hurts New York commerce. His Brooklyn district and Manhattan receive fewer dollars from industry jobs that would be created by a greater number of shows or fashion shoots.

While some would argue that the current system benefits American models who compete with foreign faces for the same jobs, Weiner says that’s not the case. Advertisers will plan around the desired model’s schedule and move shoots offshore. Even New York City skylines can just be photo shopped into the background of photos taken overseas.

Clearly someone in the fashion industry put the bug in Weiner's ear about this somewhat obscure part of an other serious issue surrounding the number of H1-B visas. No less than Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been lobbying for an increase in the number of H1-B visas in order to get more skilled laborers into the country. The argument is that American industry will benefit from being able to cherry-pick the best of the best workers regardless of country of origin. The technology industry was a key beneficiary of this during the .com era.

Anyhow, the Weiner bill is a sexier slice of the visa issue. My question is whether the catwalk has gotten 'cattier" so to speak as nationality has become a factor. How many fashion shoots happen in the U.S. and NYC these days? It always seems that the slew of Aussie, Brazilian and Eastern European models parading on the pages of Victoria's Secret are actually working in some exotic locale...not Brooklyn.

Seriously, though, how does Weiner plan to distinguish the merit and ability of a model? Does that hurt or help the slew of non-famous Eastern European models who strut the runway at Fashion Week?

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com

Retail

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