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New York's Foreign Model "Shortage" And Your Emails

Monday, 16 Jun 2008 | 11:57 AM ET
Fashion Show
Fashion Show

Getting more foreign models to walk New York city catwalks is apparently a topic more than a few readers feel passionate about. After reading some of your emails, I decided to post a few responses since they seem to cover a wide array of opinion on this sexy slice of the otherwise serious topic of H1-B visa reform.

The broader issue of overhauling H1-B policies is what fired up reader John Shivdat. He thinks the H1B (visas given to skilled workers and currently also to fashion models) and P-4 (visas given to entertainers) visa issues are separate. The real concern, in his opinion, should not be in fixing this minor part of legislation but instead we should be focusing on recruiting more high tech professionals from within American educational institutions. In his words:

“The industry needs to expand it's search right here in the US. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about high tech professionals, and until our high schools start graduating these folks then we have no choice.”

Some readers were annoyed that I took the time to write about Congressman Weiner’s bill to change foreign models’ visa status. They were more irked that Weiner would take the time out of his legislative schedule to introduce such a bill. Reader Herman So decided to send a letter to Congressman Weiner to say just that:

“your effort can be better spent trying to improve the primary and secondary school education in your district. If you want to rub elbows with Models, I suggest you attend Fashion Week.” Ouch!

Blogger and lawyer Greg Siskind posted a response to my blog on his own site. Greg took issue with my “expert experience” on fashion shoots and says that I ignored the statistics that show that “ten jobs are supported in New York for every foreign fashion model working on a fashion shoot.” I guess Greg thought that I was arguing against Congressman Weiner’s efforts to move models into the P-4 visa ranks. I wasn’t.

So in case other readers had a similar misinterpretation, here’s a quickee clarification. I’ve got no problem grouping models under P-4 status along with entertainers. In fact, it sounds like a good idea. The reason it is a good idea is because it may mean allowing a larger number of technically skilled workers to receive H1-B visas.

Clearly, we need to amend the H1-B visa issue but we should make the models a footnote in the overhaul. Making a “model shortage” a headline issue is frankly creating fodder for opponents of visa overhaul. Weiner would gain more traction with an argument about skilled workers but, I suspect, he recognized that the media loves the sexy headline of model visa reform (as well as tv outlet’s excuse to run video of models!)

In my view the net benefit of giving models P-4 status is not necessarily because it might help uptick the number of fashion shoots in NYC (I haven’t seen any data showing that the lack of foreign models has meant fewer fashion shoots but I’ll humor the premise.) So that’s great if ten jobs are supported in NY for ever foreign fashion model but I suspect that the same number of workers are employed when the model is American… unless of course, you are counting a translator.

Anyhow, please keep posting and writing. I like to engage with readers – it let’s me know you’re out there.

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com