clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump’s modeling agency encouraged models to work illegally on tourist visas

Trump with model walking past
Trump watches the Michael Kors show at Fashion Week in 2005. Trump’s modeling agency reportedly encouraged models to work on tourist visas.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The foundation of Donald Trump’s campaign was railing against unauthorized immigrants. But Mother Jones’s James West reports that Trump cared a lot less about the proper papers for employees at his modeling agency, Trump Model Management, where three former models said they and their peers came to the US on tourist visas and worked illegally.

The models either started working while they were on a tourist visa and hadn’t yet been approved for a visa that would permit them to work — which is illegal — or they never had a work visa at all:

Each of the three former Trump models said she arrived in New York with dreams of making it big in one of the world's most competitive fashion markets. But without work visas, they lived in constant fear of getting caught.

West’s sources make clear that this is pretty standard practice in the modeling industry. So are some of the other unsavory stories about Trump Model Management, including charging exorbitant rates for dormitory-like rooms that eat up nearly all of the models’ earnings.

Trump hasn’t just strongly criticized illegal immigrants but has also proposed criminal penalties for people who overstay their visas and incentives for companies to hire American-born workers.

The question is whether Trump’s voters — who profess to care deeply about immigration — really care about models, many of them white and European, working on tourist visas. Similar revelations that Melania Trump, Trump’s wife, may have worked on a tourist visa during her own days as a model failed to stir up much concern on the right.

That’s because Trump’s supporters aren’t always really as concerned about immigrants’ legal status as about whether those immigrants fit in with American culture. As Dara Lind and Matt Yglesias wrote about the research on people who believe in restricting immigration:

A large share of white Americans … don’t really care about legal status at all. Their evaluation of immigrants focused on other factors. In his experiment asking whether a given immigrant should stay or go, an unauthorized Christian immigrant fared better than a legal Muslim one. An unauthorized immigrant from France fared better than a legal immigrant from Mexico, but an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico fared better than a legal immigrant from Somalia.

Of the three models quoted in the Mother Jones story, one eventually got a work visa, while two left the country. It looks like Trump’s modeling agency definitely broke the rules. But it’s not the kind of violation that many of Trump’s supporters really worry about.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.