The fashion and design industries employ individuals in various fields of specialization, both in “back office” design and production and “front office” presentation and merchandising, marketing/advertising and sales. Following is an overview of common nonimmigrant and immigrant visa categories allowing employers in these industries to hire and retain foreign talent:
For Design/Production Staff & Marketing/Advertising/Merchandising Staff – Temporary Work Visas:
- For foreign students: F-1 curricular practical training (CPT; on-the-job training that is part of the curriculum; F-1 pre- or post-adjudication optional practical training (OPT; for up to 12 months – very useful for design, and marketing/advertising students)
- For foreign trainees and interns: J-1 intern up to 12 months (for those currently pursuing post-secondary education outside the U.S. or who graduated no more than 12 months ago) OR J-1 trainee up to 18 months (for those with a foreign degree + 1 year of work experience or 5 years of work experience abroad) – run through U.S. Department of State; H-3 Trainee for up to 24 months (for those seeking training that is not available in the home country, and which will benefit the individual’s career abroad) – run through U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
- For degreed professionals (at least U.S. or equivalent foreign bachelor’s degree in a related field): TN U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement professionals in increments of up to 3 years (no max) for enumerated occupations such as Architect or Landscape Architect, Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer and Interior Designer; H-1B1 Chile or Singapore or E-3 Australia professionals in up to 2 years increments (no max); H-1B specialty occupation (most common, might be subject to annual lottery) for up to 6 years max in up to 3-year increments (with exceptions to max based on pending green card process).
- For degreed or non-degreed workers: L-1A intracompany transferee (manager/executive) for up to 7 years; L-1B intracompany transferee (specialized knowledge) for up to 5 years – however, L-1B individuals applying abroad based on the employer’s blanket L petition must be degreed professionals (very common for transferring employees of global fashion enterprises of any size, in design and non-design roles, to apply knowledge of the brands, products and/or processes in the United States).
- For nationally or internationally renowned professionals: O-1 person of extraordinary ability for initially up to 3 years and then in 1-year increments, with the ability evidenced by awards, publications and published material about the individual, and similar evidence such as published design work (very common in the design field).
- Via a commercial treaty between the United States and the country of citizenship of the investor and/or employee – the U.S. business must share that nationality: E-1 treaty trader or E-2 treaty investor, either as the investor or as a managerial or specialist employee (similar to L-1 but no experience with foreign affiliate per se required; document-wise complicated and therefore likely underused; no max, admission in up to 2-year increments with visa stamp permitting travel usually valid for 5 years).
For Fashion Models – Temporary Work Visas:
- H-1B for fashion models of distinguished merit and ability = prominent in the field and coming to work in a position that requires prominence.
- O-1 person of extraordinary ability (this can also be used for support staff such as hair stylists and make-up artists).
Permanent (Green Card) Work Visa Categories for All of the Above, as Feasible:
- For multi-national managers/executives: EB-1-3 (similar to L-1A; no test of the U.S. labor market required).
- For nationally or internationally renowned professionals: EB-1-1 person of extraordinary ability (self-petition possible) or EB-1-2 outstanding researcher/professor in the design or fashion field (both similar to O-1 but higher standard; no test of the U.S. labor market required); EB-2 advanced degree holder or person of exceptional ability + national interest waiver (where the design or fashion work would have substantial merit and national importance – likely challenging for these industries, but not really relevant given the EB-1-1 category; no test of the U.S. labor market required; self-petition possible).
- For those not qualifying under the above: EB-2 advanced degree holder or person of exceptional ability or EB-3 professional or skilled worker PERM application for labor certification = test of the U.S. labor market with U.S. Department of Labor prior to filing petition with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
Immigration counsel can help fashion and design employers and individuals determine what options are feasible, and advise on expected timing and cost.