Immigration

A new controversy has emerged in the already-contentious 2016 presidential race -- Donald Trump's wife's visa status in the years when she worked in the U.S. as a model before she became a citizen. For non-Trump supporters, questions surrounding the legality of Melania Trump's visa status have been a hot topic because her husband has made immigration and visa reform a key part of his campaign.

Mrs. Trump's comments regarding the procedures she followed before she reportedly received her green card in 2001 and became a citizen in 2006 have raised questions among those who deal with H-1B visas, which allow foreign citizens to work in the U.S. if they have particular skills or talents. So far, the Trumps haven't provided copies of any of the documentation Melania had to live and work here, so the questions will likely continue even though she says always complied with our immigration laws.

Who Can Get H-1B Visas?

H-1B visas were created by Congress in 1990 to help U.S. businesses bring in highly-skilled people from other countries. Congress also created two unique categories of these visas. One category (O) is for people with "extraordinary ability or achievement." The other (P) is for performers, athletes and artists.

Fashion models weren't mentioned in the original H1-B visa law, but were added in 1991. Therefore, the H1-B visa seems the logical one for Melania Trump when working in the U.S. in the mid-1990s (although there's some dispute about when she started getting paid). However, earlier this year, she was quoted in Harper's Bazaar magazine as saying something that raised questions: "Every few months, you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa. After a few visas, I applied for a green card and got it".

Did Mrs. Trump Have an H1-B Visa?

However, people with H-1B visas don't have to return to their home country "every few months" to get it stamped. It is valid for three years and can be renewed once for another three years. Visa holders seeking a green card can stay beyond that six-year mark.

The legality of Melania Trump's immigration status two decades ago isn't going to change many voters' minds on either side of the political spectrum. However, for foreign workers and employers who hire them, it's essential to know the law and understand what type of visa is required. Immigration attorneys can provide essential guidance.