Canadian Playboy "playmate" Shera Bechard has reportedly received a visa that the U.S. government typically reserves for "individuals with extraordinary ability" because of her experience with modeling and acting.
Though often referred to as the "genius visa" because one of the qualifications can be winning a Nobel Peace Prize, Bechard's immigration lawyer Chris Wright argues: "There's nothing in those regulations that requires you to be a genius...It's quite condescending to say, 'Oh, the idiot Playboy Playmates, they don't qualify.'"
Named Miss November in 2010, Bechard also started an online photo-sharing craze called "Frisky Friday," where, according to the International Business Times, users upload scantily clad photos on Fridays.
The news is causing quite a stir, with some news sites asking whether Bechard deserves the visa. Reuters, which was one of the first sites to report on the event, is using it as an opportunity to explain immigration law and how difficult legal immigration can be.
As many immigration lawyers see it, the paucity of immigration options for the most entrepreneurial foreigners mean they must use any avenue they can. This approach, along with seeming flexibility in Washington on what constitutes "extraordinary ability," means the O-1 is gaining traction in technology circles. Wider use could ultimately land it in political trouble.
For example, the H-1B visa, which allows employers to hire foreigners temporarily in certain specialized fields like technology, has drawn accusations from union groups and others that companies use it to bring in lower-skilled labor.
The O-1 visa allows individuals of "extraordinary ability" to come to the United States for up to three years, and can be extended. British journalist Piers Morgan used one when he replaced Larry King on his late-night TV show, Wright said.
And unlike the Immigrant Investor Program, where foreign entrepreneurs are required to invest at least $500,000 in the country and create at least ten full-time jobs for American workers, the O-1 "genius" visa reportedly has no such requirements.
But MSN Now argues:
Like the dollar, the notion of "genius" has been seriously devalued — to the point where simply getting naked qualifies. It seems that Canadian-born Shera Bechard, the November 2010 Playmate and former sheetmate of founder Hugh Hefner, managed to land one of those sought-after 0-1 visas the U.S. government grants to "individuals with extraordinary ability." And just what ability qualified her for a so-called genius visa? Well, she posted Playboy's first "Frisky Friday" photo on Twitter, and now women all over are tweeting sexy photos for that cause. Bechard defended her status, saying officials reward applicants with "business skills." [All emphasis added]
Do you think a Playboy playmate deserves the "genius" visa? Should her field of work mean her success is less economically valued, or is this all just an illustration of how absurd our immigration policy has become?
Shera Bechard wrote the following on her Facebook page, roughly 14 hours after sharing the Reuters page saying she had received a "genius" visa:
For the record, I didn't receive a "genius" visa. I'd be the first to admit I'm not a genius. The visa is given to those in the arts, athletics, business & sciences who have extraordinary abilities. You don't have to be a genius to be a good fashion model, actor, baseball player or track and field star. You just have to achieve a certain level of success in your field, which I have done. I took me many months to put the application together - no strings were pulled, no extra cash was paid, no favours done - I got it because I deserved it.