Playboy Playmate Gains “Extraordinary Ability” Visa
Sunday, July 01, 2012
A former Playboy Playmate and ex-girlfriend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has been granted an O-1B “Extraordinary Ability” visa, allowing her to remain in the United States for three years. According to the government, an O-1B visa is for “individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in [the] motion picture or television industry.”
Canadian Shera Bechard was born September 14, 1985, and raised in the small Francophone town of Kapuskasing, Ontario (pop.: 8,196), which is also the hometown of director James Cameron.
Bechard has appeared in one video, The World’s Sexiest Nude Women, one feature-length film, Sweet Karma, and one episode of the TV show Kendra on Top. In the first and third productions, Bechard “played” herself, and although she starred in Sweet Karma, she had no lines because her character was mute. To be fair, a reviewer for the Montreal Gazette wrote that Bechard gave “an emotionally resonant performance,” for which she won a best actress award at the 2009 Fantastic Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Bechard was also Playboy’s “Miss November” in 2010, and is credited with having started the Twitter phenomenon of “Frisky Friday,” in which participating women post risqué, but non-nude, pictures of themselves on Twitter.
To qualify for an O-1B visa, an applicant must have “received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards … such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award.” Although Bechard could not meet that criterion, the rules allow the visa to be granted if an applicant can prove that they have achieved at least three of the following six milestones:
(1) Performance “as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation”;
(2) Achievement of “national or international recognition” for her work;
(3) Performance “in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation”;
(4) “A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes”;
(5) Reception of “significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged”; or
(6) “A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.”
Although it is difficult to understand which three criteria Bechard could have met, numbers (1), (3) and (6) seem most likely, assuming that Playboy has a “distinguished reputation,” and that Bechard is making a lot of money.
Bechard’s attorney, Los Angeles immigration lawyer Chris Wright, who immigrated from South Africa, points out that “There’s nothing in those regulations that requires you to be a genius,” and characterized criticism of Bechard’s visa as sexist: “It’s quite condescending to say, ‘Oh, the idiot Playboy Playmates, they don’t qualify.’”
In her own defense, Bechard wrote on her web site, in a post titled “The Visa Thing,” “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 [sic] 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.”
Nonetheless, aside from demonstrating the importance of retaining skilled legal counsel, Bechard’s visa case also illustrates the class nature of the visa system, which strongly favors immigrants with higher education, business connections, and money. There is even a visa category, the Immigrant Investor Program, or E-2 visa, which allows wealthy immigrants to buy their way into the U.S. by promising to invest a “substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States” which they either own or manage. A far cry from the ideals engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To Learn More:
How Canadian-Born Playboy Playmate behind “Frisky Friday” Qualified for U.S. “Genius” Visa (by Sarah McBride, Reuters)
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