Donald Trump has made headlines with his extreme opposition to illegal immigrants who “[take] our jobs” and “our money,” but according to three former models for Donald Trump’s New York-based modeling agency, Trump Model Management, the Republican presidential nominee had no problem with importing them and other models into the U.S. to work illegally on tourist visas.
Canadian-born Rachel Blais has provided Mother Jones with a detailed financial statement from Trump Model Management, and a letter from the immigration lawyer who eventually secured her work visa, that showed a six-month gap between when she started working for the modeling firm in the U.S. and when she received her work visa. Blais only had a tourist visa during her months in New York, she said, but that didn’t stop the agency from employing her for jobs that included an appearance on Trump’s hit reality show, The Apprentice.
Two other former Trump models spoke with Mother Jones anonymously about their experiences, alleging that the agency never obtained work visas for them for their modeling assignments in the U.S. Trump’s agency, the models allege, even coached them on how to fill out customs forms and how to deceive officials about why they were visiting the U.S.
Once in New York, the models said they were crammed into small bedrooms with bunk beds, sharing an apartment with 11 or more other women. Trump Model Management recruited models as young as 14 — one of the former models said she was “by far the oldest in the house at the ripe old age of 18.”
The former models also allege that the agency exploited them financially, charging them exorbitant fees for their cramped housing, as well as for expenses such as trainers, beauty treatments, travel, and administrative costs. Financial statements provided by Blais showed that she was charged nearly $1,600 a month for a room she shared with five others — by comparison, a nearby studio aparment in the same time period was being advertised for only $1,375 month.
The fees charged to the models were high enough that oftentimes it outstripped their pay. Blais’ financial records showed she earned $8,400 from Trump Models for three years of work. Another model, Alicia Palmer, has filed a suit against the agency alleging that she only earned $3,800 for her three years of modeling. Financial statements filed as evidence in the case showed that Palmer also posed for Teen Vogue in January of 2011 — her work visa, on the other hand, was granted in October, 2011. Two other models said they returned home in debt to the agency, still never having received their visas.
Trump’s agency did eventually secure Blais a H-1B visa, a visa that allows workers to be employed in specialized fields — although they did charge her the full cost of the privilege. But Trump has railed against the H-1B program during his campaign for president, promising in March to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.” Trump has added that there would be “no exceptions” to this policy. According to a recent investigation by Politico, Trump’s wife, Melania, may also have worked illegally as a model in the 1990s. Melania has claimed she in fact had an H-1B visa at the time.
Blais, for one, thinks Trump is a hypocrite. “He doesn’t want to let anyone into the U.S. anymore,” she said. “Meanwhile, behind everyone’s back, he’s bringing in all of these girls from all over the world and they’re working illegally.” About her time living in the apartment with her colleagues, one model who declined to be identified said, it “was like a sweatshop” and recalled something that haunts her to this day: the oddly distinct odor she said the bathroom always smelled of.