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Marco Werman: The immigration debate is always a hot topic here in the US. Now there's a new and unlikely focus for that debate. Shera Bechard, a former girlfriend of playboy's Hugh Hefner and a former Miss November. She's Canadian and she's just been handed an O-1 work visa by the US government for her extraordinary talent. Chris Wright helped Bechard get her visa. Wright is a Los Angeles immigration lawyer who specializes in work related cases.
Chris Wright: The O-1 visa was designed to allow people who are at the top of their field to come to the US if they have an US employer willing to file a petition for them. It's been mischaracterized as a genius visa. The test in the O-1 is whether or not you have risen to the top of your respective field, whether you have a track record of extraordinary achievement in that field. It's really very uncontroversial for leading models to get visas to come and do work in the modeling industry.
Werman: Doesn't the US government literature on who qualifies for an O-1 visa say that it's individuals with extraordinary ability and for example, somebody who has received an internationally recognized award such as a Nobel prize. Does Ms Bechard fit that description, in your opinion?
Wright: Well she certainly doesn't have a Nobel Prize. Nor did we claim that she does. The point is that's simply not germane to the enquiry. Yes, if one were an engineer, if one were an academic, if one were an AIDS researcher then those sorts of academic-minded prizes become relevant. They're utterly irrelevant. It's simply the wrong question in the context of a model.
Werman: Mr. Wright you're nominally an immigration lawyer. What's your role in these cases including the one of former Miss November, Shera Bechard.
Wright: Typically what will happen is that either individual clients or sometimes their employers will approach us and say, look this is what we're trying to do. We say, here are the O1 criteria and we then sit and we present to the immigration service how we feel that they satisfy those criteria. The notion that somehow these things are easy or that the current administration is improperly lowering standards is again, just an absolute fiction.
Werman: Do you think a researcher looking for a cure for cancer and a former playmate who's looking to further their glamour modeling career should be on the same playing field?
Wright: Yes, in Hollywood it actually matters deeply to the entertainment industry that they have access to the leading people in their field. I find it a little facetious to say, oh well, that's appropriate that a technology company should have access to top foreign talent but somehow a top modeling agency or a top glamour publication shouldn't. That to me seems condescending and prejudiced.
Werman: I mean, you sound like top foreign talent yourself, Chris Wright. Where are you from?
Wright: I actually grew up in South Africa. I came to the States as an accidental immigrant. I came here to visit and ended up staying and being offered a job and getting very much non-glamorous visas. I did this the hard way. I would not characterize myself as being extraordinary talent. What I do is simply try to explain to people how this immigration system works.
Werman: Los Angeles immigration lawyer, Chris Wright, thank you very much for your time.
Wright: Thank you, Sir.