This Is the 1 Thing We Don’t Know About How Melania Trump Got Her Visa
First lady Melania Trump has been a citizen of the United States since 2006. But recently, news broke that the first lady’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, got green cards and will likely become citizens. (They may even use a family reunification process Donald Trump wants to curtail.) But plenty of questions still remain about how Melania Trump got her visa, obtained a green card, and became an American citizen.
Read on to get the inside story on all the things we know — and don’t know — about how Melania Trump immigrated to the United States.
1. Melania Trump began petitioning for permanent residency in 2000
The Washington Post reports that Melania Knauss began petitioning the government for the right to permanently live in the United States in 2000. At the time, she was still working as a model. And she was either dating (or briefly separated from) Donald Trump. She petitioned for permanent residency under the “elite” EB-1 visa program. This program provides visa for people with “extraordinary ability.”
Next: She applied for a visa often called the ‘Einstein visa.’
2. Melania applied for an ‘Einstein visa’
The Post notes that in March 2001, Melania was granted a green card under the EB-1 program. Experts refer to the EB-1 visa as the “Einstein visa.” The congressmen that defined the program intended it for people such as academic researchers, multinational business executives, Olympic athletes, and Oscar-winning actors.
The Washington Post reports that Melania’s credentials at the time “included runway shows in Europe, a Camel cigarette billboard ad in Times Square and — in her biggest job at the time — a spot in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, which featured her on the beach in a string bikini, hugging a six-foot inflatable whale.”
Next: This program grants very few visas.
3. Very few green cards go to immigrants of ‘extraordinary ability’
As The Washington Post points out, very few green cards issued in the year that Melania obtained hers went to immigrants of “extraordinary ability.” Government statistics indicate that the U.S. issued more than 1 million green cards in 2001. But just 3,376 went to immigrants in that category. (That accounts for just a fraction of 1%.)
Additionally, the year that the future first lady got her legal residency, only five people from Slovenia received green cards under the EB-1 program.
Next: Some experts have raised this question about how Melania immigrated.
4. Some experts have expressed doubts about how Melania got her visa
A few immigration experts have expressed some doubts about how Melania Trump convinced immigration authorities that she qualified for an EB-1 visa. The chairman of the House subcommittee that defined the program said that Melania’s resume in 2001 seems “inconsistent” with the requirements of the visa.
The Post reports that to obtain an EB-1 under the extraordinary ability category, an immigrant has to provide evidence of a major award. Or they have to meet at least three out of 10 criteria. Those include commercial success in the performing arts, work displayed at artistic exhibitions, or evidence of original contributions to a field. The program is so selective that experts say only people in the top 2% of their field would qualify.
Next: She first immigrated on this kind of visa.
5. Melania Trump first came to the U.S. on a tourist visa
Melania first came to the United States from Slovenia in 1996. She briefly had a visitor’s visas. And then she obtained work visas, as the Post explains. Initially, she wasn’t widely known in competitive modeling world. One source who knew her in the 1990s told the Post, “She was never a supermodel; she was a working model — like so many others in New York.”
When Melania began dating Donald Trump, that raised her profile. At the time, she was modeling on a work visa for skilled immigrants. And she received five H1-B visas between October 1996 and 2001.
Next: She may have done this illegally.
6. She may broken immigration law by working on a tourist visa
Vox reports that there are “lingering unanswered questions about Melania’s immigration history — in particular, reporting from November 2016 by Alicia Caldwell of the Associated Press that suggests Melania may have worked illegally while in the United States on a tourist visa.”
AP found documentation that Melania broke immigration law when she first came to the United States. She entered the country on a tourist visa. But then, she began working as a professional model. A tourist visa allows someone to stay in the U.S. for six months. During that time, they can’t seek employment in the U.S.
Next: This group may have misled her about the laws.
7. Melania either committed visa fraud or was misled by her employers
Vox reports that Melania Trump, then Melania Knauss, didn’t enter the U.S. illegally. But if the AP report is correct, she did violate immigration law. “Technically, she violated her tourist visa the minute she engaged in employment for pay in the US. But it’s possible that she didn’t know that.”
Vox notes that Melania arrived on a type of tourist visa for “temporary business visitors.” So it’s “not exactly intuitive” that she wouldn’t be allowed to work. It’s possible that Melania’s agency simply misled her as to the legality of working. But she could have also knowingly committed visa fraud by lying to immigration officials about her intent to work.
Next: Melania would have had to attest to this when she became an American citizen.
8. To become a U.S. citizen, she would have had to attest that she hadn’t broken immigration law
Vox notes that in order for Melania to have gotten a green card and then U.S. citizenship, “she would have had to attest that she hadn’t violated immigration law before.” But if she worked illegally on a visitor’s visa, then she would have misrepresented her immigration history when making that claim.
As Vox notes, the problem isn’t anything Melania Trump did or didn’t do. It’s that “Immigration law is incredibly hard to understand and even harder to comply with.” That applies even if you have all the resources that the Trumps have at their disposal.
Next: She probably played this role in getting her parents their green cards.
9. Melania’s ability to get her green card enabled her to sponsor her parents for immigration, too
The green card that Melania obtained put her on a path to U.S. citizenship. But it also enabled her to sponsor her parents as they applied for green cards, too.
Vox reports that Viktor and Amalija Knavs are likely in the United States on IR-5 visas as parents of an adult U.S. citizen. That means that Melania and her parents used a family reunification policy that Donald Trump has derided as “chain migration” and sought to curtail.
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