This past Thursday, over 60 models — most from western countries like the United States and European nations — were taken into custody by Chinese officials for working illegally under tourist visas.
A source tells us that Beijing police set up a fake casting at Chinese agency M3 in order to find models who were working illegally. Those who showed up were taken into custody and had their passports and cell phones confiscated.
At the time of reporting, four models were arrested and about another 60 were in custody; most will probably be deported. The models who have been arrested have not been given a release date; our source says the earliest reported date is May 23.
There are also reports of models arrested in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong, who have given out addresses of model apartments in an effort to be cooperative. Our source in China says that models who have not been arrested are advising one another not to open their doors to strangers, not to answer phones and not to turn on the lights in their apartments at night.
Additionally, we hear that officials are stopping any foreigners who look like models in the street and demanding work papers. Models have been advised to hide comp cards while out — if they even go on castings at all, which they have also been advised against. Some agencies have moved their models to Hong Kong, where it is easier to get a work permit, or to hotels where they are to behave as tourists.
Many models frequently find themselves abroad on tourist visas. According to a source at the Model Alliance, a tourist visa is easier to obtain than an entertainment visa, under which models could legally work. Our source in China, who has been there for eight years, explains that China does not have a work visa category specifically for models.
As a result, the process of applying for a work visa requires a greater amount of effort and time — at least two months' worth — on the parts of both the agency and the model. Because of this, agencies ask that models travel under a tourist visa, even going so far as to provide the model with a fake "I'm visiting my friend so-and-so" letter to get it.
The problem is that it is illegal to work under a tourist visa in many countries, including China. And this isn't limited to the Asian market. According to our source at the Model Alliance, many models here in the United States are also working illegally under tourist visas.
China, of course, is an important fashion market. These arrests happened just one day before Michael Kors staged his "Jet Set Experience" runway in Shanghai on May 9; Burberry also staged a runway show there in April.
We will update this story as we receive further information.
H/T: The Business Model