2016 Elections

Melania Trump, Lucky Immigrant

How did she get that green card, anyway?

Hello, America.

Photographer: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Melania Trump's husband says she is a 10. Would Donald Trump marry a woman who wasn't? The question answers itself. But when she was younger, apparently working as a model in New York, the question is whether the former Melania Knauss was associated with another number -- an H-1B or a B1 or B2 visa, or perhaps some other designation that enabled a single Eastern European woman to earn a living in the U.S.

Melania Trump's personal website was taken down after a minor controversy over her claim that she had received a degree in architecture from the University of Ljubljana in her native Slovenia. It seems she is not actually a college graduate.

So what if she isn't? It might matter because a college degree can be an important credential for someone applying for a visa to work in the U.S. For all the scrutiny of her life style, remarkably little is known about Mrs. Trump's emigration to the U.S. What are the facts of her prior immigration status? How did she obtain a green card, which is no easy feat?  

In April, GQ Magazine reported that Melania Knauss had used a work visa when she came to New York: "Paolo Zampolli, a wealthy Italian whose business interests in New York are broad and vague, brought Melania over on a modeling contract and a work visa."

In an interview in February, Melania Trump made the point that she always followed the immigration rules. 

"I follow the law," Trump said. "I follow a law the way it's supposed to be. I never thought to stay here without papers. I had visa. I travel every few months back to the country, to Slovenia, to stamp the visa. I came back. I applied for the green card. I applied for the citizenship later on after many years of green card. So I went by system. I went by the law, and you should do that."

But there is usually no need to travel back and forth every few months to "stamp the visa."  H-1B work visa holders are generally admitted to the U.S. for a three-year duration. Employers of H-1B visa holders can also petition to extend the holder's stay in the U.S.

A tourist visa is a different matter. Your duration of stay is set by the immigration authorities when you arrive, with a maximum of six months. To keep your status, you would have to leave the U.S. when that period expired. But you generally can't work in the U.S. with a B-2 tourist visa. And repeated lengthy stays in the U.S. on a B-2 visa (which can be valid for multiple entries and 10 years) would tend to raise eyebrows at a U.S. port of entry.

Which visa did Melania Knauss have? If she had a work visa, why was it necessary to travel back and forth every few months to stamp it? If she had a tourist visa, why was she working?

This topic might seem less worthy of investigation if her husband had not waged a lengthy crusade demanding to see various birth and education documents pertaining to President Barack Obama. In addition, the Trump campaign has dedicated itself to the proposition that anyone who has gamed the U.S. immigration system must be dealt with in the harshest terms.

Immigration law is complex and often confounding. There may be an excellent reason for Melania Trump's seemingly untroubled navigation of what, to many visitors, are treacherous legal waters. It would be good to know the answers, however, before she moves into the White House.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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