Newly published nude photos of Melania Trump have raised questions about the Slovenian-born model’s immigration status when she first came to work in the United States and over the decade before she married Donald Trump.
According to Politico, the existence of the racy photos highlight inconsistencies in the various accounts Trump, 46, has provided over the years about when she first started working in the United States and under which kind of authority.
Immigration experts tell Politico that there’s a slim chance that any misrepresentations she gave to immigration authorities could pose legal troubles for her today.
But the questions also pose potential political problems for her husband, whose presidential candidacy is largely based on cracking down on illegal immigration — including on the type of visa that Melania Trump supposedly had that allowed her to work as a model in the United States, starting in 1996.
But for all the questions that reporters have asked about Melania Trump’s immigration story, the Trump campaign has thus far refused to provide many answers, according to Politico and the Washington Post.
All campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks would say is: “Melania followed the laws and is now a proud United States citizen.”
On Thursday, Melania Trump herself tweeted: “Let me set the record straight. I have at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country. Period.”
Melania Trump’s basic story goes like this: She came to the United States on a legal visa in 1996, got a green card in 2001 and then became a U.S. citizen in 2006.
However, the nude photos of Melania Trump, which were splashed across the cover and inside pages of the New York Post over the weekend, were shot in Manhattan in November or December 1995, according to the photographer. They appeared in the French magazine Max in February 1996. It’s unclear what kind of visa she had when those photos were shot.
If she was in the United States on a visitor’s visa, she wouldn’t be allowed to work. Both the photographer and Max magazine editor told the Washington Post that Melania Trump wasn’t compensated for the shoot; they added it wouldn’t be unusual for a little known model to pose for free in the hope of gaining actual work. It’s not clear, however, if she received any other compensation, such as airfare or lodging.
The Post notes that people who wish to legally immigrate to the United States can be accused of immigration fraud if they come on a visitor’s visa and work, after declaring they have no intention to do so.
Paolo Zampolli, an Italian-born businessman, told the Post he sponsored then-Melania Knaus to come to the United States on an H-1B work visa, starting in 1996. Working models are eligible for an H-1B visa if they can show ” distinguished merit or ability” in their field.
Donald Trump, not so incidentally, has made the H-1B work visa a cornerstone of his immigration crackdown, the Post said. In March, he said he was “totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse. … I will end forever the use of H-IB as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first.”
But other questions around Melania Trump’s possible H-1B visa have also arisen due to interviews she has given in which she describes needing to return to Slovenia every few months to get her visa stamped. She cited her willingness to undertake these trips as a commitment to complying with U.S. immigration law.
Immigration experts are scratching their heads at this assertion because people typically receive H-1B visas for three years and don’t need to periodically return to their home countries. To them, that back-and-forth travel to Slovenia to have her visa stamped would be the actions of someone on a tourist or visitor’s visa.
And again, people with those visas can’t work. If they do, they are potentially engaging in immigration fraud, an attorney told Politico.
It’s also not clear how Melania Trump obtained a green card, described by the Post as the “golden ticket” of the U.S. Immigration system. It allows a foreigner to permanently reside in the United States.
Green cards are usually reserved for people who immigrate from countries that don’t have high immigration rates to the United States, for someone doing a job that no American can fill or for people with “extraordinary ability.” Experts told the Washington Post they doubt that Melania Trump was successful enough in her modeling career to be considered to have “extraordinary ability.”
Another avenue to a green card is through marriage, but Melania Trump said she received her green card in 2001 — four years before she married Donald Trump in a lavish affair at his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach estate.