What Is An "Einstein Visa" And How Did Melania Trump Get One?

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Melania Trump when she was a model

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a piece about First Lady Melania Trump and the sustained questions around how she gained her residency in the United States.

According to the Post, in 2001 she (then known as model Melania Knauss ) obtained a green card through the EB-1 programs, also known as the "Einstein visa." Those who usually qualify for a visa through the EB-1 program have an "extraordinary ability, are an outstanding professor or researcher, or are a multinational executive or manager," according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

At the time, Knauss — who began dating Donald Trump in 1998 — was a fairly successful model: She appeared in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and was on the cover of GQ.

More than 1 million people were granted green cards in 2001 but Knauss, a Slovenian immigrant, was among the 2 percent who qualified for an EB-1 visa, according to the Post.

While it may seem curious that the future first lady received permanent residency through this elite program with her work as a model (a congressman and immigration expert quoted by the Post called her work resume "inconsistent" with someone who would usually qualify for EB-1), William Stock, immediate past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says it's not at all that surprising.

"It's not unusual for models who've received a level of recognition at the beginning of their careers to be recognized for this EB-1 visa," Stock — who does not know the specifics of Trump's case — tells Refinery29. "By the time she got that visa, she'd been on the cover of GQ, which is not something very many models get to do, she had a significant portfolio of work not only in the United States but overseas as well."

Stock explains that the EB-1 visa is not just reserved for professors and scientists, but for people who are at the top of the fields they are in, which "could be modeling, that could be a circus performer, that could be a physicist, that could be a doctor."

Stock says that the level of success Melania Trump achieved in her career at the time she applied is similar to other models who have been granted the EB-1 visa.

"I think the record certainly shows that she achieved success after she got her green card and that's the reason we give people green cards; we want them to achieve that success in the United States and not take it somewhere else," Stock says.

Many have been critical of Melania Trump's pathway to citizenship, given the hardline stance her husband has taken on immigration, including making it harder to get H-1B visas and vowing to end "chain migration" — a process that reportedly put his very own in-laws on the path to full U.S. citizenship.

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