China has emerged at the forefront of the fashion conversation with major brands such as Burberry, Dior Homme, and, most recently, Michael Kors hosting blowouts in Shanghai to build their respective presences in the region. Over the past few days, however, the country has earned negative attention after a group of more than sixty foreign models were taken into custody by officials for working illegally under tourist visas (as opposed to obtaining correct Schengen or working permits). Four people were confirmed to have been arrested, and the others will most likely face deportation. The crackdown occurred following a fake casting the Beijing police staged at Chinese agency M3, which presumably represents several of the suspected offenders. Breaking news suggests that additional models have been arrested in Guangzhou after disclosing the addresses of model apartments to authorities in efforts to cooperate. Since then, models have been advised to keep a low profile and avoid walking around in public with their portfolios and comp cards.
All of this speaks to larger problems the model industry faces, and China isn’t the only place where models run into paperwork problems. Here in the U.S., many fresh faces have gotten their big breaks during New York fashion week before having acquired proper working visas. But those types of girls are often placed with major agencies of international repute, which generally go the extra mile to ensure their models are accounted for with appropriate international visas. And so, most likely those indicted models belonged to comparatively shady agencies (that might take a shortcut and opt for easier-to-obtain tourist visas). Many suffer through professional issues, not unlike those depicted in the gripping documentary Girl Model. These are often young Eastern European girls who don’t speak a word of Chinese (or English, for that matter) and are struggling to make ends meet by stringing together jobs and staying in the country longer than their contacted period of time. You’re not about to see someone like Karmen Pedaru getting arrested. Still, these girls should have a voice, too, and it’s organizations like the Model Alliance that are making it a point to educate models about their rights and raise awareness for these issues.