Celebs bend visa lines like Beckham

Via Miami Herald.com

Accommodating U.S. State Department officials bend over backward to grant visas to elite figures in sports, science, arts, education and business.

International soccer star David Beckham and wife Victoria, formerly Posh Spice of the Spice Girls, don’t wait months or years to enter the United States legally.

Beckham’s status, bankroll and his attorney see to that. He receives approval for his visa within two weeks. Accommodating U.S. State Department officials grant him after-hours appointments and have asked him to pose for photos.

As an ”alien of extraordinary ability,” Beckham is eligible for an O-1 work visa reserved for elite figures in sports, science, arts, education and business.

These and companion visas for family and support personnel have no caps on the number who can arrive. Their numbers have more than doubled over the past decade.

Meanwhile, specialty workers with four-year degrees can’t always bend the bureaucracy like Beckham. Demand for visas from these workers, with professions such as computer programming, engineering and
accounting, has surged. But the cap, briefly raised a few years ago, remains at 65,000 — what it was in 1992. The 2007 cap was filled May 26, a record four months before the fiscal year begins.

Currently, Congress is debating whether to increase these visas to help relieve the backlog, as well as granting legal status to some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

Immigration ”law is really geared toward helping the rich and famous,” says David Whitlock, a partner who heads immigration practice at Fisher & Phillips in Atlanta.

Most industrialized countries have an immigrant pecking order, notes Alan Gordon, a Charlotte, N.C.,  immigration lawyer who recently helped a Canadian racing phenom enter the country.


”How did Johnny Depp get to live in France? Did he go through a lottery system?” asks Gordon. “No. It’s because he’s spending money.”

Indeed, countries have always welcomed the elite.

”And maybe rightly so,” says Steve Hader, a lawyer with the Charlotte office of Moore & Van Allen who helped set up Beckham’s upcoming visit to the United States. “Maybe you want the best and the brightest.”

The Beckhams stand to make money on their upcoming summer trip, so they are required to secure work visas, not tourist credentials. He launched a youth soccer academy in Los Angeles last year, with the hope
of identifying talent to compete for U.S. teams on the world stage. Victoria has a fragrance and clothing line ”and still performs,” Hader says.

Some 11,960 esteemed scientists, doctors, musicians, professors, athletes and captains of industry and their family and support personnel arrived in 2005, up more than 145 percent since 1995, according to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Hader has prepared O-1 visas for A-list singers, actors, actresses, scientists and even a celebrity chef. Client confidentiality precludes him from revealing names. Beckham gave the OK because he wants the
press for his academy.

O-1 applicants must be international superstars in their professions. The State Department recognizes Academy Awards, peer adulation, press coverage in ”major newspapers,” and/or ”a high salary . . . in relation to others in the field,” among other factors.

Beckham plays for the Spanish club Real Madrid and is captain of England’s national team in this year’s World Cup. Beckham was memorialized in the 2002 movie Bend It Like Beckham for his signature long kick, with the ball curving in flight. The fact Beckham is married to one of the Spice Girls is an added bonus, or curse, depending on which side of the paparazzi you’re standing.

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