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September 10, 2011

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Model's fall spotlights women in a shadow

THE death of a young Slovakian woman, who was living and modeling in Shanghai, has raised public attention on the special group of expatriate workers with pretty faces and charming figures – and a shadowy existence.

The 20-year-old was identified as Iveta Kostialova of Stara Tura, Slovakia, sources from her home country told Shanghai Daily yesterday. Police said they had ruled out foul play in the woman's death but did not know why she fell. Sources in her home country, however, said it was a suicide.

She fell from an 18th-floor rented apartment in a downtown residential complex on Xietu Road, landed on the hood of a parked sedan and died in the wee hours of Tuesday.

A news photo showing the damaged car with a dent in the shape of a human body raised the profile of a group of exotic job hunters in Shanghai.

Because of their fresh appearance, the young foreign women, looking for catwalk or catalogue modeling jobs, have gained a foothold in Shanghai, said a veteran local model company agent, who asked to be unidentified.

Some industry insiders also said white girls with blond hair, blue eyes and slim figures, such as from the Eastern European region, were especially welcomed in the local modeling market.

However, many such "foreign models" are less educated and have fewer professional skills than their Chinese counterparts who graduate from modeling schools.

"The foreign girls are mostly young and hardly have modeling experience before coming to Shanghai," said another model agent. "They are accordingly paid less compared to professional Chinese models."

An average professional Chinese model earns 3,000 yuan (US$469) to 5,000 yuan for a catwalk, while the foreign models generally are paid 2,000 yuan to 4,000 yuan for the same job, market insiders said.

After paying commissions to their agents, an average foreign model might earn about 6,000 yuan each month, not enough to save much money.

"We are not granted a baseline salary by the company and only sign a brief work agreement after getting a job from the agent," Emay, a model from the Czech Republic, told a local newspaper in an interview.

The models are also not covered by medical and other forms of social insurance, in part because they are not even working legally.

Since they mostly hold tourist visas, they are not allowed by Chinese law to work in Shanghai.

Foreigners caught illegally working here can be fined and deported.

The current attention has put pressure on some model agencies because their business is operating in "a grey area," said some agents.


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