Act NOW to Defend the Au Pair Program!

by cv harquail on August 30, 2017

We knew it was coming.  

Trump campaigned on promises to “crack down” on “illegals” and to restrict all forms of entry into the US by persons who are not current citizens.

article-0-173A1FFD000005DC-919_634x369We knew that the J-1 visas were in trouble — programs supporting summer camp counselors, summer hotel staff, and — yes — au pairs — were all under scrutiny. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump’s very own hospitality businesses depends on temporary J-1 visa holders. But I digress …

You’ve all likely heard from your Au Pair Agency that the Au Pair program is under threat, right now. 

I’ve seen emails from a few of the Agencies offering detailed ideas about what to do and what to say.

If you care about the Au Pair program continuing, it is time to act. Now.

Although the Au Pair Agencies themselves will be lobbying to protect the program, their interests will be second to the interests of actual American families. Taxpayers, voters, employers. You. Me.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives.

Call — don’t email. Calls matter more than email. Find their phone numbers here.

2. Go visit your Senators’ and Representatives’ local office for an in-person meeting.

While they ask that you schedule a meeting, if you can’t do that just show up in person. Again, even if the elected person is not in the office, his or her staff members will be there.

3. Bring your Au Pair with you to your Senators’ and Representatives’ offices.  

Take some pictures of yourselves and your Au Pair visiting your Senators’ and Representatives’ offices.

4. Make a rukus on Facebook and other social media.  

— Post photos or a sweet, short video, of your family and Au Pair (at your Senator’s office?)  on your Facebook feed.  Request that your extended family and friend group contact their Reps in support of the Au Pair Program.

— Email these photos and videos to your Senators’ and Representatives, as a follow up to your visits, along with words of support for the program.

5. Go ahead and call the White House and the Department of State using talking points supplied by your Agency.
(Here’s a link to the talking points from InterExchange.)

a) White House, Office of Public Liaison: (202) 456-6493
b) State Department, Office of Secretary Tillerson: (202) 647-7234

If you have personal contacts in the State Department, the White House, or anywhere in government, call them!

Do this all NOW — as in, Weds, Thurs, and Friday.

Yes it’s the holiday weekend — but if we cluster our efforts into the next week, it makes a bigger impact.

6. Contact your local newspaper and offer to be the focus of a story about the Au Pair Program.

Local papers need good local material, and compelling stories of Au Pair successes (and yeah, photos of your adorable kids) make good, positive copy. Then, you can send these stories to your Senators and Representatives!

7. Contact your Au Pair Agency!

Most of them are already in gear, lobbying for the program. They have talking points, ideas for how to influence your reps. They are also open to *any* ideas you might have about how to influence on behalf of the Au Pair Program.

Remember — we live in a country with abysmal childcare options. Everything is expensive, very little is flexible. For many of us, having the option of Au Pair childcare is what’s made it possible for us parents to remain employed and contribute to the economy, knowing that our children will be cared for with love.  The Au Pair program makes it possible for many of us to keep our paying jobs.

We’ve had the wonderful experience of trustworthy, personal childcare with the bonuses of a cultural exchange and a close personal relationship with our caregivers.  Let’s make it possible for other American families to have this, too.

Our Au Pairs have had the opportunity to learn about American culture and values first hand, to make international and lifelong relationships, and to support themselves as they’ve grown as global citizens.

Nothing strengthens America’s position in the world as much as real, human relationships that span and connect citizens across the globe.

If you care about the Au Pair program continuing, it is time to act. Now.

 

Let us know what you’ve done, and what you suggest, in the comments below.  I’m getting on the phone right now.

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

TexasHM August 30, 2017 at 11:45 am

CV thanks for posting this. I posted to several FB groups of APs and HFs this morning and called my rep at his DC and TX offices and emailed and called the White House. My senators (as they should be) are tied up with the governor dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the media is focused there too so this is difficult timing for this TexasHM to be heard above the noise, but I am hoping that others further from the devastation can scream louder. Both offices I called did not know what the AP program was so the problem is clear – they don’t understand so let’s educate them! After a few minutes the reactions were all the same – “wow, that sounds amazing and you are right, that is nothing like the other J1 programs”.
The key talking points from Interexchange are good. I focused on that.

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TexasHM August 30, 2017 at 11:54 am

I agree to call for sure, but after I called I also sent emails. ;) This is a good link for that. I edited the form letter to focus on the AP program.

http://cqrcengage.com/alliance-exchange/app/write-a-letter?2&engagementId=389933&fref=gc&dti=114367235578215#.WaXn7QRlJ6s.facebook

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ExAPnowHM August 31, 2017 at 9:39 am

Thanks for this link! I sent it and shared it on my facebook page in the hopes that some of my friends will also send it. We also contacted offices directly.
Having been both AP and HM I am devastated by the idea that this program will come to an end. And without getting political, I think its the dumbest idea ever, like there are no bigger problems to solve.
I am also totally panicking, because we do not really have any other options for childcare. What a nightmare!

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NJ Mama August 30, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Here’s a Wall Street Journal article that ran a few days ago that Interexchange also sent around. I cut and pasted b/c it’s a paid site. I couldn’t bold so here if you don’t want to read all the way through this is the most-concerning paragraph:

“A recent directive to the agency at the State Department responsible for these programs instructs officials to rewrite regulations in a way that would effectively end these five categories of the J-1 visa program, according to an administration official.”

Trump Administration Considering Cuts to Cultural Exchange Visas
Summer work travel, au pair visas under review

By Laura Meckler
Aug. 27, 2017 2:17 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is considering major reductions in cultural exchange programs, including those for au pairs and summer workers, that allow young people from foreign countries to work in the U.S., people familiar with the administration’s planning said.

President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, issued in April, calls for a review of U.S. immigration rules to ensure that the interests of domestic workers are protected. No decisions have been made, but supporters of the program worry changes will be made without a full public debate.

A White House-led interagency working group is particularly focused on five employment-based programs that are part of the J-1 visa exchange visitor program, according to people familiar with the discussion.

“The administration has concerns” about all of the visas that allow for guest workers, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to limit legal and illegal immigration. “But there are particular programs that need more attention because of their size, their effect on the U.S. labor market, and because a significant number of people overstay their visas.”

People familiar with the conversations said the review includes the summer work-travel program, which brings more than 100,000 students to the U.S. each summer, often stationed in tourist destinations such as beach resorts and national parks. It also includes the smaller au pair program, where foreigners live in American homes and provide child care as well as take classes and participate in intercultural exchanges with their host families. Other programs under discussion include those for camp counselors, interns and trainees.

The J-1 visa program also includes 10 other categories that don’t involve work, such as college students, which aren’t under review, people familiar with the talks said.

The visa was instituted by statute, but the individual categories were created by past administrations and could be changed or eliminated by executive action. Some changes might need to go through the regulatory process, which provides an opportunity for public comment.

Options on the table include eliminating these visa classes, as well as imposing new requirements on participants. For instance, employers could be required to show that they couldn’t find Americans for these jobs, as is required for other visa programs, according to the people who are tracking the internal debate.

A recent directive to the agency at the State Department responsible for these programs instructs officials to rewrite regulations in a way that would effectively end these five categories of the J-1 visa program, according to an administration official.
It was unclear whether the intent was to move forward with such a regulation or if the request was aimed at facilitating internal discussion.

A State Department official declined to comment on the debate and referred questions to the White House. “Presently, we continue to implement the J-1 visa programs at the same levels we have for the past few years, and we appreciate the support that American businesses have shown for the program and its value to their local communities,” the official said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had “nothing to announce at this time.”

Supporters view these programs as facilitating cross-cultural exchanges while filling
gaps in the U.S. labor market. They give young people from foreign countries the opportunity to come to the U.S. and gain exposure to American culture and values before returning home.

This month, a bipartisan group of 17 senators wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to express support for the summer work travel program as helpful to both the students and the businesses that use them for seasonal labor needs. A similar letter came in July from 33 members of the House.

“This public diplomacy program has a long track record of success, providing an enriching exchange experience to a diverse pool of college and university students across the globe, including countries key to U.S. national security interests,” the senators wrote.

The program also fills the need for summer workers, said Denise Beckson, director of human resources at Morey’s Piers, which operates amusement park rides and restaurants in Wildwood, N.J. The company has 1,500 summer workers, including 550 from the J-1 program.

“They allow us to have the types of hours and provide the offerings that guests coming for their summer vacation expect to have,” she said. The company hosts such events as country-western night and “Thanksgiving in July.”
Workers have their home countries on their nametags, she said, prompting conversation with customers.

Critics say foreign workers are a source of cheap labor who create unfair competition for American workers. That includes such conservatives as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who want to restrict immigration but also some liberals who worry about the impact on U.S. workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), for instance, singled out the J-1 program for criticism during the 2013 Senate debate over sweeping immigration legislation.

“The J-1 program for foreign college students is supposed to be used as a cultural exchange program, a program to bring young people into this country to learn about our customs and to support international cooperation and understanding,” he said on the Senate floor during a 2013 immigration debate. “But instead of doing that, this program has morphed…into a low-wage jobs program to allow corporations…to replace young American workers with cheaper labor from overseas.”

Supporters of the program plan to mobilize their backers in hopes of blocking changes they see as harmful, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the Alliance for International Exchange, which represents organizations that sponsor these programs.

“These exchange programs enjoy wide support in the House and Senate, among Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “The reason some in the administration have kept this quiet is they understand this is true. Our job is to make sure our supporters are aware of what’s happening and they get engaged.”

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com

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Jess August 30, 2017 at 1:38 pm

So… if the program can be eliminated by “executive action”, as the WSJ article says, what’s the point of lobbying Congress? It doesn’t seem like Trump and his cronies particularly care what Congress thinks. But I’m defnitely not signing up with an au pair agency at this point, since none of them will give you a refund of the agency fee if the government eliminates the program.

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skny August 30, 2017 at 5:20 pm

while i believe the au pair program is needed and worth it, the work and travel option of J1 does hurt the local areas. We live near a touristic area and our young adults, college students, etc cant find employment because the hotels, chains, resorts, etc will hire j1 students to do the job. these workers are paid slightly less than locals, and are not entitled to benefits. Therefore they will be working 50 to 60 hrs a week, while locals have to work 2 or 3 jobs to make a minimum amount of hrs

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Julie August 31, 2017 at 9:08 am

I’d love to see any links you have to support your beliefs. As a host mom who lives in Colorado, not only would j1 visas devastate the ski industry, who cannot staff with locals or college students between October and April, but losing the Au pair program? There are not other flexible choices that allow families like mine to work. More families would chose to forgo working, would pay more for childcare, which would cause them to earn and spend less, effecting local economies or they would chose options that don’t work with their schedule. I have a degree in economics and an MBA, so maybe I just don’t understand, but I’d love to hear where you are getting your numbers from.

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TexasHM August 31, 2017 at 10:42 am

I won’t pretend to understand the full scope of the impact (economic or otherwise) of the J1 visa program but I will say as someone that looked at a local hotel seasonal program for one of my exAPs that wanted to come back for her summer break to be near us that I was concerned about the structure/marketing of that program.

I have no doubt it was great for the hotel, my concern was for the seasonal workers that were not guaranteed any set number of hours (pay $10 an hour) but were required to pay their partner hotel $125 a week for a room they would share with 3 strangers and food and no access to transportation. Doing the math with my exAP (and we live in an area where things are cheap compared to the rest of the country) we could not find a scenario (even with her eating Ramen) where she could make any real money. These same workers are expected to pay all their documentations fees (visas, etc) and airfare ($1000-1200 from where she is). Even if she worked the maximum hours per week and lived on PB&Js and cheap food we couldn’t find a way where she would “make” for her “travel month” more than $200.

Meanwhile the brochure talks about the true immersive American experience, travel the US in the month after you are done etc etc similar to the AP program. I can see why many of those workers return home frustrated and disappointed. I have no idea what it does to the local labor market in my city but it does not seem to me on paper to be set up for success as a cultural exchange program. Handing parkas to tourists for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and spending my free time in a hotel room with 3 other foreigners without transportation with hardly any money to spend doesn’t seem like something I would rave about to my friends back home but maybe I am missing something.

It’s my understanding that a lot of agricultural programs are under J1 as well. Harvesting crops, paying rent and buying my own food and living with other foreign seasonal workers also doesn’t seem to me to be an obvious cultural exchange opportunity so I have to wonder if these are scenarios where companies are using the guise of “cultural exchange” to fill jobs.

It would seem like a ski town would be a better fit but I haven’t seen the details of any of those programs. I have also seen the lifeguard programs and heard about 8-12 people sharing an apartment. I think we would all agree that all of these mentioned are VERY different than the AP program. I argued that the AP program was much more akin to hosting foreign exchange students than seasonal laborers. Like most arguments there is probably some truth on both sides (some probably are abusing it and some probably are absolutely a cultural exchange that should be not categorized here). Just my two cents!

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Julie August 31, 2017 at 11:23 am

Hotel workers are here on H-2B visas, which is what Trump and other hotels use. These are, according to what they are saying, not effected by changes to the j1 visa program. I agree with you that hotels seem to really take advantage of the H-2B visa and could hire local workers. I have friends in New York with a very large farm and they cannot hire enough local American workers. I’ve never heard of J1 visas used for farm workers to any large extent, but Americans need to eat. We don’t get our food if there aren’t enough workers to harvest it.

I agree with you that the au pair program is so unique because it’s not 8 foreign workers in a room; it’s American families welcoming young people who come as strangers and leave as family. I wouldn’t trade my family’s experience for the world (because the au pair program brought the world to us!)

I hope all those who care about the program will use their voices to make calls, sign petitions and write letters. My children are older and if it went away, it would not effect us as much personally. I do feel really sad that our working middle-class families would lose an option that works so well for us and so many young people would lose the opportunity to come to the US and return home with greater perspective and as champions for our country and its people.

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Jeff Urdan August 31, 2017 at 11:08 am

I called
“b) State Department, Office of Secretary Tillerson: (202) 647-7234”
THIS IS THE WRONG NUMBER!!!
A very pleasant young woman answered and said the above phone number is the East Asian and Pacific Bureau of the State Department and has nothing to do with Visas.

She referred me to:
Department Counselor Affairs Business Office 202-485-7675.
A very pleasant young man answered there and he directed me to the White House 202-456-1111.
NOTE: He also confirmed what the Wall Street Journal reported: THERE HAS BEEN NO CHANGE IN POLICY, VISAS ARE STILL BEING ISSUED, THIS IS A REVIEW.

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PacNWHostMom September 1, 2017 at 9:40 am

I’m not going to touch on the childcare issue because we already know our options are so very limited and why this program is so valuable to many of us working families.
I think it’s also important to remember how much money goes back into the economy because we bring in AuPairs. For us, we purchased another vehicle (that needs maintenance, fuel etc.) driver’s license, insurance, they pay Income Tax, they travel in the US for 1 month and 2 weeks (HELLO tourism), we purchase extra food and airline tickets, pay for education in our community, and man do they shop. Our AuPairs hit up ALL the fun tourist activities in our state, year round.
They DO bring money back into our local areas and into tourism across the US and I think highlighting that they contribute to the economy and pay income taxes is very important. If we hired a nanny, much of that would not be going back into the economy in the same way.
There’s one area I haven’t seen mentioned yet, as to why these AuPairs can be so valuable. They immerse themselves in the American culture and get to know our values. They watch devastation on TV like Harvey and see us all come together to help. Now, more than ever, we need Ambassadors for the US that can go back to their country and speak about who Americans really are, and what America is really about. Not what or who the media spins us to be. These young men and women are the next generation of changemakers in their home countries, and who better to help advocate for our great nation?
Yes, we have great talking points about the program from the Agencies, but there is a lot more to it and a lot more at stake.
I’m so thankful that this blog has provided more talking points and more avenues, as it came through just as I was about to email our representative. I know for us, we can’t get into our local reps for nearly 1 month.
I will be trying to make a visit in-person today, along with calling and emailing and engaging all of my former APs and my current along with family and friends to educate our representatives as to why this is such an amazing program. Best of luck to us all.

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Julie September 1, 2017 at 10:35 am

Love, love, love this comment. Thank you, PacNWHostMom!!

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ExAPnowHM September 1, 2017 at 11:14 am
JLJ September 1, 2017 at 3:41 pm

I just called my senators and congressman and followed up with emails. CCAP sent a link to this petition that I don’t think anyone else here posted yet. Please, please, please, sign the petition and if you are on facebook or twitter (I’m not), please consider posting there. https://www.change.org/p/donald-trump-save-the-j1-visa-cultural-exchange-program?recruiter=768829528&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink

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NY_Westchester_Mom September 1, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Here is a pretty convincing summary of why the value of the au pair program should not be overlooked by Trump. There are many other hidden expenses such as the $500 education $, paying for the AP’s phone & data bills to a US phone company, membership to gyms, train tickets in the city, etc etc that aren’t cited in the below but add up over time, all of which go back to the U.S. economy….”

Read this powerful letter written by a fellow host mom in the J-1 au pair program Trump wants to eliminate. It’s worth the long read:
Credit: Katie Deering
Sent to President@whitehouse.gov with cc to jvisas@state.gov:

“President Trump,
I understand the J-1 Visa program is under review as part of your “Hire American” campaign. I have been hosting au pairs for over 9 years and I think there is a misunderstanding on how canceling this program will impact US workers and the US economy. Let me explain… I spend $20k/year on the program. This breaks down as follows:

1. $8K per year to the US agency that run the program
2. $10K per year to my au pair for her taxable stipend
3. $2K per year to my auto insurance so she can drive in the US

On Point #1- the agency I contract with is a US company headquartered in Massachusetts. It has hundreds of employees who are US citizens. If the program goes away, so do their jobs. Part of the $8K I spend on them covers the au pair’s flight to the US, which is booked through a US Travel agency employing US citizens. Another part of that fee pays for the au pair’s health insurance, also run by a US company.

On Point #2- of the $10K per year I pay to my au pair, virtually none of that leaves the US. Au pairs are between the ages of 18-27. They spend that money dining out (au pairs LOVE the Cheesecake Factory), going to concerts and movies, and traveling around the country. The State Department enables au pairs to spend a 13th month in the US traveling. I live on the east coast, so all of my au pairs have used their 13th month to visit the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Las Vegas and other sites out west. None of my au pairs has left the country with more than a few hundred dollars on them so their entire stipend goes right back to the US economy.

Additionally, every one of my au pairs has had overseas family and friends visit during their year in the US. The families come and travel across the US spending thousands of dollars on trips they never would have taken had their child not been in the US.

On Point #3- Liberty Mutual loves me. They get to charge me outrageous premiums for car insurance because I have a 19 year-old on my policy. Obviously, this goes away without an au pair program.

I realize the thought here is that if I do not have an au pair, I will hire a US Nanny.

That is incorrect. What will I do? My husband and I will rearrange our work schedules so we can alternate dropping the kids off at school. I will have my kids take the bus to their grandparents after school where they can do homework until it’s time for their sport practice, which they can walk to. I will be forced to quit my volunteer activities because I will not have someone to watch my kids. I will not be able to coach my kids’ sports teams because I will need to shuttle them to two different places for practice instead of coaching one while my au pair drives the other. This will result in less kids being able to play sports since our leagues don’t have enough coaches and have to turn kids away each year. Will anyone benefit?

Sure- the teenage babysitter down the street. He will probably earn $1,000 from me in any given year. Does he need that money? Nope- both of his parents are gainfully employed as attorneys. Will he pay taxes on that money? Take a wild guess.

I participate in the au pair program because it is an amazing cultural experience for my au pair and for my children, who are fluent in German thanks to the 10 au pairs we have hosted. My first au pair married a US service member she met in Germany after returning from her year with us. The majority of my au pairs have spent thousands of dollars returning to the US after their year to visit with us and to travel more around the country they grew to love during their year here.

Canceling or limiting the J-1 Au Pair visa will not accomplish your goals for “Hire American”. Instead it will cost thousands of American jobs in the various US industries that benefit from the $20k/year I spend on this program.

Thank you for your time,
Katie Deering”

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VeneHM September 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm

The “taxes paid by local babysitters” mentioned in this letter is a good point. We started looking at the program after months trying to find a babysitter that met our requirements and who would be willing to let us declare we were paying them as a household employee (and paying our portion of unemployment taxes) – even if we offered to pay for theirs, so the “wild guess” is a generous statement.
And I’d take the “re-arrange my schedule” statement further – at a minimum, my productivity would suffer, if I didn’t need to start working part-time or altogether.

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Dorsi September 4, 2017 at 5:56 pm

I did call my rep and senator and left messages. I strongly support (obviously) the program, and would love to see it uncoupled from temporary guest workers)

This is the thing I think many people have heard about J-1 visas – there was a big series about 5 years ago, including lawsuits about Hershey’s. It’s a shame that this is allowed and falls under the same umbrella. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/18immig.html?mcubz=0

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2 kids and a cat September 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm

J-1 is for cultural and trade exchanges. So, Disney has a lot of them (for example at Epcot and in their hotels, so long as they are learning information about a trade). Post-docs at universities are also J-1s. Hershey must have been billing their program as some sort of apprenticeship to qualify to be a J-1 sponsor.
Graduate students have also recently tried to unionize, saying their stipends keep them working under minimum wage. But they get tuition remission, which is worth $$$. It’s true that stipend-based situations can be variable, and some exploitative.
H1Bs are for established professionals (a “2” visa is actually for a spouse/dependent, and allows someone to be here but not to work in any capacity), are very expensive, and there are quotas that are in some cases backlogged years and years.

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