Extending Legally, Without an Agency: Ideas?

by cv harquail on April 25, 2010

We would like advice on how to extend with out au pair legally, but by using a lawyer instead of going through our current agency.

We want to disconnect from our agency, gently.

To put it mildly, our experience with our agency & LCC has been a great disappointment. They are the only agency that serves our state (or so we’ve been told), but their service has been so poor that we do not want to give them our extension business. That said, we don’t want to burn our bridges with this company either (if they are indeed the only agency we can use) as we’ll need/want more au pairs in the future.


And, our terrific au pair doesn’t want to extend if it means having to go with this agency and with this LLC. (Yes, it has been that bad!)

Protecting Our Au Pair’s Interests

We have done our best to make sure that, if we go without an agency, that our au pair will be albe to get the services she might need. For example, our au pair has access to a licensed psychologist/counselor and an attorney (that already have retainers with if she ever felt she wanted their services – and they’re not people we use – so she feels confident in confidence).

She’s made lots of friends (even has a sweetheart who we adore), she’s utilized the medical system here…she has a car, cell phone and laptop at her disposal…and we’ve all agreed that if we go without an agency to have a legal contract….so we know that she (and we) will be protected and looked after. If she ever felt taken advantage of (or ever felt threatened), she has families she can turn to and the means in which to get help.

How Can We Make It Legal?

Rather than pay an extension fee to an agency that has been absolutely no help to either our au pair or to us, we’d rather pay for an attorney to draw up the necessary documents. And, we’d rather use what would remain after paying an attorney to pay our au pair more or use those funds to pay for experiences where she can see the US.

Based upon what we’ve read on the US State Department site, it appears that the paperwork can be handled by a private attorney and her application can be transferred from our agency. Beyond that it all becomes a gray area. We’ve phoned and emailed the State Department but cannot get anyone to call us back!

Do any host families out there have experience with this? Any thoughts or advice would be welcome!

Farmland Host Mom,

It seems to me that there has to be a way to make this work…

I’m imagining that host families who move out of the ‘coverage area’ of a given agency have needed to redraw their agreements to meet State Dept. regulations and keep their au pairs, and that the process for this might be something you could follow.

Also, it might be possible for one of the AuPair matching sites to be your legal intermediary at a significantly reduced cost. (I now that there are several matching site owners who read AuPairMom, so you all might want to jump in here…).

And, there may even be someone with experience doing exactly what you have in mind!

Let’s hope so– parents, lawyers, please weigh in…

Image:  Disconnected from bondidwhat


Dorsi April 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm

My understanding is that to be an J-1 visa as an AP you must work with an agency. There are only 12 such agencies (per the State Dept web page). The agency must be local (this is also taken from the Dept. of State regs):

(5) Require that the au pair participant is placed with a host family within one hour’s driving time of the home of the local organizational representative authorized to act on the sponsor’s behalf in both routine and emergency matters arising from the au pair’s participation in their exchange program;

So, if you are going to extend legally, you cannot do it on the same type of visa. I don’t believe there are other types of visas which allow a person to perform unskilled labor in the United States (I really can’t back this up with a source). You will need to work with an immigration attorney to explore your options for the types of visas available. I know Taking a Computer Lunch has written about her attempt to sponsor an Au Pair as a skilled employee (if I recall correctly, the AP was trained as a pediatric nurse) — and the process was long and cumbersome — and probably not relevant to your situation. There are multiple threads on this site about the difficulty of trying to help your AP obtain a student visa and that they would not legally be able to provide childcare.

Angie April 26, 2010 at 2:02 am

I’m struggling to figure out what service could be so bad that you would want to cut them out for the extension but not so bad that you would use them again for your next au pair.

I wouldn’t try this for a lot of reasons. My contract with the agency itself explicitly forbids it and I expect they would have little trouble winning a judgment in small claims court in the amount of the extension fees if I cut them out. Also, what is she going to do about health insurance? Free clinics?

If you think you can do this and want to your next step is to hire the attorney you want to spend the money on drawing up papers to figure out what papers you want him or her to draw up.

Good luck. Me, I’d just extend with the agency and ignore the local coordinator – it’s what I did when we had a really really bad one. If we really needed anything we called the head office. It worked, and the local coordinator was gone within the extension year anyway.

Calif Mom April 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

it can be really hard to ignore a terrible counselor. They know where you live and have all your contact info. I empathize with Farmland’s impetus. Also agree that catastrophic health insurance issue coverage is critical.

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I don’t think it is so hard to ignore the LCC. Most of us have voice mail at home and at the office. We also have called ID. Since most of these LCCs are pretty lazy, never call the host parents , and never have meetings, it doesn’t seem like it would be an impossible task to blow her off.

aupairchildcare April 27, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Please do not say that most LCC’s are pretty lazy. I am an LCC and I am not lazy. I do everything I can to make sure the au pairs and host families have a great year together. As LCC’s or counselors we often get calls on weekends or evenings with “issues” that need to be resolved. I for one, will answer a call at any time during the day or night because I feel like I am responsible for these girls. I am sorry you have had a bad experience and if you are truely unhappy I would contact the corporate office and ask to speak with her/his manager. You deserve good support and the LCC is suppose to be having monthly meetings and contacting you monthly.
Good luck.

Calif Mom April 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Apologies for venting about bad counselors, but I didn’t say they are ALL terrible. In fact, our first one was fantastic and I still consider her a family friend and in fact, ask her advice on occasion. But they split her region, and we were assigned to a bozo who drives host families as well as the APs in her charge just crazy. And she is hard to ignore.

Yes, I can refuse to return her calls or emails, but the cringe factor is very annoying. I don’t want to be reminded of her when I see my caller ID or see her name in my inbox.

MomEsq April 26, 2010 at 2:42 am

Even if there was a legal way to accomplish this (which may not exist) from the Host Parents site, consider the legal ramifications for the AP and her/his *existing* contract with the agency. It may contain a clause prohibiting this or similar activities (AP switching agencies).

Taking a computer lunch April 26, 2010 at 7:12 am

It is very hard to sponsor an au pair as an employer. Sponsoring “domestic labor” is at the bottom of Homeland Security’s priorities. The procedure is this:

1) hire and pay a lawyer who specializes in immigration and knows the procedures, he’ll negotiate with the U.S. Department of Labor on the minimum wage for a domestic employee who receives room and board

2) Place an advertisement in a local paper seeking employees because you have to justify why your candidate is better than all the other ones out there – requiring an American driver’s license weeds out a lot of potential applicants, believe it or not

3) File with the U.S. Department of Labor to review the application to sponsor your au pair – warning – this can take over 4 years, during which time your former au pair is NOT free to live the country and return, UNLESS she is on another visa (e.g. student visa, which is what we ended up doing when we went through this)

4) After the U.S. Department of Labor reviews and appproves your application to sponsor, then you can proceed to Homeland Security for their review. We never got this far.

Our former AP, who had been a pediatric intensive care nurse in her home country, was ready to move on after 3 1/2 years with our family. We continued to act as her sponsor for her student visa until she had completed nearly 100 credit hours a junior college, and then we told her to find another sponsor (since it was clear to us she was taking advantage of the situation to be a permanent student).

My advice, put up with the bad LCC if the au pair is fantastic. She’ll have no hold over your AP during her second year, and if she’s really making your life miserable, then complain to the head office. My guess with this economy, they don’t want to lose HF over a bad LCC. You can always switch agencies for the next fantastic AP to come your way…

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 8:49 am

I am wondering what you mean when you say that the LCC will be irrelevant in the extension year . This would be fine if their are no problems but I have heard of circumstances changing in the second year and not always remaining great. If the LCC has no influnence in the extension year, how about host parents ?
This is one thing that concerns me alot about extensions. Don’ t the rules about meetings , education, and driving, etc. still apply?

HRHM April 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Except in the case where the AP is trying to get a deposit back, there is no impetus for her to attend meetings, take classes or anything else that is “required” in her second year. The motivation to do so in the first year is to be allowed to extend.

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

This is good to know. Are you sure an aupair cannot be dropped from the program if she doesn’t go to class and attend meetings in the second year. And, if that were to happen , would the host family get a refund ? Or would we get into one of those endless loops ?

MommyMia April 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm

In our experience (4 AuPairs) there have never been any consequences for not attending meetings, and if they are even considering extending, it’s very easy to quickly pick up any old community college class to fulfill the education requirement at some point, since the agency is so flexible in what they may take. One of our LCC’s favorite APs excelled at a certain sport in her home country, so she took a PE class in that sport and that counted – easy “A”, too (not that grades count). I don’t think host familes ever get a refund with our agency, rather they get some sort of pro-rated invoice credited toward their next AP–tough luck if they decide not to continue!

Taking a computer lunch April 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

In my experience, once an au pair receives a bonus for completing her year, the LCC and State Department regs hold little sway. Either your au pair continues to follow the rules, because she’s interested in the bigger picture of being an au pair and continuing to develop her English — or she doesn’t because her extension is for other reasons (like the boyfriend she doesn’t want to leave). There’s no agency bonus for fulfilling contractual duties in the extension period. I’ve had au pairs who continued to go to meetings, and I’ve had those who barely went to them in the first year and stopped completely in the second.

I’ve never had a problem with the au pair performing the tasks I have asked her to do. If I had thought there would be a problem, then I wouldn’t have asked her to extend. In fact, I’ve had absolutely fabulous experiences with APs in their extension period, in part because they know the kids so well.

Anna April 26, 2010 at 8:14 am

I don’t think there is legal way to extend without an agency.

However, I recently found out, that it is very easy to extend for the second year with your au pair and with a DIFFERENT agency. So you can switch agencies for the next year and keep the same au pair.

I think you have to thoroughly check every other agency for presence in your state. If the info about “the only agency in the state” came from your old agency, I would take it with a grain of salt. Also, many agencies are expanding or interested in expanding, they might hire a coordinator in your area for you, or if you are able to recruit a handful of other families for them. Also, you can offer to become an LCC with another agency solely for your au pair yourself and maybe offer to do it for free (if things are that bad!), and switch to another agency that way.
Florida agency Expert Au Pair is expanding now from Florida to other areas, and they are small, some of their new clusters have just several au pairs, give them a call they might be willing.

KM July 13, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I talked to our agency about au pairs switching agencies when they extend. Our agency explained that some visa categories do not allow transfer to other programs. The J1 au pair visa cannot be transferred to another au pair sponsor. However, au pairs who repeat (after two year break) the au pair program may apply with a different agency.

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 8:43 am

I seriously doubt that the State Department would allow you to serve as an LCC for you own aupair and no agency would be willing to risk their standing with the State Department just for your sake.
It wouldn’t be fair to an aupair to have her own family act as a LCC. It has always been unethical for anyone to act as an LCC to their own friends. I agree with the above post. You cannot eat your cake and have it , too , unless you can switch agencies. That is a fabulous idea ! I would love to hear more about that for your sake and my own interest . Good luck !

KM July 13, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Discussed this with our agency. The State Department would consider it a conflict of interest if you were the LCC for your au pair. Furthermore, it would be considered a conflict of interest if a close relative was the LCC for your au pair.

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

I tried very hard to do this. I’m an attorney myself, and attempted to work with an immigration attorney to keep my current AP without renewing with the agency. Like you, we had a terrible experience with our agency and especially with our LCC. Unfortunately, it seems this is impossible to do without crossing over in to some grey areas of questionable legality – something I was unwilling to do.

We extended with the agency as much as I hated doing it. I did make contact with the corporate office to make it very clear that I would not be communicating with our LCC, and that my communication would go through our regional coordinator. That worked fine, and we had very little contact with our LCC during AP’s second year. That second year is nearly over, and we have already switched agencies for our next AP.

Anna April 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

Ok to answer the point in the post about how when host families move out of the agency service area and keep their au pairs – they don’t . They cannot keep the au pair if they move out of the agency service area.

cv harquail April 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I didn’t know this! What a drag — who’d want to have to lose an au pair or ‘go illegal’ during the family stress of a move!

PH April 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Maybe you should consider becoming an LLC for this or another agency.
That could potentially solve the problem. Just a thought.
Otherwise the only way I can think of is to sponsor her for an H1-B visa. She can also enroll as a student if she wants to stay in the US, that would give her an F-1 student visa. However, my understanding is that she would only be allowed to work on-campus with that kind of visa.
Good luck.

Should be working April 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Related question: We are moving abroad for a year, starting in a few months, around when AP’s term expires. We are considering taking our AP with us, and this would eliminate the agency (because we wouldn’t be in the US). She can use her parents’ health insurance (it’s all EU countries). Not sure if I’m missing any of the ramifications with this arrangement. Comments?

Dorsi April 26, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I might worry about her social isolation — without being forced to take classes, and the dreaded cluster meetings, it would be much harder to integrate into your community.

sunnyvah April 27, 2010 at 8:35 am

I´ve been an au pair in Ireland without an agency and I found loads of au pairs. There was a regular meeting in a pub every wednesday- organized through the internet. I didn´t take any classes, but I know that some au pairs did that.

And community in sense of meeting people from that country- I´ve met more Irish people than american people simply because I had a great HF (with great extended family and nice neighbors). Whereas I didn´t get any contact to the americans in my college class… (I think its was because they couldn´t understand my life- its boring for an 18-19yrs old student to talk about your life with young children- and that´s a big part of an au pairs life).
So don´t worry about the social aspect.

But I´d say you should have a real contract which regulates both sides rights and duties, because there is always the possibility of one side being exploited. I know quite some au pairs who worked under real bad conditions and families where the au pair left over night or never appeared.

Anonymous April 28, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Why do you say the cluster meetings are dreaded ? I know many LCCs don’t bother to have meetings but when they do , don’t the girls like to go ? It seems to me that the aupairs enjoy the chance to meet up with other aupairs . No?

Previous au pair April 28, 2010 at 11:13 pm

when I was an aupair and with an agency I enjoyed meeting other people at the functions our agency would organise every few months as you met lots of different au pairs from all over the world. However most of my friends who were au pairs actually werent from an agency and from an au pair group on facebook. Every week we would plan something like going to the beach for the day, cafe night, movie nights etc. Although the functions by the agency were good they werent very frequent.

HRHM April 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

2 of my 3 APs have hated the meetings. They don’t like having to use their free time to do activities dicated by someone else. The previous one didn’t like most the girls in the cluster because they were “too much like womens” (ie not interested in hard partying) and the current one feels the opposite (they are too immature and only interested in partying). They also resent having to spend their money on activities they aren’t interested in (football games, build-a-bear workshop, military history cruise, etc) All my APs found friends outside their clusters without difficulty.

Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 7:34 pm

How about changing her visa to a full time student? She could take some courses and you would the sponsor.

Jill April 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm

The only ramifications for the au pair if she did not go to meetings or meet her educational requirements during her 2nd year is that the agency can choose to not pay her return flight. She is in breech of her contract and her J1 visa. This can also give her problems if she wants to apply for any other type of visa in the future or if she wanted to come back as an au pair in a few years.
I would just deal with the current agency. I would imagine that in the long run the hassle would be much less than spending countless hours and money to find an alternative. I think you should tell the agency that you have issues with your current LCC. My agency conducts satisfaction surveys twice a year as a way to hear the HF concerns. Does yours?

KM April 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I do not believe an au pair who wants to extend can switch agencies. They can switch families, but not the sponsoring agency. Host families can contact the agency and request a new LCC. It would probably be a good idea to have specific reasons for wanting to change. How would an agency know if an LCC is performing poorly without feedback from host families? Does your agency provide you with a survey at the end of the program year or at any other time during the program year? If so, this would be a venue to rate the LCC.

As for switching to student status. . .I believe the student visa requires a full load of classes, perhaps 12 to 15 credit hours. The au pair must maintain passing grades. The au pair’s focus moves toward studying and suddenly child care is a lower priority. There could be schedule conflicts between class times and au pair on-duty times. The result could be rearranging your schedule to accommodate the au pair’s class/study/exam schedule.

Are there other host families using the same LCC? Do they have a similar point of view about the LCC? Have you thought about LCC exchange? In other words someone become the LCC for you in exchange for you becoming the LCC for them.

It will be extremely difficult to get any other type of domestic visa for your au pair. The domestic economic climate would not weigh in your favor.

Also, think of your au pair. Working and/or living outside the program may place her in a vulnerable situation. What would be your legal liability if she were hurt or the victim of a crime or involved in an auto accident or. . . . . .

Good luck and hope it all works out. . .whatever you decide to do.

Anna April 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

KM, I was very suprised to find out this year that indeed an au pair can switch agencies when extending for another year. I have it from my agency local coordinator, and also some of my au pair’s friends have done it.

MAmama April 28, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Lots of posts on a good subject. I have to weigh in and say that if you feel you are dealing with a poor coordinator, you should 100% contact your agency and let them know. In my experience, the company is often only as good as the LCC, so they have a lot of interest in having good local staff. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made an effort to get someone better in your area or offer to switch you to a different coordinator. In terms of other visas, there are only a few options.

H1-B – this is an employer sponsored visa and virtually impossible to get unless the person will be doing a very specialized job (think engineers, etc.) Would definitely require the support of an immigration attorney
F-1 – this is a full-time student visa. The au pair would need to apply and get into a local school and carry a full-time course load. The school generally requires documentation of the ability to pay (which can be provided by the HF). The student can work, but it needs to be in a field related to her field of study and there’s a limit to the number of hours (I think 20 or less?)
Tourist visa – I had an au pair switch to a tourist visa at the end of her year with us. We did not keep her as an au pair, but she went on to work as an illegal nanny. She eventually married an American, so all sins were forgiven. The tourist visa is relatively easy to obtain, but of course, she would not be able to work legally. She was present in the US legally, but not working legally, if you see my point. There is a request for a change of status form that can be obtained through the DOS website. Also, while the determination is made to grant the change of status, the person is still legally residing in the US. If the change is denied, they have a 30 day period in which to leave the country.

I hope that is helpful. Again, I cna’t emphasize enough how important it is to contact your agency to discuss your concerns about the coordinator – my guess is that they will make an effort to change your experience with their prorgam.

Another Aussie Aupair April 29, 2010 at 9:53 am

I’m curious about the options for staying (as an au pair) after 2 years, when you can no longer be on a J1 visa. Are there any legal options for that at all??

Taking a computer lunch April 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

The “easiest” legal option may be to enroll in a college or university and switch to a student visa. I put easy in quotation marks, because it takes a sponsor, their monetary commitment, and an enormous investment of time on your part.

First, you need to find someone to sponsor your studies, assuming that neither your nor your parents have the funds to support your stay in the United States. It can be a huge financial commitment for a family – we funded our first au pairs years in a community college – it cost us over $11,000 the first year (2002), but then eased back to about $3,000 a year afterward (we paid through the end of 2004). Most colleges and universities do not honor in-county or in-state tuition for foreign students, but a few do. Our local community college did after one full year of study.

Then, our former au pair had to enroll in college and pass the courses she took. She was required to be a full-time student, which was 12 credit hours. She was not required to go to summer school by the visa.

We continued to pay her au pair salary, provide and maintain a car, and provide a cell phone. She worked full-time most of the time she was with us, although we did enroll our son in preschool when he was 3 (mostly for his socialization for 25 hours per week). It left her with precious little free time.

I can’t tell you how broke we were the first year we sponsored her as a student – we paid over $21,000 in salary, college tuition and fees, but she was a great au pair and we were trying to sponsor her as an employer to care for our special needs child and typical child.

There may be other legal options, which you should pursue through your embassy or through an immigration lawyer. If you don’t have a legal option to extend and attempt to stay in the United States, understand that your au pair agency is required by law to report your failure to leave the country to Homeland Security.

HRHM May 10, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Also take note that this is not technically a legal option as people on a F-1 visa are only allowed to work up to twenty hours per week ON CAMPUS (ie work-study) and are not allowed to do other paid work. So not legally allowed to continue to be a paid AP/nanny.

cna training May 3, 2010 at 12:13 am

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RD Au Pair International May 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I am a Regional Director for an au pair agency, and I agree with the people who say that you should contact the agency with your concerns. The LCC is the local eyes and ears for the company, and if she is not supporting you, then she is probably not supporting the rest of the families in your area. That is a quick way to have a lot of problems in an area and lose a lot of families. Personally, I would much rather find out that an coordinator is not working early and either work with that coordinator to be sucessful or get a new one than after everyone is upset and the regulations are not being met. If your company doesn’t respond, then you know that they are not the right company for you.

I would also make sure that there isn’t another company in your state. I know that my agency is expanding into many different areas and open to expanding into others. You should not feel held hostage by your location.

KM July 13, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Yikes! We just heard about a family that arranged for an au pair to come to the U.S. on a tourist visa. They wanted the au pair for 8 weeks during the summer. The family bought the au pair’s ticket. Au pair landed in U.S. and was immediately deported!

MommyMia August 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I agree with Johnny, because unless the au pair was really, really dumb (and then I don’t think I would have wanted her caring for my kids anyway!) she should have known or been told to tell Immigration that she was visiting friends on summer vacation. If she said she was there to work, of course she was sent home, and rightly so! I’m not saying it’s OK to be dishonest, and would never condone this, but if neither she nor the family were familiar with US Immigration laws, they got what they deserved! There’s a good reason why the au pair visas are set up the way the are, and agencies are free to apply and be added to the list (I know one who is currently attempting to fill what they see as a specialized niche for families needing experience with special needs – TACL, might be of interest to you?!). But realistically, the market will only bear so much competition, as there is a limit to how many families need au pairs at any given time.

JohnnyCultural August 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm

KM – LOL! that sound straight out of urban legend – seemed like it will be easier to get an AuPair from “Arizona”…

For everyone else what about Q-1 visa? This cannot be that hard to accomplish. This is the best rip off to American families it seemed – limited to 13 ‘agencies’ what happened to antitrust?

raiza October 2, 2010 at 5:48 pm


I am from Philippines and I already have a host family which I personally know that’s why we don’t want to engage ourselves to agencies because it will cost a lot. I would like to ask what would be the best way to do? Is it possible? Thanks. :)

Dorsi October 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

It is not possible to come to the United States legally as an Au Pair unless you are going through an agency. The type of visas that APs get that allow them to work mandate (require) that an agency sponsors them. The agency fee seems quite large when you think that you have already done the important part (finding the right family/right Au Pair) but a good agency does much more than just match: they provide health insurance, protection for both the AP and the family in case of a bad match, support and activities, orientation, etc. Not all agencies do this well. While people may work in the US without an agency, they do not work legally without an agency.

kathy November 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for the information, others have tried to extend au pair without going through an agency. I find no value whatsoever in our au pair agency and yet need to pay them around $3,000 to extend our au pair. What a racket!
Wish there was some competition on the market

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