Extending– without the Agency. Yes or no?

by cv harquail on June 17, 2009

We are in month 8 with our first au pair (she’s frmo Thailand), who has been great. We would like to extend, and she would like to stay for at least six months more, but she would like to do so outside of the agency.

Apparently a friend of hers, at the end of her first year, got a tourist visa and continued on as an au pair with the same host family for the length of that tourist visa (I think 6 months is the max–but am not sure). The host family avoided the agency fee for the extension and also then paid the AP about $500/wk.

My AP doesn’t have the full details on this arrangement. It sounds sketchy to me, and I would obviously not want to do something illegal. rebecca askerisk.jpg

I am wondering if anyone has any advice about this–where it falls on the sketchy to illegal scale, whether you have heard it being done before, whether you would do it. Also, I do feel like the agency fee for the extension is exhorbitant given that it doesn’t seem like the agency does much for the extension–there’s no new screening or administrative work other than filing whatever paperwork is needed for the second year. I’d appreciate any thoughts on this.

Hi Mom–

Working while on a tourist visa is illegal.
Staying past the time on your student visa is illegal.
Leaving an agency may or may not be legal (it might violate your contract with them). [LCCs chime in here…]

People do extend their au pairs, without the right visas and without the support of their agency, sometimes. Overall, it’s a dicey idea. Tempting, but illegal, and for good reasons I think.

(Some of the issues in a previous question about changing an au pair’s visa status are applicable here.)

Three Reasons Not to Extend Illegally

Most important, this is illegal. Legality matters more to some than others. If she gets caught without a visa, she could not only be sent home immediately but also lose privileges to return to the US. Not sure what happens to you, the host family.

She will not have health insurance or liability insurance without being sponsored by an agency. You can, of course, find a way to get her some insurance, but if you don’t, think about what might happen if she were in a car accident. Who would pay for her care?

You will be without safety nets– both of you. Your family will not have an agency to turn to (such as they are) for help in any emergency (e.g., cheap flight home for her if someone in her family dies) or in a rematch situation. She will not have anyone to go to if you end up taking advantage of her.

That said, the idea is tempting … more cash for her, lower cost for you… if all goes well.

Would you (not *should* you) extend an au pair illegally, without using your agency?

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If you were to extend illegally, what would you do to make the situation "work"? Or, if you would not extend illegally, tell us what concerns you…..

{ 16 comments }

Anonymous June 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Suppose something terrible happens ? Aupair becomes critically ill,
aupair has friends who make you a tad uncomfortable , aupair is involved in a car accident ( not her fault ) that results in a nasty lawsuit, kids are affected due to some of the circumstances sometimes described on this blog, etc.
What will you do and who will you go to if you cannot ” dismiss ” her immediately . I knew an aupair who had to remain in the country for several months until a lawsuit involving an automobile accident was resolved. Never mind that it wasn’t her fault ; she had to stay around until the legal matters were settled. Suppose something happens to her ?
Will you feel comfortable explaining to the State Department or the police or the insurance company that the agencies are unreasonable in their requirements and the LCC just wasn’t helpful and that is why you deceided to go off the books ?
There is no question that many people never get ” caught ” but if it does happen , it could be very unpleasant even if you are not planning to seek elective office.

Amy June 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I agree that going it alone is a huge liability and would also advise against it. Although the agency fees may seem high, they do provide for a lot that you won’t get on your own. With our agency, it pays for the au pair’s insurance, her flight (assuming she completes her year in good standing), and the local support you get from your LCC. If something goes wrong, we can help fix it and the agency can try to replace her if she takes off or ends up not completing her year with your family. By going with an agency, you are also assured that your au pair has her J-1 cultural exchange visa and can legally work in the US as your au pair.

Anonymous June 17, 2009 at 10:56 pm

We seriously considered this, but in the end, we decided the legal liability was too great to take the chance. For us, it wasn’t even the issue of having to pay agency fees, although I think the fact the extension year is nearly the same price as the initial year is ridiculous. For us, the biggest issue was the fact we dislike our local coordinator. We researched changing agencies, but there is no way to keep the same au pair for the extension year if you change agencies. It was a tough decision for us. We knew we weren’t willing to give up our AP, and she wanted to stay, but it makes me angry that we have to continue to pay our agency so much money when they really have been worthless.

We have so many concerns with our LCC, and when we’ve taken these concerns to corporate, all they do is send us to the regional coordinator who is best buddies with our LCC and defends her up and down.

We found a local college that was willing to sponsor an F1 Visa for our AP. She can’t “work” on an F1 Visa, but she can live in our home and help out as part of the family…and out of the goodness of our hearts we could pay for her school – that’s the way it has to be set up – it’s certainly dicey, though, and in the end we decided it was too dicey for us to take the chance. Our concerns were that someone (our LCC) would turn us in to the State Department. We also worried that if AP had to return to her host country in an emergency, we would be left without childcare or any recourse to get childcare quickly.

So in the end, after considering it, we decided to stick it out with our current agency for one more year – we’re not happy about it, but we didn’t want to lose our AP.

Calif Mom June 17, 2009 at 11:29 pm

No way.

I’m fairly okay with risk taking in general. Arbitrary, bureaucratic rules bug the bahoojies out of me (not to mention the effect of lame LCCs), but this is not worth it. Car accidents are not rare. That is a huge argument that I didn’t even think of.

Even if you don’t plan to run for office.

Jeana June 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

I would not do this for many reasons. First, our agency has treated us very well. I value our relationship with them, and with our LCC. Second, the intent of the program is to offer young people an opportunity in our country, with the intent that they return to their home country. I would feel that I was hurting the program by not following through with the guideline. Our first aupair ended up living with us for three years. She was our aupair for one year, returned to her home country at the end of her year with us, applied to be an international student in the US., and returned, legally. Finally, I’d be concerned about what would happen if the aupair became ill or was injured.

PNW-Mom December 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I would do simular to this. I would keep it legal, but hep her to return.

Darthastewart June 18, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I don’t think I’d do it for all of your reasons mentioned here.

BUT- to be honest, being with an agency does NOT in any way, shape, form or fashion guarantee a quick replacement- regardless of circumstances. I think it’s always a good idea to have back-up care in the back of your mind, in case you need it. It’s great for peace of mind if you have an au-pair calling you at 11 pm from another state…

Jennifer Guarracino June 19, 2009 at 3:36 pm

I work with Cultural Care and have an au pair who has thankfully decided to extend with our family for another year so I look at this from not only an agency prospective but a host mom. I think the most important thing to consider is all the unseen things that you need. First you are able to keep everything and every one in your household above bar. As it is pointed out it is illegal for an individual on a student visa to work as an au pair. The other big piece is protection – for the au pair and the family. Health insurance is a huge piece to this. Anything can happen in 6, 9 or 12 months and you want to make sure your au pair is covered during this time. Beyond that working with an agency helps to protect the family and au pair through out the year with support. Nothing is guaranteed, and while the chances of something needing mediation through out the extension term is rare, it is certainly possible. Your au pair may also need to leave earlier than expected, with working with an agency you are able to maintain a relationship to ensure you are able to get your rematch needs met if the need arise. I’m sure most agencies provide extensive discounts to help to compensate for the work that is not done when an au pair and host family stay together but the agency fee is more than a cost that is paid for the sponsorship of your au pair’s visa, emergency support, monthly support from local representatives, assistance in the pursuit of educational completion, travel guidance which can be complicated in the second year or health coverage. It is also an insurance that should a question, concern or problem come up you have an expert to call on to help you and your family – including your au pair through the situation.

Anonymous June 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

It seems to me that an LCC would be the strongest reason to use an agency but comments I’ve read on this website are very judgemental of LCCs , if not downright cruel : ” she is a mess ” , ” I detest her ” etc.
All of the LCCs who have written on the blog seem to be decent caring , intelligent people. Nevertheless, host parents criticize them across agencies ( so it isn’t a case of one agency hiring terrible people ).
I kept waiting to read the ” something special ” about LCCs in May
but nothing ever happened. The agencies always say that they ” cannot operate without these people “.
So, if there are no good LCCs out there , what do the agencies in fact offer other than health insurance ? You could find an aupair on an independent website and bring that person over here as a student. Or is that legal ?

CV June 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Hi Anon– I just haven’t gotten to the post on “what makes a great LCC”. Somehow, we got distracted with the vacations, housequests, etc. I’ll get there…

Did someone actually write that they detested their LCC? I must have missed that b/c I’d have edited that out! :-)

Do you have a good story about a time when an LCC helped you and your family out? There are many of them here, just so you know, and there is always room for more. Jump on in with yours… cv

Curious Mom September 14, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Here’s the same question but with a pivotal twist: What about extending– without the agency– with an AP whose visa is not expiring? Our au pair is in her first year with us but her visa does not expire until 2012. Thus, if we renewed with her, she would still be in this country legally and, under a J-1 visa, permitted to work. Is there anything illegal about extending privately with her? If not, then isn’t the only big issue remaining the health insurance? Couldn’t we use some of the savings reaped from the agency fee to buy her health insurance? Comments? Thoughts?

Calif Mom September 14, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Not true; I’ve often praised our first LCC. She’s the reason we chose the agency, and I still miss her (we got “redistricted”)…

Dorsi September 14, 2009 at 10:31 pm

As far as I know, curious, the au pair visa is only issued through agencies. You must be in good standing with an agency or your visa is no longer valid. (I looked into a private match — but we needed to do everything above board and I don’t think it is possible). A J-1 visa does not give you permission to work for anyone doing anything (which is why your AP can’t work a side job at McDonalds.)

TX Mom September 15, 2009 at 11:05 am

Curious Mom, I’m curious how your AP has a J-1 visa that expires in 2012. I have only heard of one year AP visas. Even though the US gov’t lets AP’s stay a second year now, most AP’s can’t leave the US in their second year because the visa has officially expired in their passport. Maybe this is just my agency…
It seems like a large risk to save a little money. (Will you save money if you buy the AP’s health insurance?) I love the safety net and services our agency provides – including our LCC. :)

Curious Mom September 15, 2009 at 11:26 am

TX Mom, we don’t know why her visa doesn’t expire until 2012. Someone made a mistake somewhere. All of the other au pairs she trained with had only 1-year visas. Anyway, it no longer matters. Since my post, I spoke to an immigration lawyer (a friend of mine) who said that it really doesn’t matter what the visa says; if she is not working for us through the agency, she is not legally in this country. That wouldn’t be OK with us, so we’ll be renewing through the agency, even though they do virtually nothing. My lawyer friend was very clear that it’s a well known racket that the agencies reap huge fees for virtually nothing after the first year.

Anonymous September 15, 2009 at 2:38 pm

My agency told me that what they are doing for us in the second year is the legal work of extending the visa. All of the requirements about meeting attendance and schooling are exactly the same and the insurance stays the same. As you say, a private lawyer does not seem able to do it. I wish I had not had to hire a lawyer when I sold my house – in my opinion, he did nothing helpful either but I needed someone. Go figure. I feel it is worth the peace of mind to be with the agency. If there is a problem, they can be called upon to help.

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