How Should Au Pair Host Parents Respond to Charges Against the Au Pair Program?

by cv harquail on March 23, 2015

While I was away last week, a very disturbing post hit the Washington Post Wonkblog, where the title shares its central claim: “Au pairs provide cheap childcare. Maybe illegally cheap.”

In the post, the author describes a class action lawsuit being brought against US Au Pair Agencies by a Colorado group called Towards Justice, on behalf of 5 au pairs.

The blog post is disturbing because it’s very one-sided. It is rife with presumptions and it offers up “data” that is incorrect and outdated. It presents a very negative picture of the Au Pair program as a front for exploiting young workers. It blames Au Pair Agencies for colluding in price-fixing and neglecting their responsibilities towards Au Pairs.  It’s the kind of post that preys on our deep fears and seeks to incite controversy.

2997128547_e3cd753efd_mOf course, all of us Host Parents and Au Pairs know that the Au Pair program isn’t perfect.

We know that there are a few families, overseas recruiting firms, and perhaps even US Agencies, who don’t adhere to the ‘spirit of the Program’ and who take advantage of vulnerable au pairs.

And, we know that most Host Families do their very best to fulfill the full range of obligations & responsibilities to our Au Pairs.

All of us appreciate the dual and sometimes puzzling position of Au Pairs as childcare providers and members of the family. We take our roles as participants in a personalized, in home, cultural exchange seriously. We spend a lot of time managing the complex dynamics of a Host Family-Au Pair relationship, because we believe in that this program gives our families and our world some unique benefits.

So why is the Au Pair program under attack?

In the meta, meta picture — and let me go all PhD on you —  my interpretation is that complaints about the Au Pair program trigger two very upsetting narratives (or cultural stories).

The first narrative is of the exploited, powerless, immigrant worker–usually a woman — being taken advantage of.  S/he needs to be protected by the US Dept of State and Dept of Labor.

The second narrative is of the messy, seemingly irresolvable problem of US Immigration policies, where we cannot decide how to admit people to the US as temporary workers without making them seem disposable or as if they are taking away “American Jobs”, or both.

There’s a third important narrative at work too– the story of our country’s inability to value paid or unpaid childcare & care work  or to provide more support to families who need care. But that narrative (and its sexist implications) is very deep underneath the other dynamics, so it doesn’t come to the surface easily in this particular lawsuit.

When stories trigger fears, both the stories and the fears feel “true”.

When people hear stories about exploited workers, these stories trigger all our fears about these larger dynamics.

The au pairs in this article and suit have been “exploited”, or perhaps taken advantage of, or perhaps lost in the Au Pair Agency’s supervisory systems, or perhaps unwilling to stand up for herself and use the program’s protections adequately.

When people hear stories ‘about’ failures of the Au Pair Agency and US Dept of State systems, these stories trigger our fears about the Au Pair industry.

The Agencies are companies out to make more money at our expense. Government agencies exist to slide issues under the rug and pass the buck to someone else.

When there’s any grain of truth in either these stories or the fears they trigger —  

  • It’s easier for a reporter to go awry in his/her efforts to write an article that draws appropriate attention to the important issues at hand.
  • It’s easier for a social justice advocacy group to hyperbolize and point fingers, and
  • It’s easier for a government agency to dissimulate and blur the facts and the lines of responsibility.

With all of this in motion, it’s easy to make the Au Pair Agencies the bad guys.

Six months ago, I might also have pointed my finger at the Au Pair Agencies, too.

After all, they are the ones that ‘execute’ the State Department’s guidelines, import and manage the au pairs, and screen and manage the Host Families. And, they are the ones that make a living doing all of this.

But, full disclosure here, since last Fall I’ve gotten to know more people “in the industry” — at US Agencies,  at overseas Agencies/partners, and at the IAPA (International Au Pair Association).  I’ve done this by speaking about Au Pair Mom and the host parenting experience at one national conference and one international conference.  

And –more PhD stuff here– I’ve done this from the perspective of a business professor.  I’ve spent time learning about the business model(s) of the Agencies and of the industry,  I’ve thought about competition, technology and change in the industry, and I’ve  gotten a closer picture of the ‘business’ of Au Pairing.

As a result of this exposure to these other parts of the the Au Pairing ecosystem, I don’t think the people at US Au Pair Agencies are the bad guys. Not at all.

To be sure, the Au Pair Program isn’t perfect:

  • There are Au Pair Agencies and personnel that don’t do the careful job they should as they recruit Host Families and oversee the families’ treatment of their Au Pairs. These individuals need better management, and the Agencies themselves need to upgrade their systems and expectations to make this oversight more effective.
  • There are host families that abuse the Au Pair program and fail to follow the “spirit of the program”. I want these families screened out and permanently excluded from the Program. I believe that most Agencies want this too.
  • There are Au Pairs who game the system and Au Pairs who complain instead of learning to assert themselves. There are also Au Pairs who *are* powerless (or certainly feel that way) in the face of their Host Parents’ authority. These Au Pairs and all Au Pairs need support and guidance and protection. We Host Parents, as well as Agencies and the State Department, need to give this support to them.
  • There is a complex network of financial arrangements among Au Pairs, Agencies, and recruiting agencies outside the USA. These financial complications often mess with an Au Pair’s sense of her options, her independence and her responsibility.  Because these arrangements differ by country and by Agency, and because these costs/payments fall outside our own Host Family arrangements, we Host Parents fail to see how they might influence our Au Pair’s behavior.More transparency from Agencies (e.g., information about costs, how costs are averaged within their programs so that each Host Family pays the same amount no matter how expensive that Au Pair’s overseas plane ticket was, recaps of LCC/AR cluster reports, etc.) could help us understand how things work. This transparency could help Agencies build trust with us, and help us feel like we’re in it together.
  • The US State Department mumbles and fails to provide leadership to the industry.  Even if their hands are tied by political contradictions and conflict, they could still do more to bring transparency and guidance to the US Au Pair Program as well as to the Au Pair ‘ecosystem’ worldwide.

Ultimately, if we Host Families want caring childcare offered by a young person, who comes into our home and our family life, who comes from a different part of the world with different cultural experiences but bonds with us over our shared concern from raising children who are more open to the rest of the world, we need to defend the Au Pair program.

As an industry, the Au Pair Agencies together can improve what they do and how they communicate their value to families, au pairs, and our world. But a lawsuit against them won’t make that happen. 

I’ll put the 1,200 words I wrote critiquing the Washington Post blog into another post…. but here, I want to pose the question:

What can we Host Parents do, to support our Au Pairs, our Agencies and the Au Pair Program?


Image: Bikes, from BatteryPower on Flickr


HRHM March 23, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Well, that was an interesting read.

If this lawsuit is successful, it will be the utter death of the AP program in the US. Maybe we are at a juncture where the 1980s idea of an AP just won’t fly in modern US society. I’ve had good, bad and in between APs and I can tell you right now, that even with my very best, if I had to pay her CO minimum wage ON TOP of housing her, feeding her, providing her a car, paying for her cell phone, paying her car insurance, paying educational stipend – there is no way I’d continue in the program. I just couldn’t afford it, especially not in conjuction with the other “cultural exchange” extras I pay for like season ski pass and rentals, trips to Disneyworld, the Keys, and Disneyland, extra tickets for family theatrical events and concerts, etc. Something would have to give.

The article obviously makes no bones about it’s bias to those of us who know the program. I love how they make no mention of the fact that the AP has NO expenses with regard to living or that the HF is contributing a car, tuition, etc. I also think it’s pretty poor journalism that the author didn’t include the HFs from those APs to be allowed to give their side of the story.

Oh well, I think I have about a year left anyway. I love my current AP, but after what I’ve gone through in the past, once her second year is over, I think we’ll be moving on.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2015 at 10:45 pm

I’d like to play Devil’s advocate here. The AP stipend/salary in the United States is based on Federal minimum wage MINUS room and board, as decided by the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

IF the AP stipend were dependent on the county level (because, quite frankly, state level, as most of us know, isn’t good enough), would it be deducted based on room & board at the county level? Would APs be better off? Would they be worse off when county housing and food rates were calculated?

As a federal employee, I receive “locality pay” that is based on the fact that my income is negatively impacted by my locality. The bonus is based on higher mortgage rates/rents/food costs/utilities than my colleagues working in whatever “standard” locality that exists in the United States.

I would have no problem with my AP’s stipend being based on my county’s minimum wage. However, the county in which I live has very high rents/mortgages/utilities/food costs. If her county wage minus room & board were LOWER than the federal standard, then I would have a problem – quite frankly I’d feel guilty about an even lower stipend/salary.

To me, it’s an interesting financial exercise, and I’m sure many of you would be better than I at solving it.

Do I think that the AP system is perfect? No. And yet, thousands of young women from all over the world choose to participate for a myriad of reasons. For those from wealthier countries, it’s a gap year – a break from the stress of intense exams while they consider their future and the opportunity to have a bit of a lark. For those from less wealthier countries – it’s an unparalleled opportunity to improve their English in countries in which bilingual ability is directly tied to pay.

We’ve discussed the tug between the needs of APs as exploited by agencies and the needs of HF as marketed by agencies endlessly on this Blog. If this lawsuit leads to the accounting of stipends at the county level rather than the national level will it change HF expenditures greatly? Yes – because the agencies will charge more to HF to reconcile income at the county level. Will it change the AP stipend? No, probably not – it shouldn’t fall below the national established level – but let’s be realistic in rare locations the state minimum wage might be higher than the county housing expenditure.

Don’t panic yet.

Emerald City HM March 23, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Sigh. The article talks about the summer workers getting paid more, but their employer doesn’t have to provide room and board for them.

Honestly, if we were to pay them as a nanny, well then we would just get a nanny. I don’t have to interview and train every year. Don’t have to buy extra tickets for our vacations (wouldn’t take a nanny). Don’t have to pay for car insurance, cell phone, etc.

I do think the agencies need to do a better job, both for the au pairs and for the host families.

Seattle Mom March 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm

The WP blog article was written by someone who is ignorant about the au pair program, so it is very one-sided and fear mongering. They didn’t bother to talk to people at the agencies or the State Department, and they left out a lot of key facts.

CV, I think you should write a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, saying mostly what you wrote above. If you need co-signors, I bet there are a bunch of us who would sign on with our real names. I would.

Thanks for this response to the article- it is brilliant.

Seattle Mom March 23, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Oh yeah and they didn’t talk to any host families either! What a glaring omission! But it’s not a real article, just the “wonk blog” which I often have issues with. A lot of people don’t note the difference between the blog and the more carefully researched articles though, so they can have just as much impact on public perception/opinion.

Old China Hand March 23, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I would sign a letter. I live in a state without a higher minimum wage, but I used to live in Seattle.

The whole calculation for wage is totally off. I had a minimum wage job for 44 hrs/week in college and they took out 40% for room and board. But we still considered it a $5.15/hr job.

WarmStateMomma March 23, 2015 at 4:29 pm

I would sign it too. The biggest theme park in my hometown used to pay its foreign guest workers $1/hour after taking out money for the theme park’s expenses (secret apartments, forced union dues, etc.). A “wonk” would have known that – rather than just spouting off a few random facts out of context.

My biggest issue is that I can’t find comparable care for my kids from a non-AP avenue. No nanny is going to have the qualifications my AP does or the relationship my APs build. No daycare will do that either. Regardless of cost, I just don’t know any other way to give my kids what my AP does. The AP program is about providing opportunities for American children and the APs.

I recognize that there is possibility for abuse of the situation, but even the employee paradise known as Western Europe embraces the AP concept. How bad unfair can the system be if APs from Western Europe come here in fairly large numbers?

ChiHostMom March 24, 2015 at 7:50 pm

I’ll sign too.

Should be working March 23, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Over time I came to the view that the AP program is a bad program, but one that I use ethically, legally, and yet to my own advantage. I will need to think about CV’s more positive views here about the agencies, the program and what its weaknesses are.

The 2-week rematch period is where I see the coercive element for APs. They have a huge disincentive to complain or rock the boat with their host families, especially if they don’t feel they have good support from LCC and agency and come from poor backgrounds such that the AP program offers a great economic or future career benefit. Not sure if that fits into CV’s suspicions about the narrative about the exploited women–but frankly I do feel that this narrative has some truth in the case of some APs.

I also have seen far more egregiously bad behavior by HFs than APs (although I’ve seen lots of behavior among APs, including childcare-related, that I wouldn’t find acceptable in my own APs).

CV’s references to the complicated arrangements between agencies and recruiters. This area is ENTIRELY opaque, except CCAP claims to use no recruiters who are not part of their own company.

Should be working March 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm

I meant in the last paragraph to say that CV’s references are intriguing.

cv harquail March 23, 2015 at 3:14 pm

SBW, I didn’t realize that you had significant reservations about the AP program (beyond the usual criticisms). Any time you want to write more about that, maybe in a guest post, let me know?

For me, the AP program is between a rock and a hard place, given the crazy place that it’s been put as both a work program and a cultural program. I don’t know whether there is an actual resolution for that… far fewer families would host an international young adult ‘for free’ as a cultural exchange, and I’m not sure how many young people would come if it was advertised as (only) a 40 hour work week at minumum wage with room&board. Getting a policy improvement, or getting adequate national childcare support both seem far away.

I learned recently that the AP program in New Zealand falls under NZ’s initiative for early childhood education, so that care givers get training in education and families get a monthly gov’t subsidy to help support the in-home early childhood education. (Partly in an effort to be fair to parents who want in-home care/education, since the govn’t was subsidizing child care/education ‘centers’). Someone should do a dissertation comparing AP programs internationallly.

NZ HM March 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm

CV, this is partly correct: The 2 biggest agencies in NZ are registered with the Dept of Education, which means their APs provide early education childcare in the sense that a daycare centre does and there are subsidies available to families, BUT:

* Many small agencies are not part of the MoE program and APs coming here without agency obviously aren’t either.
* The program is only available to families with at least one child under 5 who live in the eligible areas (basically the big towns or even only Auckland in the case of one agency).
* To receive the subsidy, children need to be older than 3 years (which is also when it’s available in daycare centres).
* The subsidy entitles parents to up to 20 hrs free childcare per week, 6hrs per day, in monetary terms this equals app. $5 per hour off the APs stipend.
* Positive angle to this: my children can attend a daycare centre for free for up to 20hrs and I can use the AP at home (at full rate) for another 30 or so hours.
* The support from the agencies is good with monthly visits and weekly playgroups (similar to the US LCC / AP meetings from what I gather) but attendance at playgroup is compulsory (which personally put me off the particular agency because I chose the AP program to have more flexibility [might choose to have my kids in daycare on playgroup day/ time] and input over how my children are being looked after and what they do during the day). Still, APs complain that the power balance is skewed towards HFs and that the agency/ local support is mostly siding with HF if problems arise.

cv harquail March 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Thank you, NZ HM, for these important details… Is there a sense that this program is (on balance) a good thing? Should all agencies and APs be part of it? or maybe would you like to write a guest post about it? :-)

Casey March 25, 2015 at 4:02 am

Hi there,
Just to clarify. The agencies licenced by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand recieve funding for all children under 5, which allows us to be able to provide the support we do, including: Monthly visits, first visits within the first few days of arrival, monthly outings, professional development for au pairs, face to face rematch support, resources and so much more. The 20 hour ece subsidy is for 3-5 year olds where we pay the money directly to families so almost an added bonus.
Our playgroups at Au Pair Link are not compulsory and we are licensed in 15 areas throughout Nee Zealand.
When I was speaking to CV at the conference we both recently attended I wanted to highlight how lucky we are in New Zealand to be able to provide so much extra support to our Au Pairs.

Emerald City HM March 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm

There are easily a few things that a see that need to change for the au pairs. As SBW mentioned the 2-week rematch window and additionally, the charge for housing during the rematch period.

The fact that the agencies charge victims in a rematch situation that might not be their fault further keeps au pairs from complaining.

I was the host mom that sent the au pair packing because she pulled on my daughter’s hair. The way the agency treated us left me knowing that I would never go back to that agency. We as host parents and citizens have options though. BBB complaint, easier lawsuit, etc. So I was able to get some of my money back.

I have no idea how much the au pairs lose if they go home early and are unable to complete their year, even if it is no fault of their own. I can see where au pairs don’t have the same options we do and are at the mercy of the agency.

The article sure seemed to be focused on changing the stipend, but that won’t fix the problems and some of the nature of the problem is that the agencies are fundamentally a business.

Host Mom X March 23, 2015 at 4:57 pm

I do agree with this – that the cost to the APs of joining the program, which varies wildly from country to country, and is of course the highest from the poorest countries, from which APs are considered the biggest risk of “visa-jumping,” provides a coercive element. Rematch is so frightening for APs, and if they do have to return home soon after arriving and forfeit what could be thousands of dollars saved over many years, borrowed from friends or family with the promise to pay throughout the year, etc. – that creates opportunity for bad families to continue to prey on destitute young people.

This problem begs the question, though, of how wise it is to open the program to the truly destitute – which is of course the purpose of those large entrance fees for the au pairs from poorer countries: to deter desperate people from trying to come to the U.S. and stay illegally.

Truly, the AP program is not really geared toward young women for whom losing the entrance fee would be life-destroying. It is essentially a middle-class program: for young people whose life circumstances allow them the freedom to take a year to “explore” and “have an adventure.” And if it doesn’t work out – they will go home and be okay.

It is not designed, for better or for worse, to deal with the problems that arise when an AP from a poor country and poor family does save up all her money and begs borrows and steals in order to do this and fulfill a dream of seeing the world that no one else she knows had every been able to do, but is matched with a bad family.

Anyway – I would like to hear more about your views, SBW.

Should be working March 25, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I pretty much agree with HMX. The AP program is fine for middle-class APs as a way to get adventure and cultural exchange–because they have the safety net of going home, and don’t pay as much, and the stakes of success are simply lower, so that rematch and complaining about an HF are not a huge fear.

For poor APs or for APs for whom the future career benefit (e.g. English fluency) are hugely valuable, the vulnerability of the AP is so great that rematch and speaking up about broken rules are a big problem. But then is it ethical to have a program that is open to destitute/vulnerable people for whom the stakes are so high? And would it be ethical to only have a program that is open to middle-class people because they are less vulnerable?

I guess I subscribe less to the narrative of the exploited immigrant woman than to the DOMESTIC worker whose ability to stay in this country, earn money, and in the future earn more money, is tied to this DOMESTIC work, which is in turn tied to a DOMESTIC relationship with a family. As feminists and others know, the domestic sphere IS more vulnerable to abuse, unacknowledged work, and so on. The AP for whom the AP year is economically a huge benefit is potentially very much at the whim of the HF, it seems to me, owing to the combination of “visa contingent on match” and “work AND relationships are mostly private/domestic”.

cv harquail March 24, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Does every Agency charge rematch Au Pairs for housing during the rematch period? Does this always happen, or only under certain conditions? This wasn’t the case for the two rematches our family had, so I’m wondering what the official policies are… anyone know?

Emerald City HM March 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm

A previous au pair sent me the Au Pair Handbook for APC. If the Au Pair chooses to leave the host family house and does not have a place to stay, the agency will house her for a $35 per day fee. So yes, if she chooses to leave (even if it’s a very toxic situation) this agency (at least) puts housing on her.

It’s the only agency I’ve seen the Au Pair Handbook for.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 24, 2015 at 6:16 pm

When I went into rematch with APC, I was told that I would pay a daily fee to the AD for housing our au pair if I went with that option. I didn’t get the sense that there was any cost to the AP. I do think he had to pay for his flight home, though, which was a huge expense.

Emerald City HM March 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Right. It’s the party that decides they want to change the housing situation.

If the HF is unwilling to house the au pair the HF pays. If the au pair wants to leave and the HF is willing to let them stay, the au pair pays.

Seattle Mom March 24, 2015 at 6:02 pm

I recall that CCAP LCCs are paid something like $35/day for housing transition APs, but I don’t recall that they charge the APs the money. I may have missed that part.

Julie March 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Less than that, but we would never charge the au pairs for that.

old au pair mom March 25, 2015 at 2:35 pm

15 years in the program and have never heard of charging for housing during the rematch period. I understood the AP was to stay with the first HF (whether or not she continued to work with the kids was the HF decision) without any payment for housing. If it truly was a safety issue, then a motel 6 or equivalent might be allowed as long as HF picked up the tab.

TexasHM March 25, 2015 at 2:56 pm

There are two different things being discussed here. One is the $35 a day charge that APC bills for transition housing and as said – if the HF asks for the AP to be removed for any reason (not housing for the 2 weeks) then they are charged $35 per day or if the AP decides to leave of her own will and stay with the LC she can be charged $35 per day which brings us to part two – daily reimbursements.

At many agencies (IE and CCAP I know for sure) there is a daily reimbursement given for housing transition APs ($18 at IE and $22 at CCAP a day). We housed a transition AP and IE gave us the reimbursement but I suspect it was what they would have normally given the LC for housing and I know that’s the case for CCAP.

So in this case, I suspect that APC has decided if the family or AP decides to leave they should have to cover the housing reimbursements given to the LCs and like most things, they probably mark it up to make a profit.

Should be working March 25, 2015 at 4:17 pm

What is wrong with this is that the AP may have very good reason to ask to leave the HF situation. If the family is not letting her eat their food, if they are nasty, much less if they are scary. I have seen all three cases among friends of our APs. But APs are much less likely to have 14 x $35 to spare than HFs.

Emerald City HM March 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm

I agree. It’s a problem.

I didn’t even know about it until I was in our rematch situtation and the previous au pair sent me the handbook the agency gives them. It might be in our contract somewhere too, but I didn’t notice at the time.

The whole way our RD and AD handled the situtation appalled me as a host family and also made me feel terrible for au pairs stuck in bad situations. I even pointed that out the RD, but she didn’t listen to me.

This is an old copy of the handbook that they keep online:

The housing stipend rates have changed since then for the host family, so I presume the same is also true of the au pair.

Katrina March 26, 2015 at 8:19 am

I can speak personally for one of the agencies in the USA, we do not charge for rematch housing. However, if an au pair does not have the means for housing with a friend, or other, we will do everything we can to arrange temporary housing for the au pair. They may have to fly to another city to receive it, but when getting an au pair out of a bad situation, we are happy to do this to help them have the chance at a better placement and thus, a better experience.

Julie March 30, 2015 at 12:44 pm

CCAP does not charge families or au pairs for housing, though LCCs are given a small stipend to cover costs of room and board during that period. I find it pretty shocking that one of the agencies charges families or au pairs $35 per day, though I’m told by a colleague who was with another agency for 12 years prior to switching to working for CCAP that families will certainly pay it if they don’t want to deal with housing their au pair. Very interesting.

Multitasking Host Mom March 23, 2015 at 2:45 pm

CV, your response is thoughtful, intelligent, considers all sides involved and written from a place of actual knowledge about the situation….unlike the Washington Post Blog post. Thank you!

I did have two thoughts as I read this “news article”.

1. There wasn’t really a mention of why the stipend is set to that amount by the state department. Nothing about that room and board is provided, and most families pay for car insurance and some even provide a car for both work and personal use by the AP. Other families provide other perks…the list could go on. All of this is not direct money to the AP per say but it is an outlying of expense for the host families.

2. This host family was definitely breaking the rules….and did the AP actually tell anyone so it could be stopped or did it just fester and esculate until a lawsuit seemed to be the only option? The AP had to go to cluster meetings yet the host family did not provide transportation as required. The AP took on a lot of household chores that under program guidelines they were not required to do. She didn’t have enough to eat!! It is just sad that she didn’t match with either my family or the many other thoughtful trying to be law abiding host moms (and dads) that make comments on this blog. She would of had s totally different and much more positive experience I would think.

The sad thing is that one bad apple could take down the whole US AP program. What a shame.

Old China Hand March 24, 2015 at 11:16 am

Thinking about your first point and playing devil’s advocate, if the stipend is set by minimum wage for 45 hrs/week minus a fixed percent for room and board, does that mean that the stipend should go up when families live in cities with a higher minimum wage? Not that APs should make minimum wage plus room and board but rather than the minimum wage for 45 hours a week should be based on local minimum wage and then subtract the appropriate percentage for room and board (is that 40%?). Of course, this is easy for me to say living in a cheap town in the midwest, but it is something that I have been thinking about since reading the article yesterday.

Old China Hand March 24, 2015 at 11:17 am

I thought of something else after hitting submit… I guess that if that were done, it could create even more perceptions of “desirable” and “undesirable” places to live even though in cheaper cities the AP purchasing power may be higher. So maybe that doesn’t make sense. But I wanted to throw it out there.

WarmStateMomma March 24, 2015 at 11:42 am

The room and board portion might be more valuable in a more expensive city. It’s entirely feasible that the higher cost of living and higher minimum wage is compensated for by the free room and board the host family provides in the expensive locations.

Let’s not forget that AP income is partially exempt from tax, even though pretty much all other people who earn anything in the US pay income tax (or legally should do so) on their full income. APs receive room and board as part of their compensation package – which the State Dept has specifically valued at 40% of the federal minimum wage – but they don’t pay any tax on this income.

Emerald City HM March 24, 2015 at 11:48 am

They don’t pay social security tax either.

Old China Hand March 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Agreed, but I think that there are some rules about the percentage that can be taken off for room and board. This is my memory from 15 years ago with a minimum wage job where they took off a fixed percentage for room and board. So I don’t know exactly what the rules are, but I think there may be some even though room and board costs fluctuate wildly around the country.

Didi March 23, 2015 at 3:07 pm

That article and the whole idea of it upsets me. I guess, I can understand lawyers trying to fight for the rights of au pair and the person who wrote this article based on, like it is written here, on only one side. But the problem that happens so often is Au Pairs with their expectations and desires. It looks like we (I am former au pair) were forced into this program. We, as au pairs, are not fooled, we knew very well how much we are paid and why is it that way. Reading this and hearing so many of my friends au pairs complain about how our taxes are high, how we have all this rules, how we work too much comparing to Americans.. It is wrong and sends message to others how poor and exploited we are while that is so far away from the truth. If nothing, there is so many au pairs who take advantage of their situation in US and their Hosts, not other way around

NJ Mama March 23, 2015 at 3:32 pm

The blog post was ridiculous. I felt that there was no critical thinking applied at all. The first au pair said the agency did nothing when she contacted them — but also said that the agency was hardly ever in contact with her. The other au pair said she uses her entire stipend on toiletries and local transportation. That’s a lot of toiletries! And where and how often is she going? I have a monthly bus pass to NYC that costs $370/month. That would leave $430 for shampoo and toothpaste. Jeez even if I went on a big spending spree at blumercury I’d have a hard time spending $430/month on toiletries.

Also how can you equate the AP program with the Summer Work Program? Those kids are crammed into crappy hotel rooms. No private rooms. No one provides them with a car/pays car insurance or provides them with a phone. Not to mention the food we provide.

Also the cost of living part cuts both ways — it’s a lot more expensive to live in NJ than much of the rest of the world. So by default I would be paying more in room and board than someone in much of the south or midwest.

Now I completely agree there are bad HFs — just as there are bad APs. There are some issues with the program. The agencies could do a much better job screening and in handling problems when things go wrong. And the State Dept could do a lot more monitoring it all. But this whole thing just seems frivolous. I wonder if the AP agencies shot themselves in the foot by advertising as “low-cost childcare” because in reality — it’s not. Flexible childcare yes. But not low cost.

CV – the article at the end says the State Dept is reviewing the program. It would be great if HFs could provide comments as well as APs. If you find anything out about that in your travels I’d love to know where we could send comments.

nyhostmom March 23, 2015 at 3:33 pm

We have had an au pair for 5 years and plan on having an au pair another 5 years. This article is frustrating because it so one sided. I live in a town with a ton of au pairs. The way some of these au pairs live is amazing – access to country clubs, trips to amazing resorts with families, great birthday/Christmas gifts. They live in a beautiful town, half an hour from nyc. Do I think some families abuse the system – sure. Do some au pairs have no business being au pairs – sure. But these are individual cases that should be dealt with individually. These au pairs are not forced to work here. There are options if they are not happy – they can go home or rematch. We took 2 girls that were rematched. We have had great experiences and speak with all of our au pairs. They have all come back and visited and loved the experience. Most of the people I know that have decided to not take au pairs is because they said it is too much work. hosting au pairs is work – this article does not discuss this. You have young people coming to this foreign country, not know anyone and not knowing the culture. It takes work to make sure they are settled in. But based on my experience, the work is worth it. But not if you increase the price!

TexasHM March 23, 2015 at 4:26 pm

To be fair, this article does highlight a point that I can’t stand about the current program and that I feel like is CRITICAL to the success of the program as a whole and the individual APs year – AP education and expectations. In fact, that was one reason we left one of the larger agencies. I just got so sick of re-educating the candidates. They had all been sold that this was a chance to travel and experience the US, make $ and have a family take care of you – oh and sometimes you will watch the kids. Every matching round I would spend several interactions unraveling all of that by explaining the realities of the program – what their education options would realistically look like, how hard they would be working and how they would need to save to take any big trips. Every round we had several strong candidates pick other families (open matching – I am not a fan of this either) and I promise you (some of these APs told me later when they were in rematch) it was because I was handing out doses of reality and others were selling perks! You know what I read in both those examples? Bad fit. Both APs had expectations about what they thought their year was going to be and both were disappointed when it wasn’t how they envisioned. The first AP had a HF that wasn’t following the rules and she should have had recourse, the second sounded like the HF was following the rules but she was disappointed in her match. In both cases it said the AP was “placed” with a family in X area but we all know its a mutual match and these APs agreed to go to these families, a point sorely lacking in this article.

The agencies need to educate the candidates before putting their profiles online and ideally – include it in their profiles!!!! Ask the candidates how they do with hot and cold weather, if they would rather live in a city, suburbs or country, and what they plan to study and if they are willing to subsidize it if necessary. Do they need public transportation because they are not experienced drivers? Not order taking (Ex: I want SF) but more generalized fit. We got our best driver from a rematch in a city with public transportation and at the time I kept thinking – why don’t they match the less experienced drivers with families in cities with public transportation and make the more experienced drivers available to those where it is a deal breaker – not unlike the IQ designation?

I also think that there should be program resources available 24/7 – like a hotline. Agency independent and anonymous. APs can call and ask what is and isn’t in the guidelines of the program without worrying about it getting back to the families and they can be educated about their options instead of turning to AP Facebook pages!

We ask ourselves every round why we do this. It is a HUGE investment. We could get a nanny at this point for about the same money and once youngest starts school in August, for less! So WHY?! For us it is the cultural exchange and the flexibility. We tried all variations of childcare but having someone live-in brings added flexibility and bond to a relationship where we really needed/wanted it.

We too would be out if the costs increased, although the cost of living here is cheap! I can see why APs in expensive areas that have to subsidize their education credits and can’t afford to travel get frustrated. In fact, we kind of use that to our advantage in matching! I don’t know how the costs of living compare in Colorado but I would have expected to see this article focus on high cost of living areas because let’s be honest – there are far more families in those areas and a big part of it is that compared to nannies the AP program IS far cheaper there.

Lastly, there needs to be far more transparency with the agencies and Dept of State. There should be a defined course of action for families that don’t follow the rules and they shouldn’t be allowed to skip from agency to agency. It should be innocent until proven guilty like anything else but 3 strikes you are out (or whatever they decide).

There needs to be less blame and more accountability on all sides. New LCs and families tend to take sides and think one party is right and the other is wrong. Everyone needs to realize there are miscommunications and misunderstandings and that in large part, everyone wants to do the right things. If there is not a good fit, then everyone needs to be open and honest about that and the AP needs to give 100% during the rematch period and be above reproach and the HF needs to be respectful hosts so they can part ways on good terms and as adults would.

In situations where there are major and/or safety issues the agency needs to intervene immediately to manage the situation and create an exit strategy or migration plan. And LCs need to make more than a volunteer’s wage!! Coming into the program it’s a common misconception that the LC is going to help manage everything, then you realize most of them make $19-25 a month per family! I wouldn’t answer my calls for that either! ;)

Mutiltasking Host Mom March 24, 2015 at 2:10 pm

I hear you TexasHM about the reeducating needed during the interview process. The big thing I have to dispel is the education they will be able to receive. Most of the au pairs I interview think they will be taking classes at an Ivy League level university. But in reality, with the soaring cost of higher education, what is available to them is no where close (at least in our area.)

Our local community college cost about $425 for one 3 credit class. The APs have to cover the rest. I tried to get our first AP into the local private college (complete with scholarly campus) that was about a mile from our house, but it would have been $1000 for a 3 credit class. One AP who didn’t want to spend the extra money on classes took two weekend classes that conveniently cost exactly $500…hmmm. It didn’t sound to me like the class had really high educational requirements but she just wanted to get the credits and be done, so whatever. The rest of my APs were more interested in education and managed to find some classes that they liked at the community college…creative writing, American history, etc. so it did work for them, but they didn’t really expect the extra expense initially, and I was glad that I had prepared them ahead of time for the cost.

I don’t know really how to fix this. The education requirement gives the AP program a lot of credibility for it to be a culture exchange. And honestly I don’t want to increase my host parent expenses, especially since with my kids being older, we could go back to a few part time babysitters and save on costs. (The reason we don’t is I need the flexibility in hours and finding someone that has the great child care skills of my APs who will be at my house when I leave for work at 6:00am is impossible. Plus, we actually do enjoy learning about other cultures and bonding with our APs.) But I do feel that the questions of what education opportunities are available and the true cost involved needs to be more transparent.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2015 at 11:18 pm

I just want to say for the record that I’ve been hosting APs since 2001 and the educational stipend hasn’t changed. I’m shocked – and have been known to help APs out with the cost of books, etc.

WarmStateMomma March 29, 2015 at 1:30 am

The community college near me charges $900 for a 6 credits; registration/testing takes about 10 hours. The public university charges $5,600, plus application fees and such. The Ivy League university here charges $8,000 for 6 credits, and $800 for non-credit ESL course with about 60 contact hours.

Unless the APs take the travel weekend courses or non-credit continuing education courses, the $500 isn’t very useful in my city. If anything, it’s just a really harsh way of reducing their $10,400 stipend.

TexasHM March 29, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Here we have a new seminary university that APs can audit courses for $120 ea (3 credits) and take includes non-religious courses as well like psychology, counseling, sociology, communication, english composition, etc that our incoming AP fully intends to explore. We also have two large community colleges that are each about 20 minutes away that have continuing education courses for $115-150 (3 credits). They don’t teach rocket science but all of our APs have been able to get their credits for under the $500 per year. The challenge I think lies in that they are more or less forced to take CE classes that they may or may not have real interest in (I knew an English AP that took cake decorating) so at times, I have to ask “what is the State Dept really trying to accomplish with this requirement”. I know many say it’s to get the APs out of the house and with people their own age but honestly, they don’t meet people their age in the CE courses!

Host Mom X March 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm

(Sorry if my post is repetitive of others! I’ve been typing on and off throughout the day here!)

This brings up a lot of the issues that we discussed when the legislation was pending a year or so ago to bring certain reforms to the au pair program, and the agencies were soliciting host families to sign a petition blocking the legislation.

I am still ambivalent about a lot of these issues. I agree that the WP blog post is one-sided and inaccurate in many ways, but State could definitely build in a lot more protections for APs than are currently there, and since the AP “stipend” hasn’t gone up in quite a long time, it is probably due for some kind of increase (though I am speaking out of turn because I have not researched whether the last increase in the stipend corresponded to the last national minimum wage increase, which theoretically it should have since we are told the stipend is calculated to supplement the value of room and board so that together the AP is receiving compensation in some form at least at the level of the national minimum wage).

What the blog post also leaves out is that – though the recruiting agencies definitely do mislead their recruits about the amount of work actually involved in the program – clearly there are enough good reports from returning au pairs that many more new au pair candidates sign up each year than families. Unless an au pair comes from a wealthy family who can pay full university tuition and living expenses in the U.S. for a year, there isn’t really another way for someone to get a visa to come to the U.S. for a full year and also work “above the table” while here to earn at least some income. A lot of young people find this appealing – the same way many young people from the U.S. choose to go abroad through “teach English” programs or the like, for which they don’t get paid much. If the AP program becomes too pricey for host parents, as many have pointed out, then we won’t use the program, and then there will be less opportunities for APs who are prepared to do this job in exchange for getting a year in the U.S. that they could never otherwise have.

And if an AP works no more than the full 45 hours per week, and you factor in the value of her/his room and board as well as the many other items that most host parents provide that a young person living in his/her own apartment would normally have to pay for on his/her own (internet/wifi, smart phone with data plan, car with insurance, utilities – water, heat, electricity, air conditioning) – having $800 per month of what is essentially disposable income is not a bad deal for someone that age. I live in an expensive city, and have lived in an expensive city all my adult life. When I was AP age (for me, just out of college), I worked full time in a demanding job well over 45 hours per week while getting my graduate degree, and believe me, after paying rent and all my utilities and transportation costs and tuition, there was not ever $800 left over for fun and travelling. The value of my AP’s share of our home in the cities and neighborhoods we’ve lived in would probably run $900-$1500 in rent per month (not including utilities). If you add it all up – our APs probably make somewhere between $27,000 – $30,000 per year in total compensation (ours do work the full 45 hours most weeks, though probably end up with more like 4-5 weeks total paid vacation time). That isn’t bad at all for an 18-19 year old with no more than a high school degree in a first job that does not require any advanced degrees, nor is it bad at all for someone just graduating from college deciding to take an “unskilled” job. And that doesn’t factor in that you take a pay cut – if it even is a pay cut; for some it is, for some it isn’t – in order to have an “experience.” (That also doesn’t factor in that agencies like APIA do actually reward more “skilled” APs for the experience or education they bring to the job – $50 more per week in stipend.) And for those APs who come from countries with high unemployment and low wages generally, and are using some of their AP stipend to send home (so basically viewing this as a job and NOT as cultural exchange/exciting adventure abroad), they too find this a better opportunity than not having it at all.

All that said – plenty of families exploit their au pairs to the extent that the au pairs are NOT having the above experience and don’t end up with an equivalent compensation package. And that is very wrong, and there is a LOT more that agencies could do on that front, I think. And I also think the stipend could stand to be raised JUST a bit more without pricing most families out of the program.

And I will freely admit that we switched to an au pair from a nanny because we could no longer afford a nanny once we had a second child. We could barely afford her with just one child; we had a nanny share. But our nanny was in much more difficult financial circumstances than any au pair. She was a grown woman with her own children and husband, and she had to pay rent, utilities, etc. AND she was a childcare professional with 15 years of experience for which she deserved to command a higher salary. (And yet – because she had all of the usual grown-up expenses, even with her salary that more than doubled minimum wage for our area, she definitely did not have $800 of disposable income per month.) So yes – was the relatively cheaper cost of childcare attractive to us? Of course! No doubt about it – if you get a good au pair, the price can’t be beat. And therein lies my ambivalence. My family has loved having au pairs, but we wouldn’t pay all that much more for the program – and that’s because it is true that my number one reason for having an au pair is the affordable, flexible childcare. The cultural exchange is just a good perk. It’s most certainly not the other way around; the childcare is not a perk of my engaging in cultural exchange. Now – my desire for cheaper childcare allows young people who want a year in American to have that opportunity. But SHOULD that opportunity be made available if the only way our country is willing to provide it is through a low-wage au pair job? I don’t know that I can honestly say that I’m in it for the au pairs in that I want all these young people to have this experience living abroad. Because if I just thought that were a good unto itself, I wouldn’t really care whether it was tied up in ensuring that I have cheap, flexible childcare.

Anyway, to answer CV’s question: I guess the best way to support the program is to do exactly what we’ve been doing – keep participating in the program as “model” families who are in it not only for the good deal on childcare, but also because we enjoy being part of a way for young people from around the world to experience our country. And also to advocate for change from within – lobby our agencies to hold more “bad” families accountable so that situations that lead to what are likely more than legitimate complaints from the plaintiffs in the lawsuit happen far less often.

HRHM March 23, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Just an FYI, the last stipend increase was in 2008ish with the last federal minimum wage increase. It is stricly tied to that number (min wage x 45 hours minus 40% for room and board)

cv harquail March 23, 2015 at 8:17 pm

For the record, I’m for an increase in the minimum wage and thus the increase in the Au Pair stipend that this would entail. Just as an increase in minimum wage would increase the price of a fast food burger or a plastic thingy from Walmart, that price increase would seem fair to me. They can just cut the CEO’s pay to balance it all out. …

And, I think it’s the State Dept’s responsibility to address whether Au Pairs receive the same stipend nationally, or whether stipends should fluctuate with local minimum wage policies.

Old China Hand March 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

I should have read this before I commented above. :) I agree that it makes sense for the State department to determine whether local or federal minimum wage policies take precedence.

OpinionatedHM March 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I agree that the State Department should determine whether local minimum wage should apply, but they should then also account for local cost of living in determining what percentage of that minimum wage should be deducted to account for room and board costs of the family. I’m willing to bet that room and board costs are a much higher percentage of minimum wage in New York, NY than they are in other cities like Omaha, NE. I just checked and can now say that with certainty.
My guess is that is why this issue continues to be put off. It is much more complicated than it seems, kind of like the flat rate tax argument. APs who want to choose a NYC family might find themselves making LESS per week in stipend than other APs once cost of room and board is calculated. That would make my life a little easier as a HP who lives in a city in America that is one of the largest, cheapest, and frustratingly least desirable to APs.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Well, or conversely, if the “flat” stipend is retained, a NYC AP’s total compensation package would be valued a lot higher, and she’d likely be making a good deal more than minimum wage after the value of room and board is factored in. My post above figured a years’ salary in the nearly $30K range. That comes out to about $13 per hour based on 45 hours per week. Though I wasn’t calculating the time-and-a-half value of the 5 hours of overtime each week.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2015 at 11:31 pm

While an AP in a major US city might have a lower stipend than an AP in a smaller regional city, there are advantages. In my city, APs can choose to travel quite inexpensively by plane, rail and cheap buses that are not available, for example, in regional Midwestern cities.

I do think APs do not factor all their costs in maximizing their financial costs for the year. However, an AP in Omaha will have comparatively lower access to a cohort than an AP in greater NY.

Bottom line – the costs and bonuses are not always transparent to APs (and their HF!!!)

Amelie March 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm

The last increase was July 2009. I know for sure because I was an au pair at that time. It was something like $175 before.

hOstCDmom March 24, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Here is a link to one agency’s outline of the stepped AP wage increase (in 2007), noting the tie to federal minimum wage.

ProPair March 23, 2015 at 5:11 pm

This really makes breaks my heart. I’ll refrain from critiquing the article as well, but I’m looking forward to your 1200 word criticism, CV.

Generally, I hold the US au pair programme in high esteem; there are a lot more “fairness” rules and an effort to keep au pairs happy and safe in a fashion which I believe reflects American values. However, at this time I feel privileged to be an au pair in Europe, for a second year in a second country.

According to the “mathematical formula” in this article, I was making 2.5 Euros/hour last year, and am making 5/hour this year. I am very much okay with this. I’m getting a quality education, daily, in a language that is useful yet seldom taught in my home country. I have made and continue to make beautiful friendships with people from all over the world. Almost daily, I am humbled by how little I know and how little I have seen, all thanks to being an au pair.

Reading this article makes me thankful because here in Europe, I am seen as an adult and my decisions are respected. If i want to work for 10 Euros a day, I can and will do just that, thankyouverymuch. I don’t feel that my opportunity is under fire. I’m thankful because next year the skills I’m gaining will give me an opportunity for a free education in a foreign country, something virtually out of the question in Canada (when phrased “would you rather get a free education and have to work for 3 bucks an hour or be crippled by 30,000 CAD debt indefinitely”, I think the rational, mature choice is obvious).

So, I would like to call to arms the au pairs who still recognise their opportunity as a blessing, those who look back fondly on their au pair years, and especially, especially those au pairs about to embark on their adventures. I don’t think that this begins with the State Department, the agencies, or even necessarily the families; it begins with us.

Choose your host family slowly and carefully. Ask as many questions as you want and demand references. Talk to someone, anyone, who has been an au pair before you decide it’s for you. Research like crazy. Look for the “real dirt” on au pair life. And lastly, please, please speak up if something doesn’t feel right, and before you feel the need to file a lawsuit against your host family. Learning to stand up for myself is one of the greatest gifts the au pair programme has offered me so far. I hope others have too, and will find the strength to use it.

HRHM March 23, 2015 at 7:44 pm


Thank you! I think it’s so important for current and previous Au Pairs to weigh in on this issue. The future of the program depends on APs as much as the HFs and agencies to help preserve the parts of the program that are working and improve the parts that need improvement.

OpinionatedHM March 24, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Thank you! You are right, it does start with Au Pairs. There wouldn’t be a program if there weren’t young men and women interested in the experience.

UKaupair March 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Oh this is crazyyy!

These girls know what they are getting themselves in for with their weekly stipend!

I do get paid more than an normal aupair, I get 250$ (im an extraordinaire) as much as it isnt alot for working 45 hours looking after 14 month old triplets. If i was at home i would probably be getting around 650$ for doing the same thing. Out of 250$ i usually have at least 100$ left every week. Which really is more than enough. When I was back at home i usually had about £50 left at the end of the month working 3 jobs and about 70+ hours a week with paying rent, bills and my car (yes I did live on my own and im 20)

But honestly, this us one if the best experiences ever, I absolutely love “my” babies, and my host parents and this is by far the best job i’ve ever had. People always say ‘oh how do u manage with triplets’ or ‘i couldnt cope’ and they are meant to be your ‘family!’ For the year and sorry but the hard times come along with the good and its been a pretty rough year for my hp!

I think they all just need to get over themselves, au pairs are there for CHEAP childcare isnt that the whole point its supposed to be about the experiences? And culture exchange?

JJ Host Mom March 23, 2015 at 10:47 pm

I agree with CV’s post and all the replies above about the problems with the lawsuit and the article. I’d like to address one specific part of this.

The lawsuit is arguing that au pairs in certain places are making federal minimum wage, not local minimum wage. But couldn’t it be argued that the majority of an au pair’s stipend is room, board, and incidentals, and since those things cost more/have more value in places where the minimum wage is higher (there’s a reason the minimum wage is higher, after all…) the au pairs are netting more income in those places as well, and are probably making local minimum wage anyway? So it’s a moot point.

AuPair Paris March 24, 2015 at 2:45 am

I have my concerns about this article too. I also have concerns about the Au Pair program (and like SbW have gone into it knowing that a system that can sometimes exploit other girls will actually work well for me – with the guilt that entails), but I do think it’s important to take bed and board into account on the issue of the stipend. The fact that I don’t have to worry about where my next month’s rent is coming from has been so freeing for me – I was working minimum wage jobs in conjunction with uni before this, and I was constantly anxious – would I have enough hours this month? Would the electricity bill go up? etc etc.

I do think that agencies need to support au pairs – as the most vulnerable parties. I see that Host Parents here feel they don’t get enough support either, so perhaps for some agencies the whole support thing is something to work on. And I think it’s unjustifiable that girls who rematch or get sent home early, in a no-fault, or family-fault situation, should have a financial penalty. As someone mentioned above, it’s like a deliberate class restriction (though in my view that is completely unacceptable. As in most people’s, I’d hope.) – and it forces au pairs to stay in abusive situations. I have been in an abusive family as an au pair – I left very quickly, and am lucky enough to have had the money to take myself home to try again. If I hadn’t had that money, if I’d had to stay… I just can’t even imagine. It was horrible. I’d have had a breakdown I think. So that situation is certainly one which needs reform.

On the whole though… I mean, you *do* go into the au pair program knowing the pay, and the perks and etc etc. I’m not sure I buy that you should get less pay because of the cultural exchange..? Because… That’s just moving to another country, surely? But the rent, the bills, any perks like a car or tuition or whatever. I mean, I know the rent in Paris. I couldn’t pay for my room on minimum wage, so… I went into this eyes wide open, and if most women aren’t, that’s something of a problem in itself…

IamAuPairMama March 24, 2015 at 5:52 am

This article is so short sighted! There is a glaring omission–all the expenses HF pay for that are not mentioned here! How could they just wrote that AP make $195 a week? That’s not the case at all. When I got my first job in NYC at 25 I made $36k, of which $15 went to rent, and then I had to pay for my own transport, food, phone and phone bill, utilities, internet, not to mention my commute to work was an hour each way, work clothes. Above this all, I regularly worked overtime without any compensation. I could barely afford Chinese food and a beer on the weekends. In fAct, I don’t really think I could–but was dipping into my
Old student loans for going out money. Our Au pair lives the high life: wakes one minute before duty, free groceries, car use and insurance and gas, room and bathroom in the center of our city, 2 hour lunch break (naptime), paid vacation trips (tickets and room), not to mention RT airfare and are aging all her visa which is worth weight in gold! I don’t know what regular job would actually offer such perks for am22 year old, it would be too good to pass up for any American! Also this makes no mention that AP are free to leave whenever they want. Finally,
Makes no mention that there are heaps of Americans doing the aunpair program abroad! And many other nationalities doing work programs like cruise shops, ski resorts who have abysmal benefits and demanding work schedules.

DCBurbTwinMomma March 24, 2015 at 6:24 am

I have had great luck with au pairs and have one on the way. I pay above the minimum rate to attract what I perceive to be a higher quality au pair and have had success with this approach and intensive screening. However, I do not think the demands in the law suit fairly look at all the current benefits. I’d be for a moderate increase or even a cost of living adjustment but no more than minor (!) increases.

That said, we are a legal family (a judge and a senior attorney) and have mediated more than 10 horrible au pair situations. I have listened to the stories and done due delugence to verify the situation. I have encountered indifferent LCCs and egregious slave like conditions (making an au pair pay for her electricity usage out of her pay, withholding food, requiring the au pair to adopt their religion, forbidding contact with the agencies, sexual harassment, cameras in bathrooms, charting menstral cycles for inspection, requiring shift work at their small business in addition to childcare, farm work, withholding pay and then dictating what products/services/food can be purchased etc). These au pairs feared re-match because they were supporting their families and/or had nothing to return to in drug war overrun hometowns. I personally have contacted other LCCs and the home program office. I have been labelled a troublemaker but have effected positive change. These are not minor personality clashes and I cannot imagine that only the DC Metro has these problems. Perhaps we have seen so many because the word is out that we are lawyers who have free immigration and criminal help at our fingertips as well as State dept contacts. While I’m not on board with drastic financial changes to mirror the nanny industry, I say exploitation occurs in every single cluster in every single region and every single state. I have an EXCELLENT veteran LCC who was a host mom. She tells horror stories herself and may or may not have alerted me to things that she could not address without a client first making noise. It’s that bad. Yes, my au pair gets cable, an iPhone, Ipad, computer, gym & swim club, her own part of the house, car, education costs above the minimum and free travel with us even when not working. Most do not.

Personally, I tried to sponsor my current au pair and offered to do so (off topic, it was quite easy for us to negotiate but we know the law.). Our current au pair declined because she has legal avenues to now be a nanny in NYC making about near $40k. I celebrate her good fortune and the opportunities. When I started looking for a new au pair, I looked to those in rematch. One was nearby with great company references and then…. I found out she had abandoned toddlers in a house by themselves, that she had known recreational substance abuse issues and has often late to work. Why would they suggest this person to me. The national’s response was that they regret the oversight and lack of communication. My own LCC was on vacation and alerted me to these issues the moment she returned and discovered I was to interview this person.

So, does this lawsuit have some merit based on basic human rights violations? In my opinion yes. If asked (which I never will be) I have documented each and every mediation with thorough proof of abuse. Do I think pay should change? Everyone needs a small raise to keep with the times. Do I think the State Dept should crack down on the companies to disincentivize awful participants? ABSOLUTELY! So if this lawsuit brings to light these issues, then I celebrate its existance. The blog and the lawsuit are two different things. The blog is sensational “journalism” to sell papers but it is not wholesale lies.

SKNY March 24, 2015 at 9:41 am

would you be willing to discuss the sponsorship option in private. We have an extremely successful au pair, who was AMAZING, and would love to return, but is older than 28 and is unable to qualify for the program (for a return).

HRHM March 24, 2015 at 11:52 am

I too would love to hear about this. My super AP is about to start year two and is already aged out (did so in her 3rd month) but we would all give anything to help her stay here.

SKNY March 24, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I know you are a very experienced host mom, and you have said your current au pair is extremely good. Would you mind sharing a little about her profile (age, culture, experience,anything that stood out?)
I am always trying to find the “road map” for a great au pair. My super former au pair has nothing I would ever look for in an au pair (she came for us in rematch, to cover someone), and we were matched with her out of luck. I have tried repeating the find and just dont seem to quite find it…

Jennifer Babich (MilAuPairMom) March 24, 2015 at 9:06 am

As a HM currently hosting our 6th au pair, I find this article both concerning and disappointing, for all of the reasons mentioned by other posters. As a journalist, I also consider it to be a very one-sided portrayal of a program that the author clearly has not taken the time to understand or investigate. I believe in the au pair program, but have seen firsthand how it can be abused by both host families and by au pairs. That said, our family works hard to make sure the au pair experience is a positive one for our au pairs….and to ensure that their time with us is an enjoyable, enriching experience. In the best cases, they become part of our family – often returning after their time with us to visit. In other cases, the au pairs move on to another family or another experience if they find this is not the experience they were hoping for by becoming an au pair. In all cases, they benefit from having a generous host family who tries to go above and beyond whenever possible.

I would like to point out another point raised by the article which I find disturbing, as it sounds like a legal attempt to shift the “blame” for this accusation of low wages from au pair agencies to host families. Quote as follows:

“In a motion to dismiss, several of the sponsor agencies argue that the program is inherently federal, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to minimum wage laws. Additionally, they say that the sponsor agency isn’t the employer anyway — if anyone is at fault for not paying proper minimum wages, it’s the host family.”

What? As a host family, I ensure I ALWAYS adhere to all rules of the program, including the required weekly stipend as laid out by the au pair agencies per the State Department. It is simply outrageous that the lawyers would try to pin this on host families who are adhering to the rules and requirements laid out for them!!! I think it would be naïve of us all to omit the fact that the agencies – in their fight for survival – would be happy to throw host families under the bus like this!

cv harquail March 24, 2015 at 9:37 am

MilAuPairMom– I wouldn’t put too much trust in that quote… I’m not sure that the “they” the author sites was even more than one person (her “think tankS and academicS are both single examples, not the plurality the author suggests).

While the Host Family may ultimately be “the employer”, our responsibility is to follow the US State Dept guidelines… not to interpret the law ourselves. So, I agree with you that Host Parents shouldn’t be faulted for following the rules given to us.

I would also challenge the theme that the author is proposing, that Agencies are aiming to shift the blame to families.

Keep in mind, it’s not a *fact* that “agencies… would be happy” to blame Host Families — that’s a fear we have, based on stories and anecdotes we’ve heard about bad Agency behavior. Bad news is velcro, good news is teflon, as they say. What we don’t hear much about are the times when Agencies step in to offer extra help to Host Parents or Au Pairs. I suspect that positive intervention by Agencies happens much more often than we hear about, and even when we hear about it, it gets drowned out by negative drama and fears.


NZ HM March 24, 2015 at 8:33 pm

just wondering: In the US, do APs and HFs sign a contract / employment agreement (with each other, with the AP agency)?

PS. cv, happy to write something on NZ aupairing situation but need to collate more general information first (like other HF’s opinion/ experience).

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2015 at 11:40 pm

Yes, in the U.S., APs and HF sign a contract – one that is drawn up by the Agency based on State Dept. regulations.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

Despite all of my recent gripes, i believe the program is overall wotthwhile and fair. Thats not to say there’s no room for improvement. Here are the changes I would make to the proram:

– there should be no financial disincentive for APS and HFS that choose to transition (possibly capped at a certain number of transitions) or leave the program. I would be willing to pay a slightly higher fixed rate for the certainty of removing financial pressure from the rematch equation. (There’s still then cost of interim coverage, but I see that differently).
– the two week rematch period should be changed to a minimum of 2 weeks, with the option to extend that time by mutual agreement between both parties. If extended, the visa will expire 3 days after either party says no mas.
– absent a safety issue or substantiated allegation of illegal behavior, an au pair who does not successfully complete his or her year should remain eligible to apply for a future J -1 visa after the applicable waiting period.
– participants in the program must agree to be contacted as references for future participants for a period of 3-5 years, and update their contact info with the agency as needed. AS a final step prior to march, agencies will provide the lists to each side, and each must confirm that they attempted to contact at least one reference from the participant list. The agency may, in its discretion, omit a participant from the list. In that case, the agency should explain why the person was removed (e.g., left no contact info, party’s appraisal of the other proven to be dishonest, etc.). General bitterness or griping should not remove one from the list.
-LCCs should be paid at a rate commensurate with the services they are expected to provide, and should receive substantial training in counseling and mediation.
– last (and this is just the bitterness over the article speaking), HFs should be required/permitted to itemize the additional benefits paid to or on behalf of the AP (room and board, car use, phone, utilities, gifts, trips, educational expenses, etc.) and deduct the as business expenses.

there may be more, but that’s what I’ve got for now!

Should be working March 24, 2015 at 11:49 am

I agree that the 2-week rematch window is unfair to rematch-worthy APs, but for bad matches it is also an eternity for the HF stuck housing a departing AP. This is where the definition of “fair” really pits HFs and APs against each other. If it were easier to rematch–and in particular to get an AP out of the house–wouldn’t more HPs rip off the bandaid more readily with mediocre APs? But decent APs should have a longer window–except the evaluation of who is a decent AP falls to low-paid contract employees, the LCCs. And really to evaluate the dynamics leading to rematch would require someone akin to a marriage counselor or trained mediator.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 24, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I agree, SBW. That’s why I would make an extension of the two week period dependent on mutual agreement between HF and AP. And, I would require mediation/counselor training for LCCs. I tried to think of a solution for the 2 week housing nightmare which, even in the best situations is extremely uncomfortable and awkward. I couldn’t come up with a viable solution there.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 28, 2015 at 11:43 pm

IME APs have more than 2 weeks in my agency (the largest or one of the largest). The APs may or may not give up after 2 weeks. Same with extension. I was living with an AP with whom I chose not to extend – her extension period ran well past the deadline until she found an appropriate match (she wasn’t a bad AP, just a horrible driver – and I refused to lie about her driving ability).

Peachtree Mom March 24, 2015 at 11:51 am

A concern that popped into my head when reading the last part of the article was that the State Department was going to look into the program this summer. I wonder what fall out that could have for host families. With our aupair leaving at the end of the summer, should I start looking into other childcare options? Should I worry that the guidelines will change midyear because as someone posted earlier with the housing expenses, insurance (which for us is huge after our last aupair totaled the car….16 mos later claim is still not settled), cell phone, recreational tickets, emotional investment etc it might not be worth it to us. I checked our agency’s website and they had no mention of the article.

Seattle Mom March 24, 2015 at 6:54 pm

It is extremely unlikely that anything would change drastically and quickly.

Au Pair Report Author March 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

I agree that the Washington Post article was poorly researched and extremely lopsided in its perspective. Having worked as an au pair program counselor for six years, I learned pretty quickly that there are two sides to every au pair/host family relationship story and–something I knew from my literary studies–that every narrator is an unreliable narrator. However, it is somewhat reassuring that the program will be subject to some scrutiny that may need to needed reforms. I wrote a novel (Au Pair Report) inspired by my experiences (but entirely fictional in order to protect the families and au pairs with whom I had worked), and my conclusions were similar to many of those I read here. The program itself has some important safeguards, including State Department oversight, but it also has some serious flaws, including the unexpected expenses and emotional turmoil both au pairs and host families may incur as the result of a mismatch. I felt underpaid partly because of the independent contractor arrangement that penalizes counselors who work with smaller clusters and rewards those who work with huge clusters. I also wondered where all the money was going since the program fees were so significant. CV, the work you are doing to look at the business model of au pair programs is fascinating, and I’d like to read anything you publish on this topic (so please share on the site). And thank you for pointing to the larger issue about the inadequate state of child care in this country! We need attention to this issue, and if au pairs have their day in court, there may be some positive consequences.

Amelie March 24, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Being an au pair was an amazing experience. Although I worked a lot (45 hours every week with three kids under 50 I had an incredible year, lived with an awesome family, traveled to many different places and met some incredible people. So I really hope the au pair program still continues for many and many year, so more young women like me can have this amazing experience.

However, I think there are some critical problems related to the AP program:

-misinformation: I used to work at a local office for a major agency and, although they talk about the work part, they of course put emphasis on the studying, traveling and being part of the family. Lots of au pairs I’ve met thought they’d be treated like princesses, and most went into rematch when this didn’t really happened. I think it would be better to sell the program in a way to let the candidates know they will be an employee (although one that lives with the employers and, hopefully, will develope a good relationship with them), will most likely work 45 hours a week and maybe won’t have time/money to take a specific course (lots of au pairs really think they’ll study at Harvard, Yale, etc).

Also, the agencies should provide more information about the au pair rights, what they can or cannot do (working over hours, heavy cleaning, etc), what to do in case of an emergency (the family kicked her out, for ex). Talk about costs in the US, and how far the $195 go, etc.

-Families abusing the program: We know they exist, although I believe most follow the rules and the whole spirit of the program. We know for a fact that agencies not always do a good job in screening for new host familes and banning the ones that broke the rules.

-Agencies not being supportive as they should: While host families need support from the agency in some cases (au pair is terrible, or leaves that family without notice, etc), au pairs are the ones who need the most support. I’ve seem many cases where au pairs were abused by the HF, or thrown out of the house, etc. and felt really scared, sometimes without money or a place to stay. In some cases, these girls are just sent home, failing to fulfill the dream of spending a year in the US – after having paid some good money for this.

-regarding the stipend… I think $195 is more than enough. My friends and I could all buy lots of clothes, eat out, study and travel with that money.It becomes a little more difficult if the family is not providing enough/appropriate food (it happens all the time) or lives to isolate (au pair spends too much on gas or public transportation).

German Au-Pair March 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

I don’t have the time now to read all those comments, will ctach up later.
One crucial thing the agencies could and need to improve is the quality of their staff. I have both positive and extremely negative experiences with LCs and I think this is where many girls feel exploited: many experience that no one gives a damn about them. I have no illusions: agencies are companies, HF are the customers and APs are the products. But when you send young women into the world, sometimes with little ability express their issues due to language problems, you at least should have some quality management on the local counselors.

The counselors should be able to see both sides and not mainly the side who pays more. Yes, they need to get along with the HFs even after the Aps leave, I get that. But I also know for a fact that a bad counselor can be common knowdlege and no one cares. A friend of mine had a problem in a different city and ran into brick walls with her counselor so I asked mine for advice for her (the good one) and when I told her the story she could NAME the counselor in question without knowing which city my friend lived in. Just because this story was exactly what the other counselor’s reputation was.

This is something I find unaccaptable AND actually changeable.

I also know someone who lived IN the garage -I’m not kidding. The HF had built a little wooden “room” IN the garage (and we’re talking about a rich family in L.A. here). This case I have seen with my own eyes (I was in that wooden, windowless kennel-like room that fit a bed and a desk and little more) but I have seen photos of similar cases as well. While the AP knew this beforehand and was okay with it (the desireable location made up for it in her mind), I still cannot help but wonder how on EARTH any agency mind think that was an acceptable situation. This fullfills the narrative of the exploited foreign worker almost too well.

Maybe APs should have the chance to reach out to more than one person, maybe the higher ranks within the agencies should be filled with people who have some sort of education like therapists, social workers etc and/or have been former APs to gain (and give) some perspective.

That said, I also think it would help if the agencies actually encouraged (or required?) the HFs to make a list with costs for the AP. Food, water, heating, car insurance (cause if you were a live out nanny you would need your own car), outings, cell phone, maybe vacation etc. Plus monthly stipend and educational stipend of course. They should also publish a standardized version of this on their websites.

They should explicitely point out that minimum wage is higher, yes, but when you get minimum wage you also have to pay for those expenses yourself.

I think it would greatly help APs and their families, who often share the view as well, to see that they are actually well off with 800 dollars every just for travelling, shopping and starbucks. I dare you to show me a minimum wage worker who has that…
And while we are at internet representation, maybe HFs and APs should be informed about the program on the same website so they literally are on the same page when it comes to expectations. I’m thinking about the “cheap childcare vs. fun vacation year” dilemma here.

However, families who DO try to exploit the APs by holding back checks, making them work longer etc. should not be seen in terms of cash coming it but reputation being destroyed. Any AP treated badly like this -again, more objective LCs needed here!- should have a longer rematch period so their hopes and dreams aren’t crushed by a family who simply was aweful. I also strongly believe that anyone who was being exploited would be much less likely to come up with a lawsuit against the agency if they felt like they were heard and the family who did the exploitation was removed from the program. Here it may be the government who should make sure this family cannot sign up with another agency.

So while I personally think it’s stupid to file a lawsuite after you have signed a contract that included your salary and everything you’re complaining about, I also think it would help if the agencies actually pretended to care about the APs as individual human beings.

oranje_mama March 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

FYI, the WashPo article was not just a blog post – it appeared on p4 of the Sunday paper in print. Seriously. Editor on spring break or something? Just appalling journalism. With the hundreds (thousands?) of APs in the DC area, apparently journalist did not both to interview one single AP who was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

My view is that the amount of the stipend is pretty far down the list of issues to be improved with the AP program. I think where the program really could use more oversight is in the matching/mis-matching/re-matching department. There are HFs who do not abide by the rules, agencies know this and still allow them to participate in the program. There are APs who are afraid to go into rematch – even though justified because a HF doesn’t abide by the rules – because rematch is so short and high-pressure. 2 weeks to find another family or have your dreamed-about year abroad immediately and suddenly over! And some agencies will make those APs eat the cost of their plane ticket home!

The stipend is calculated in a fair way. If the federal minimum wage increases, the AP’s wage will increase too. It is in fact tied to the federal minimum wage through a formula that counts the costs that HFs incur for the benefit of their APs at only 40%. Fact is that the room + board + extras (cell, personal gas, use of car for personal use, car insurance, meals out, tickets, etc.) + no income tax on that non-cash comp + no SS taxes – in actuality comprises more than 40% of the AP’s total comp in the majority of cases, especially in high-cost areas (in our family, I’d say it’s more like 65-70%).

So, by definition, because of the income tax/SS treatment, ALL APs get well above minimum wage from an aftertax perspective – even where the HF only provides a bare minimum room & board at the 40% level. And I would venture, that in high-cost areas, the vast majority of APs are actually earning (in aftertax earnings) roughly the equivalent of 2X the federal minimum wage because of the higher cost of living expenses that HFs pay on their behalf. Not bad for an AP who is straight out of high school with no specialized training/education.

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Really? They printed that thing? Oy vei. WaPo just went down a notch in my book.. I am a digital subscriber and read it as my main news source, because I lived in DC for many years. That may change, though I’m not too keen on the alternatives either. Back to the NY Times I guess.. (my native hometown paper).

NewbieHM March 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

I think and hope this lawsuit will serve as a wake up call for the agencies to clean up their act. They are the ones profiting from this program and is only fair that their actions are scrutinized more. They need to stop sweeping things under the rug. Abusive host families need to go and abusive au pairs need to go, period. I understand there are two sides of the story but when there is compelling evidence against one party, that’s it. If an au pair is caught hurting a child she needs to go home and the family shouldn’t have to threaten the agency so the AP doesn’t end up in another home. Same with the host families that violate the rules and use the au pair as maids, don’t provide enough food, don’t provide a reasonable room, harass etc. They should be blacklisted from entering the program again with any agency.

Agencies sell au pairs a year long vacation. Some of the recruiting agencies even encourage the au pairs to lie about their experience and I don’t believe for one second that the US agencies are not aware of this. This creates big issues for the host families and au pairs alike. Their expectations are unrealistic and they are not prepared to do the job they were hired to do.

I believe in the program and I think it could be an fantastic experience for au pairs and host families. But there is definitely room for improvement and I don’t think the agencies will change anything unless they feel their business is at risk.

Host Mom in the City March 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Phew – this was a tough one to read. I woke up to this on the third (?) page of the Washington Post Sunday morning. Totally one-sided, misleading, and poorly-researched article. It’s easy to get caught up in that and rage against the awful reporting. But I’m glad we’re talking about what we would change, because honestly I’m pretty conflicted about the program for a few reasons. I also think it’s interesting to discuss whether this should be classified as a work program or a cultural exchange program, and therein lies most of my conflict.

Honestly I believe that if host families and au pairs would follow the rules that are already in place and that agencies would sell the program more appropriately to both sides and actually enforce those rules, the program would be fine. I don’t really think any additional rules or oversight are needed – it’s just that the ones we have already aren’t being followed, seemingly at all. Definitely, the program would be a lot less popular and a lot less profitable for the agencies if the rules were followed to the letter.

I swear I am the only host mom who actually follows the rules and the spirit of the program in my “real life.” Everyone I know that has an au pair breaks the hour rules, wrings every last minute out of the 45 even when they don’t need it, etc. I haven’t personally heard of any truly abusive situations and most au pairs I know are actually really happy anyway, but I can definitely easily understand how someone wouldn’t want to risk rematching and being sent home – as a 20-year-old, that would be hugely awkward and uncomfortable, expensive (if they have to pay for a flight home and lose their agency fee), and also stigmatizing – you have to tell your friends and family back home that you have failed in some way. That is a huge disincentive to say anything and to just suck it up even when the program isn’t what you think.

But that said, I’d say about 1/3 of the au pairs I know have rematched. I’ve personally been in rematch and I was absolutely appalled at some of the candidates they were offering. My LCC is awesome and fortunately weeded through a lot of it for me, and I adore the au pair I found out of rematch (who incidentally asked for a rematch after 30 days because the host family didn’t treat her like a member of the family – she was easily put into rematch no questions asked). But there were candidates with safety issues, that didn’t want to work the schedules they agreed to, that sounded hugely whiny, etc. So honestly it doesn’t appear to me personally to be that hard to rematch, but I can see both sides.

But anyway, the question about State versus Labor Department is an interesting one and is where I am personally most conflicted. Yes, it is a “cultural exchange” program and I do thoroughly enjoy that aspect of it. But first and foremost, I need childcare. I need childcare for my elementary-aged kids for the morning before school and the afternoon after school. So here’s my conflict – for me personally, it’s a childcare work program. Yes, there are elements of cultural exchange, but honestly I feel like most of the cultural benefit is for the au pairs. Unless you’re a family that wants the language instruction or something, it’s really most the au pairs who get the culture. Sure they’ve all cooked us meals from their countries occasionally or had friends/family visit and stay with us, but that’s about it.

So to me, it’s really more of a work program, and therefore seems that it should be under the Labor Department. But there is a definite cost/benefit analysis I go through when I am choosing my childcare options. For what we need (that classic elementary school aged kids split schedule), a part-time nanny is only slightly more expensive. But you don’t get the flexibility in the schedule for the summer, and with an au pair you get someone who is more committed to your family, who you really grow to know and love and who is more reliable than a part-time sitting from the local college.

Au pairs are the perfect solution. But they cost a LOT. A lot more than that $200 stipend that is all they discuss in the article. We host extraordinaires, and it costs us about $25k a year in actual cash outlay. And although I have grown to love our great au pairs and still have relationships with them, it is a big inconvenience very frequently to have someone else in the house. We lose a bedroom, share a car, deal with someone coming home and waking us all up at 2am, worry when they forget to lock the door, have damaged walls and carpets and such from every one of them, etc.

Hosting an au pair well also takes up a ton of time – there is a huge learning curve and orientation process in the beginning, there is relationship-building all through the year, there is making sure she feels like part of the family, etc. Not that this stuff isn’t also enjoyable, but it’s a lot of time.

So given the $25k I’m paying, the room and board I’m providing, my guidance and hosting throughout the year, and the benefits they get from the agency (including health insurance and flights here and home), I personally feel that for the service I’m getting, my au pairs are well compensated. I would not pay any more for it. Particularly those agency fees are a killer. Writing a $9,000 check for someone I’ve only talked to on Skype is rough every year. I’ve heard this from enough host parents now that I’m pretty convinced that if the stipend goes up anymore and if the flexibility gets any less without something else giving, the program will be drastically cut. There are already more au pairs that want to come (even with all the message boards and Facebook groups sharing the truth about au pairing!) than host parents willing to take on the expense and risk. Have it cost as much as a nanny *and* make it less flexible? There would be no host families left.

So seriously – I am totally conflicted about all this and really don’t know what the solution is other than continuing to operate in the most fair way I know how within the confines of a program that seems inherently wrong and unfair in many aspects. I think my au pairs have been happy that I’ve taken that approach – all four of them have counted their year with us as the best of the lives so far.

Dorsi March 25, 2015 at 3:28 pm

This is a small aside to the bigger questions raised — however, when we went into rematch last year, there were 8 IQ APs in the pool (from our very large agency). 4 were unwilling to change city they were located in. 1 refused to work with infants, 1 refused an irregular schedule, 1 was in rematch for the second time, and 1 refused us.

I have very little experience with rematch, but it seems like it can’t be so terrible if candidates have the ability to dictate terms so forcefully. Maybe the threat of rematch is worse than the actual process. (As an aside, we were willing to give our AP a lukewarm recommendation for rematch – she didn’t even consider trying and promptly booked her flight home. She had no idea what working 45 hours a week in a home with 3 children would be like, and once she saw it close up, wanted no more of it.)

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 6:18 pm

Exactly. We are in rematch right now and our au pair had the same issue – we have three young kids, au pair didn’t realize 45 hours with them would be so tough. We initiated the rematch discussion when we realized how miserable she was, and she agreed it was best. She has made it clear to our LCC her demands: (1) stay local to be with her friends; (2) no more than 2 kids; (3) preferably the school-aged, split-schedule (but no kids under 2). She knows she’ll go home and pay for her ticket if there are no families that meet her expectations who are willing to match with her. She is very much in control of the process, and I do not think she feels taken advantage of in any way. Our family was kind, flexible, fair and tolerant, and she believes that as well. The job just wasn’t for her, and so we are parting ways.

I agree with you – it’s a work program that provides an opportunity for cultural exchange for the au pair (which is why they do it – they want to see America and learn English; they don’t do it because they’re dying to have a childcare job), and less-expensive, flexible childcare for the host families with a dose of cultural exchange on the side. However – while I share your ambivalence about the program in many respects (we actually do know of some truly abusive situations, not just the usual rule-breaking you are referring to, although even in those situations – the au pairs could have rematched but chose not to because it was more important to them to stay in America with their new friends, go on their planned trips, etc. than risk the chance that rematch wouldn’t work out and they’d go home. But that risk is inherent in the program) – I still don’t think it should go under the Dep’t of Labor umbrella. These are not U.S. citizens entitled to work here; they are young people who are only permitted to work here because of this unique program. They would not be able to have a job as a nanny in the U.S. under any other type of visa. If they came on a student visa, they would not be allowed to work at all, and they’d have to nanny under the table, and not have any oversight or protection, from State, labor or otherwise. If the argument is that the program just shouldn’t exist – maybe so. But since it does, it seems that it’s because there are enough young people from other countries and U.S. families who want it to.

Peachtree Mom March 26, 2015 at 9:56 am

You summed it up perfectly. If I did not need childcare I would host a college exchange student. Sometimes it seems like even following the rules is not enough though….like the aupair referenced from Utah. There was no mention of what rules her host family was breaking….she was just not receiving enough compensation. In following the rules, you also expect the aupair the follow the rules also and not complain or make life unpleasant in the household. Our aupair is 6 mos into her year. She already used over her allotted vacation time. I know she will ask for more this summer. I already agreed with myself to give in to avoid any unpleasantness…..along with a variety of other things. In addition to rematching causing emotional turmoil and disruption with your children it costs a fortune. We rematched when our aupair returned home after 30 days and for our rematch aupair we paid for plane tickets to our home, another $850 driving course, state driver license fees and 4 days of my vacation to orient her and show her around, etc. I hate to sound skeptical and I know we have only been hosting barely 4 years which is not long compared to some of the host parents on this site but I have not seen or heard of abusive situations in the clusters in our area….and our aupairs have been friends with all of them and very chatty. I’ve heard of rematches (like ours) for various reasons …mostly the not being part of the family thing but never abuse. I keep reading “not enough food”….how could someone with enough cash flow to have an aupair not have enough food in the house? Are there locks on the pantry door? We live in “average town” USA, nothing special so we are not sheltered but I have not seen or heard of these horrible abusive situations people talk about. Are they there…yes… but more like outliers; not in the numbers or scale the article talks about. If anything (I hope I do not get kicked off this site) I think when it works….it is fabulous for both parties, but there are also many times it is skewed in favor of the aupair and the host family gets the short end of the stick in terms of value both monetarily and emotionally. I sound cold but I really am not.

WarmStateMomma March 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

From my APs, I’ve heard of a lot of rule-breaking where the APs were pleased with their situations and felt like it worked out in their favor. (Ex: extra pay and freedom in exchange for watching the kids while the parents went out of town.) I heard one “not enough food” story, but that was because the HF ate very little and the AP was too embarrassed to tell them she was still hungry at the end of a meal.

I have only heard of one abusive story from my APs. The mistreated AP decided to go home instead of trying to rematch. She was from China and spent a few thousand dollars to get here. The agency just kept feeding that family more APs despite knowing about the abuse.

TexasHM March 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Here as said the majority of abuses I hear about the APs either are willing to tolerate because of some other advantage (free vacations with the family, extra pay, student visa sponsorship, etc) or it was the APs idea! There are outlying cases of abuse but it seems like when I see them they are BAD. We have housed two “abuse” rematch APs and our rockstar french AP came from an abusive environment. I have never heard of physical abuse of an AP but there are many forms of abuse and the transitions we housed one was sexually harassed and yelled at in front of others on multiple occasions in addition to watching 8 kids, cleaning the entire house and working about 96 hours per week (we calculated). The second was in a household that had newborn twins and a toddler and had the AP working overnights and days (plus the twins were 2 weeks old) and leaving AP alone with all three for 8-9 hour stretches that she wasn’t comfortable with as she didn’t have newborn experience or twin experience. They were extremely hostile with the agency and with her.

One of the worst stories I saw was with our own rockstar AP. :( In her first family she had to write down on a large pad on the refrigerator everything she ate (even if she used a single egg to make herself breakfast – no other family member required to do this and she lost a lot of weight!). The host mom would never allow her to be alone with the kids (stay at home mom) and made sure the kids did not bond with her and understood she was on a lower level than them. They didn’t let her get mail at their door, instead it needed to go to the basement door (where her room was) and the basement (in Chicago) had no heat and it was winter. Our AP slept with all her clothes on, a hat, mittens and gloves and 2 blankets every night. When asked about heat she was told she was ungrateful and that she should be thrilled they bought her a bed! She was worked over 45 hours per week for no additional pay and on Christmas was told to stay downstairs because it was a “family only” holiday. She wasn’t allowed to drive or enroll in school. Concerned about her program she approached the host mom and was told she was ungrateful and the HM initiated rematch. The next day she was told to pack her bags immediately and wait outside (in the snow) for the LC. There’s a lot more but I need to get back to my happy place now for sanity reasons. :)

I think unfortunately, (hopefully on rare occasion) some people see this as cheap childcare and don’t have any interest in investing in the APs and it’s a shame. These experiences are probably a big part of the reason that I don’t have much patience for entitled APs.

In the case above the AP just wasn’t a good match for living in Utah. That’s not the agency’s or HPs fault. I sat on a plane next to two ex-APs last night (the odds!) and we talked about this and they agreed that most APs have no idea what they are getting themselves into or what they are looking for in a match, location, etc. That’s a big issue.

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Amen, sister.

We’re not sure how much longer we’ll be in the program. Once our younger daughter is in public school (in a year and a half) we’ll have alternatives to consider that will be cheaper than the au pair program. Probably in the order of $3-5k per year cheaper. So we’ll have to really weigh how much we value being in this program for the first time. Up until now it has been a no-brainer. But we’ll have to weigh all of the things you mention: the training each year, the search for a new au pair, the risk of choosing poorly & rematch, the damage to our stuff, extra utilities, extra food, etc. On the positive side the convenience, being able to row every morning if we want, having someone care for our children who develops a deep bond with them and who we get to know well, and of course the opportunity to get to know a young woman from another country.

HRHM March 25, 2015 at 5:13 pm

One thing to note, if this program would be transferred to Labor, it would likely then be completely abolished. The work visa requirements clearly state that unskilled work that can be performed by US citizens is NOT eligible for a work visa. This includes domestic workers, child care, construction work, agricultural labor, etc. The only areas where work visas are frequently and easily issues is in cases where the worker has specific technical skills (IT, engineering, medicine) AND the sponsoring employer can show that they made an unsuccessful effort to find and retain a qualified citizen to fill the position before looking overseas. Oh, plus supermodels! (not kidding)

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Come now, super-models are each unique and special snowflakes.

A reader March 25, 2015 at 8:33 pm

H-2B visa is for unskilled workers, so there is some room for unskilled workers for sure…

NewbieHM March 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Not really, that visa is for temporary workers. The employers need to prove the need for such employee is temporary and that there are not US workers available for that particular job, among other things. That is not the case here, there are nannies everywhere that are more than qualified and willing to work. The US government has an interest in protecting the job market for US citizens and is not going to create a work visa for child care providers.

HRHM April 15, 2015 at 10:56 am

Interestingly, my AP has received an invitation from the State Department to attend a meeting regarding the Au Pair program. According to our LCC, this is a first. None of her friends have been asked to attend so far. Anyone else hear about this?

HRHM April 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm

This web link is the full text of the lawsuit. Pretty interesting read.

One point that seems clear is that they want the program to be changed to full cash minimum wage PLUS room and board. They assert that if the program requires the provision of room and board, then the program wage can’t deduct the value from wages.

Interestingly, they also seem fixated on the fact that APs can’t negotiate their stipend with either the agency or the host family. I don’t know about you but if I had an AP candidate who had stellar credentials that I really wanted and she tried to negotiate a higher wage, there is a chance that I might offer more, or at least the chance of a raise after a trial period. I’ve never seen any evidence that agencies are trying to block us from paying whatever we want.

In addition, if said AP told the agency that she only wanted to be marketed to HFs at a higher salary, she’d likely not have many HFs banging down her door to interview unless she was a STELLAR candidate.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 30, 2015 at 6:52 am

When I tried to sponsor my first AP as an employer, the U.S. Dept. of Labor set the minimum wage for the position (well above U.S. minimum wage) and then deducted room & board (which we required) from the salary. The resulting salary, which was the salary at which we had to advertise in a newspaper in order to prove that an American or someone living in the U.S. with a green card would not accept the job, was still well above U.S. minimum wage but below what nannies were asking in my community. Because we required a valid U.S. driving license, we actually knocked out all of the applicants.

Should the AP wage be tied to the local minimum wage? Even though it currently is not, you don’t see AP candidates knocking down doors of people who live in communities which will maximize their stipend – they want to live where the action is – and that’s expensive.

Host Mom in the City April 30, 2015 at 6:55 am

Thanks for posting this! I can’t wait to read it and also can’t wait to figure out what exactly this would raise the stipend to. Do they mean federal minimum wage or state for one? I have no issue paying more to my AP rather than to the agency, but I’m not paying for more the program. Personally, it would be cheaper for me to do before/aftercare or do an after-school sitter. APs are the most expensive option, but we do it for the flexibility and the logistical ease. Every year though I beg my husband to let us try another option because having an AP is so expensive and stressful to me and I just want my house back. I think they’re really undervaluing the “hosting” and “room and board” side of things when all they ask for is more stipend. I really don’t think that solves the problem – and will likely only result in even fewer host families in the program.

HRHM April 30, 2015 at 7:24 am

state/local minimum is the goal

I DO have an issue paying full minimum wage AND providing room and board (along with all the other perks – phone, car, vacations, weekend trips, skiing, local tickets to events, etc)

I DON’T have any heartburn paying local minimum wage (higher here than federal) but then my AP (or whatever caregiver I pay) is going to live in their own home, pay for their own cell phone, drive their own (self-insured) car and not get invited to family events unless they are needed to work. In my case, an Au Pair will become a de facto Nanny/babysitter. Not exactly the “spirit of the program”

Host Mom in the City April 30, 2015 at 8:07 am

Right – no issue here either, but then if it costs the same as an American nanny, but then au pairs want us to continue all the effort and money we spend to help them feel like part of the family, that just doesn’t make sense. Raising the stipend isn’t going to solve the real issue here – which to me is host parents (and au pairs too) not acting in the spirit of the program and/or following the rules already in place.

We host extraordinaires, so our costs are higher anyway (and only use 30 hours a week – so do I have to pay min wage according to hours used or still the full 45 even if I dno’t use it?). But let’s say the rules were changed such that the stipend had to be state minimum wage for 45 hours, no matter how many hours the au pair actually worked. Wait, would OT be included too since that’s over 40 hours? So that, for us (for a regular au pair), would be $434/week. Times 51 weeks plus $8,000 agency fee plus $500 education fee plus food, utilities, cell phone, a car, plus the inconveniences of living with a young adult, but I can’t quantify that so let’s stick to the money. That’s about $35,000 a year.

For $35,000 a year, I could get a professional live-out American nanny in my community. She would not be as flexible, and I would not have the great live-in relationship that I have with my au pairs, so that would be a loss. But I would be able to expect much more of her performance-wise, I would no longer need to share my house, car, and vacations with someone, and it would be much much less risky to hire someone I could interview in person rather than a foreign young adult.

You’d better believe I’d be expecting much more from my au pair in terms of who I pick – they would all need to be extraordinaire quality to demand that much money. I’d also be expecting more performance-wise. And I would be much less able and willing to extend all the perks like vacations and such that au pairs currently get.

But really, there’s no way I would pay $35,000 a year for the convenience of having someone else do drop-off and pick-up. In my area anyway, most au pairs are hired by families with school-aged children to do the “split” schedule and help drive to and from activities. Au pairs don’t typically compete with professional nannies – they compete with before/after care programs, which is what we would go to if au pairs cost $35,000 a year, particularly if they continue to offer mostly the same low-qualified candidates with just babysitting experience who want to come to the US to live as part of an American family and have high expectations in terms of what that means.

Argh – the one-sidedness of this whole thing is making me angry.

Is anyone talking about this with their au pair? I’m considering it.

SKNY April 30, 2015 at 9:46 am

I have done same research as TACL. I applied for US dept of Labor last year (as I wanted to sponsor my au pair). They calculated that the salary I owned my au pair after deducting room and board was $10/h.
That would be about $450 a week (which depending on the experience level of the candidate would be ok), but still too much more money for us…
Plus there was taxes to be withheld for both of us.
I was going to pursue slightly more, but gave up because the wait time was also higher.

SKNY April 30, 2015 at 9:47 am

PS: that was for NY state

Host Mom in the City April 30, 2015 at 10:30 am

I also think though, that $10/hour is entirely appropriate for someone sponsored through the Department of Labor and would even be for au pairs themselves, if I weren’t also paying $8,000 in agency fees. It’s not that I don’t think au pairs are worth $10/hour, it’s that I’m already paying more than $10/hour when you factor in all the other ways in which we compensate au pairs. I don’t want that to get lost.

WarmStateMomma April 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm


The $10/hour is in addition to room, board, car insurance, car access, phone, inclusion in family outings while she is off-duty, etc.? I guess there’s no education stipend/schedule to manage, but it seems like all the downside of a nanny and AP (higher salary of a nanny, higher cost of hosting, and lack of family privacy thrown in for good measure).

It would be about the same cost for me to host two APs instead of sponsoring one through Dept of Labor. HD would think I’d lost my mind, but we could hire one from China for language and one from Germany to drive kids and APs everywhere. Then I’d never have to spend 3 hours at the DMV or SS office with toddlers again….

SKNY April 30, 2015 at 1:27 pm

I was considering sponsoring her visa as a worker. So she would be coming as a live in nanny.
When you apply, you explain exactly what they would be doing, and specifications. I wrote what she did as au pair. every single au pair duty.
They dont require/take in consideration cell phone, family outing, anything.
They take duties, minimum wage requirement for your area, and give you a certification of employment saying how much is the MINIMUM you would have to pay. In our case it was $10 a hr.
Again, the dept of labor cant care less if you don’t give a cell phone, dont invite on outings, etc…
The “benefit” is that the visa would allow her to stay 2 years, renewable for 2 more…

SKNY April 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

also, what is your agency? it cost me about $350-375 a week to host an au pair. so 2 au pairs would cost $700-740… I got lost on the math… hehe

WarmStateMomma April 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm


My cost is the same as yours. I’ve been with APC and CC and they charge pretty much the same. If I went back to the slightly cheaper API and hired two Educare APs, I could host them for $32k, get plenty of child care hours, and require them to take vacation at separate times so I wouldn’t have to pay for back up child care when they take vacation.

Paying someone $450 week, plus taxes, visa costs, cost of child care during 2 vacation weeks and so on would run me $27k. Add onto that flight costs ($1,500) and the value of my time in dealing with the process and I’d put it at $30k. For $2k more, I could just skip the whole mess of waiting around for State to approve the arrangement and start interviewing APs.

HRHM May 1, 2015 at 9:14 am


No overtime for live-in domestic workers.

Interestingly, the DOL rules are what they are trying to use to say that the APs were underpaid. However, the DOL rules also CLEARLY state, that the minimum wage is an HOURLY wage, which means once we start applying that to APs, the ones who work 25 hours a week are going to get a pay cut, not a raise (181 a week at the fed min wage) and the ones who work all 45 would get an extra 126 a week but neither would have any week to week stability since it would be paid by actual hours worked.

SKNY May 1, 2015 at 9:27 am

Usually when you hire a foreign national you need to guarantee them 40hs a week minimum. (at least to sponsor an international person as work visa). So does not matter if they work or not 40hs you have to pay it.
Now au pairs do get way more than the seasonal workers who come to parks, etc. I know a girl who works in a hotel in Myrtle Beach. She makes minimum wage, gets the same insurance au pairs get, works way more than 45hs a week, and yes, gets paid weekly, but the employer discounts their room and board at employers convenience (I think it is about 160 a week to share a room in a “crap” home with many more people, living far from the hotel), and no meals included. I know that she told me the other day that after taxes and deduction of living she makes about $160 a week (before food too).
I guess those seasonal employees are considered legal. They may just decide to put au pairs in the same category, which means they will be loosing….

Host Mom in the City May 1, 2015 at 10:35 am

Ah, interesting. So much I don’t know. Thanks for sharing all this information. I guess we’ll see what happens. I just feel like this is an instance of “be careful what you ask for.”

BearCo Momma May 1, 2015 at 10:36 am

HIMC : I talked to my au pair about this when the article came out and this post went up. She actually seemed very guarded in her responses which made me uneasy and first gave me the impression that she possibly did have negative things to say but didn’t want to because she thought I would hold it against her…..

But after more conversations I really think it’s just not something she really thinks much about (partly because she’s having fun and enjoying herself and partly because she just wasn’t educated to really think much about these things), and so she really didn’t know what to say. (I’ve seen this when I’ve tried to talk to her about other “sensitive” topics like prejudice, racism, conflicts going on around the world, etc.)

If you were to talk to your AP about it , what would you want to know? And what’s stopping you ? (Maybe I can use this when I talk to mine to make the conversation more productive)

BearCo Momma May 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

And I should add — basically what I could get from her is that she thinks the program is great/fair when you (AP) get a “good” family, but can be very unfair when you don’t. I think when APs are truly treated as members of the family, the stipend being pocket money makes sense and feels fair, but when the family treats their AP like an employee and nothing more, then its easy to see why they would start comparing themselves to nannies and feel exploited.

Obviously this goes both ways (you can get a bad AP who’s trying to take advantage of HPs), but I think it’s harder for an AP to extricate herself from a bad situation than it is for a HF, particularly if the AP is not one who’s used to standing up for herself or comfortable resisting authority (and most HF’s probably don’t screen for an AP who is super adept or considers it her “thing” to resist authority!) I think this opens the door to a fair amount of abuse.

I think the agencies/LCCs need to be more pro-active about monitoring if families are really following the rules and their girls are really happy in their situation. All of my APs have mentioned at one time or another that they don’t really think the LCC really cares how they are doing (even though I think she’s awesome).

To me, this is a bigger issue than the stipend , and my guess is this is what most APs would say if interviewed.

HRHM May 1, 2015 at 12:14 pm

I actually asked on FB for my APs (present and past) to read the WP article and comment. 3 responded and basically, they said exactly that. That if you have a great family it’s a good deal. That all people want to be paid more but when you are having a good time and getting to do lots of things (with the family or with your friends with the families’ support) then the money is less an issue.

UKAu Pair May 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I agree that if the au pair and host family work together, and it becomes a reciprocal agreement, then the pocket money makes sense.

I au paired for a lovely family who paid me 50 euros a month. That’s less than $15 a week. I paid for my own transport, internet (they didn’t have wifi), phone bill etc. And yes, it was tight. But we loved each other, and I loved living with them so much that it didn’t feel like I was working, so I didn’t mind.

Conversely, I au paired for another family who paid me French minimum wage minus bed and board (which worked out to about 120 euros- $134- a week). I was earning more, but I was also working up to 60 hour weeks with 5 children and I felt like an employee, not a member of the family.

I think au pairs are much more likely to kick back at the programme (even though they’ve agreed to it) if they discover when they arrive that it doesn’t meet their expectations.

NZ HM April 29, 2015 at 10:16 pm

It’s all been said and discussed before and I will not be directly affected should there be any changes to the aupair programme in US but it frustrates and makes me angry on so many levels to read this.

Should there be substantial changes wrt wages/ stipend it also might have carry over effect for other countries, incl. mine, esp. for agency aupairs. Luckily, with the visa situation in NZ (aupairs come on a work and travel visa, which entitles them to undertake any kind of work, incl. aupairing) we are able to find great APs without agencies.

Nonetheless, the issue of payment does repeatedly come up and there is always a fraction of candidates who don’t seem to appreciate the cost of board and accommodation as part of their wage and demand more money, on par with professional nannies. The alternative to board and accommodation included and payment of a weekly stipend is to pay mimimum wage per hour and to have a live-out aupair/ nanny or deduct rent for a room, plus costs of power, phone, TV, internet, food… What they don’t seem to realise is that they most likely be a lot worse off, even in cheaper areas.

[On a side note: As I write ‘on par with nannies’ the discussion on definition of ‘aupair’ and their position in the family/ role as family member comes to mind and how in English ‘aupair’ is being translated as ‘on par’; interestingly, into German, aupair translates as meaning ‘quid pro quo’, i.e. an exchange of services where both parties contribute and gain equally rather than a definition of the relationship.]

HRHM April 30, 2015 at 7:29 am

I also noticed when reading the lawsuit that although the Au Pairs involved all came to the US in 2011, 2012, they are all (but one) STILL residing in the US. The “main” AP who started this Paola, was only with the family she is suing for less than 3 months before she rematched! I guess it didn’t ruin her life too much since she’s still in the US four years later.

JJ Host Mom April 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I’m near San Francisco, California, a highly desirable area for au pairs. The average cost of a 3 bedroom house in San Francisco is currently $1.4 million, and climbing. (Source: Trulia.) Assuming no down payment for simplicity, the monthly mortgage payment is $6,619. Splitting the rent out equally between bedrooms, that means families are paying an average of $2,200 per month just for the extra room, not to mention food and gas, which are also more expensive here, and extras like cell phone and vacation and gifts.

Because housing costs are so high here, people who do make minimum wage, including most nannies, either have to live at least 3 hours outside the Bay Area and commute in, or they share local housing with an astonishing number of people packed into sub-grade rooms. Lots of people go hungry here because they can’t afford food, since they’re spending everything they have on rent.

An au pair who has a nice room in a central bay area location, as well as full board and amenities like cell phones and vacation privileges to exotic locations AND has 200-250 per week of spending money on top of that is doing way, way better than her experienced nanny counterparts.

We have a huge problem with income disparity here and we realize that. But for these au pairs to be asking for minimum wage plus room and board, plus benefitting from the agency fees we pay, seems just ludicrous to me.

SKNY April 30, 2015 at 1:33 pm

My guess is if this was ever approved (meaning minimum wage in addition of room and board), the au pair program would go broke. One can easily hire an au pair on tourist visa for $300-400, or a young lady who is not necessarily legal for the same (live in).
Not saying that this is the way to go, or legal, or I agree… But would not make sense financially to 90% of the families.

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