Proposed Immigration Legislation Affecting AuPairs: What do you think?

by cv harquail on May 10, 2013

This week, many host families received letters from their Au Pair Agencies and/or from the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange. (Note: The Alliance is an advocacy group for cultural exchange programs. Many au pair agencies are members). Previously, we’ve received requests to contact our Representatives about changes in Tax Law.

flagsThis time, it’s US Immigration regulations.

(See links below for more details. A sample of the letters to the host families is also below.)

The Agencies and the Alliance are urging Host Families to contact our Senators and express our opposition to the changes. Should we follow their recommendation? 

A few host parents have emailed me  to express their concern about the proposed changes. Others have emailed questioning whether the Agencies’ and Alliance’s perspectives on the issue are really the best approach for doing what’s right by au pairs, host families and the exchange programs themselves.

For example, JJHost Mom emailed:

Personally I’m disturbed by the idea (in the legislation) of specifically saying that au pairs aren’t workers, and that this isn’t a job for them.  It is a job, and it’s hard work.  It is also a cultural exchange.   It’s not one or the other.  

But I don’t know the legal implications of following this thought through. I would love to hear the opinions of the other host parents, specifically those in the legal profession or those who really understand this legislation.

Lucky for us, we have several active Host Parents who are lawyers, who work for the Government, and/or who are really smart. 

What do you all think?

  • Will these changes protect Au Pairs or put them in a worse situation?
  • How much should we host parents care about what’s convenient for us, versus what Homeland Security would prefer?
  • How many of us would prefer the government to deal with Guantanamo or close corporate tax loopholes instead of focusing on Au Pairs’ immigration classifications?
  • Should we send in our letters for or against the proposals?
  • Should we ask the Agencies to make some other program changes to support Au Pairs and Host Families where immigration and visas are concerned?

The floor is open– comment away!

 

 

More info:

This page on the Alliance’s website highlights some of the issues and concerns with the proposed legislation.  

  A comprehensive report on the proposed legislation can be found here:

 

Dear Host Family,

Congress is currently considering legislation that would overhaul our immigration system. Certain sections of the immigration bill presently being debated by the Senate would create more cost and complexity for the Au Pair Program and could greatly harm, and potentially even end, this valuable exchange.

A section of the Senate immigration bill on “the prevention of trafficking of persons” considers au pairs and other exchange visitors as “workers,” not as the cultural exchange participants they are. Such a step would:

  • Make the program more expensive for American host families by creating new programmatic fees;
  • Create more regulatory complexity for American host families by transferring a portion of the program’s authority from the Department of State to the Department of Homeland Security; and
  • Endanger the future of this important cultural exchange program.

Please take two minutes today and send a letter to your Senators, asking them to oppose these provisions of the Senate immigration bill, and to support exempting au pairs and other Department of State exchange visitors from this human trafficking section.

To send your letter, please follow this link:

http://capwiz.com/alliance-exchange/issues/alert/?alertid=62650136&PROCESS=Take+Action

You need only enter your name, address, and email, and the pre-written letter will be sent automatically to your Senators. (You may also edit the text of the letter and make it more personal if you wish.)

The link will take you to the website of the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange, an association of many U.S. exchange organizations to which we belong. It is critical that your Senators hear from you as soon as possible. We need to generate the highest possible volume of letters within the next few days to ensure that any immigration bill strengthens important international exchanges like the Au Pair Program, rather than weakens them.

Thank you for your support! Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

Ruth Ferry
Sr. Vice President & Director
Au Pair in America

{ 90 comments }

Host Mom X May 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I haven’t looked too closely at this yet, but my first reaction to the solicitation email I received from APC on this issue was to be mildly disturbed that the agencies’ pleas seem to have more to do with worrying about their own profit than what’s best for au pairs. (I assume the Alliance is the au pair agencies’ lobbying group?)

Again, don’t want to run off at the mouth too much before studying the issue, reading the proposed legislation, and seeing what the Alliance has to say in more detail (the action alert on the website doesn’t say more than the emails sent by the agencies), BUT – it rubs me the wrong way that the agencies’ emails and the Alliance’s alert say “A section of the Senate immigration bill on ‘the prevention of trafficking of persons’ considers au pairs and other exchange visitors as ‘workers,’ not as the cultural exchange participants they are.” As JJHostMom points out, au pairs are both. If the idea behind the legislation referring to APs as “workers” is to grant them more protection from human trafficking – but the result is that this would cause more expense to the agencies, which would be passed on to host families of course, which would render the program less attractive to host families, thus cutting into the agencies’ (who are for-profit, let’s remember) bottom line – I am not sure this would be a bad thing. Though my family benefits greatly from the “low cost childcare” of the AP program – in addition to the cultural exchange aspect – I would not feel right getting in the way of legislation aimed at granting greater protection to APs. (If that is indeed the aim of the legislation.)

Again – haven’t read the legislation yet, so I’m basically running off at the mouth with absolutely no information. But I don’t like contacting my elected officials with form messages promoted by lobbying groups when I don’t actually understand the issue.

SKNY May 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm

i do agree with you completely

SF Coordinator May 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Just to say… while it is true most agencies are for-profit, a couple of them are non-profit. This can make a difference on their approach to the entire program and is worth considering.

Should be working May 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Which ones are non-profit?

Anna May 11, 2013 at 9:08 pm

AuPairUSA, or Interexchange, is one. I know there is at least one other one.

Neha June 12, 2013 at 9:19 am

I couldn’t agree with you more. Providing protections for the young au pair women would do nothing but enhance the program. Let’s make it safer and more effective for them by passing this legislation, so that they are not vulnerable to human trafficking. It is a good piece of legislation.

Emerald City HM May 10, 2013 at 7:59 pm

I agree the program is both. I think au pairs shoul be under their own visa heading though. I don’t like that they are clumped in with other J-1 visas (like summer employees at six flags and the Hersey factory garbage).

I don’t know that having DHS oversee the Au Pair agency program is the best idea. I have a lot of opinions about the security theater of TSA and that’s all I will say about that matter.

But overall my opinion is that Au pairs need to be in their own visa classification.

Emerald City HM May 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Please excuse the phone typos.

Sarah Rempel June 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

Just want to reply about the comment about the DHS overseeing the Au pair program. Under the proposed legislation, the Department of State would continue to be the agency in charge of the program. The Department of Homeland Security would only administer the anti-trafficking provisions.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm

I told DH about APIA’s email to us, and his first thought was, “Is that really what the legislation proposes?”

So, a call to you legal eagle moms – what does the legislation propose and do we really need to lobby?

JenNC May 11, 2013 at 7:29 am

Hmm well I agree with the post above as well, aupairs are both workers and cultural exchangers. I don’t know what exactly this bill is about, and I agree that the agencies are worried about their bottom line. However, I do agree that if a bill is passed making it harder for aupairs to come into the US, then the cost will be transferred to the families and the aupairs, and that really isn’t a good thing. I am sure the agencies will not absorb additional costs, because bottom line they are about profit. So this could negatively impact the programs, if the cost went up another $5000-$10000 then it would no longer be a viable option for my family and I am sure other families. Of course I am just throwing this out there, because we have no idea the added cost any changes would cause or IF they would cause increases.

the agencies already inflate some of the expenses. If I could have purchased the airline ticket for her travel from New Jersey to us it would have been less than $200. But the aGency charged me significantly more for the ticket. This is my opinion :).

With the way aupair programs are set up, is it reasonable to think that “trafficking” is an issue related to aupair exchange programs ? I think aupairs should also be under their own classification, there are checks and balances on both sides to prevent maltreatment of aupairs, or worst case scenario trafficking. But I am sure it is easier and cheaper to group all international visitors under one umbrella, but it also could negatively impact aupair programs.

Jen

SKNY May 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I must say that I do desagree on the balance and check currently. I am now a host mom but used to be an au pair. And I will say that most agencies will tend to the family better than the girls. While there are tons of terrible au pairs, I’ve seen families get away with terrible things. Families pay a lot for the program and some of the agencies tend to bend backwards to keep them (while the au pairs loose support).
Right now I now of a great au pair who wants to extend with a different family. The family wants her to stay and the LCC is threatening that she will most likely return home if she does not extend with this family (because the family will not give her a recommendation, neither will the LCC). I have personally called their administrator’s office about that.
Another au pair asked for rematch when mom came home from work (8pm). Family kicked her out of the home on the spot (and did not let her take all her things with her). AND LCC (different one) refused to pick her up saying it was too late. Another au pair had to go over and drive her to a hotel.
So I do think that agencies and LCCs need better supervision and checking.
Obviously there are great LCCs and great families, but the balance is tilted on the family’s side a lot, and the girls should get better assistance (no matter how much they pay for their program).

Neha June 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

I’m a lawyer, a mom and I work on human trafficking issues. Unfortunately, there are au pairs who have been trafficked in the United States. This legislation, which I think that all au pair families should SUPPORT, does a few simple things. First, under the proposed legislation, the Department of State would continue to be the agency in charge of the program. The Department of Homeland Security would only administer the anti-trafficking provisions. Second, it provides for full disclosure to the au pairs – they would know who their employer is, the conditions of work, their pay, the conditions of their visa. Second, it would prohibit agencies from charging fees to the au pairs for the recruitment process only. These are fees that the families already pay! Third, it would require agencies to register so that DHS would know who is recruiting workers/au pairs to the U.S. And finally, it would provide access to justice for au pairs who are exploited or abused. That’s it. It doesn’t not change any of the cultural exchange aspects of the program or the other parameters of the program set by the Dept. of State. The agencies are opposed to it because they will no longer be able to charge exhorbitant fees to the au pairs. Its a pure issue of profits. How could anyone oppose regulation that reduce au pair vulnerability to anti-trafficking?

Tristatemom June 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

Hi NEHA,

I appreciate your thoughts. What you are saying sounds very plausible because the request for congressional support came from the agency itself. Call me cynical but I do not believe that the agencies really care about what happens to the girls here.

Momma Gadget June 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

Neha- thanks so much for your thoughtful analysis of the new bill.
Although I agree with the intent to ” reduce au pair vulnerability”, in your opinion do you think this bill will help?
My “knowledge” is obviously limited to my own experiences ( and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!) Please forgive my naivete and help me to understand-
Is there au pair trafficking happening through the legitimate agencies? Or is it happening through shady scammers who operate outside the laws & regulations ?
Because of some recent visa issues, I had with a candidate from Serbia (who sadly in the end could not come), we became aware that our agency contracts with independent recruitment companies in all the various countries for their candidates.
(We originally thought that they had their own satellite offices there). Do all legitimate Au pair agencies sub contract their recruiting?
Why shouldn’t a candidate pay a REASONABLE fee to participate in the program to weed out those who don’t take the program and its requirements seriously?
My understanding is that the fee amount fees charged to an AP is at the discretion of these contractors-Not the US agencies- How much compliance can our government really enforce with another country’s company?
As far as disclosure- Aren’t all au pairs ( again with legitimate agencies) given this information in the contract they sign? Although I know the recruiters sugar coat this, I know all our
AP’s have been aware of the requirements… on paper at least.
Businesses exist to make money. Businesses employ people, provide healthcare & benefits to their employees and pay taxes that contribute to the services we all use. They provide a service that must have some demand. As long as they are Legit- why does everyone mention “profits” like it is a dirty word?
Having dealt with compliance regulations/issues with our China contractors, I am a skeptic. Is this bill going to really do anything more than cause extra costs & red tape to the legitimate participants while being unable to impact the exploiters who have no regard for the laws in the first place and will find their way around them?

Should be working May 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I just quickly read the report by the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, which seems to be what the proposed regulations are based on. I have to say, some of their findings (not the more drastic ones) do correspond to au pair issues. I quote:

“After paying recruitment, visa processing and travel costs, the majority of internationally recruited workers arrive in the united states with considerable debt.4 international labor recruiters, who often have a virtual monopoly over the job market in which they recruit, charge workers high fees for the opportunity to work in the united states. . . . .” [Even our first-world German AP had to take on significant debt to come to us because her parents don’t help her.]

“predictably, workers who arrive in the united states in debt are much less likely to leave the job, whatever the conditions, without first earning enough to repay their debt.7 Workers generally are unable to repay these loans by working in their home countries for lower wages. . . . .”

“the majority of internationally recruited workers are tied to a single u.s. employer through their visas. With few exceptions, an internationally recruited worker’s legal immigration status is dependent on his or her continuing relationship with the employer. in most cases, a worker who resigns or is fired from employment no longer is authorized to remain in the united states; the worker
is required to return to his or her home country within several days . . . .” [There is a pressure on APs by the agencies to make it work with a HF because otherwise they can be sent home.]

” in 1961, congress created the J-1 exchange Visitor program. originally created
to facilitate educational and cultural exchange with other nations, the program now operates far afield of its original intent. it is used primarily as a temporary worker program and has become attractive to employers due to lax enforcement of its minimally protective regulations. . . . . ”

“u.s. work visa programs enable employers and recruiters
to circumvent u.s. anti-discrimination law at the point of hire. through work visa programs, an employer may select an entire workforce composed of a single nationality, gender or age group. the ability to choose the exact characteristics of a worker (e.g. male, ages 25–40, mexican; woman, ages 20–30, filipina) is one of the factors that make internationally recruited workers attractive to employers.27 employers even can shop for internationally recruited workers on employment agency websites that advertise workers like commodities.28 . . . . ” [Why are au pairs necessarily 18-26? Why can’t they be married or have kids?]

Back to my own comments: I think the AP program is ultimately quite flawed. I, and we HPs on here, use it conscientiously and in the right spirit. A lot of HPs don’t. I’m not sure, however, how treating APs as workers accomplishes the goals of improving the treatment of APs. Need to think about this.

FutureAP May 12, 2013 at 4:33 am

To my point of view, since the program is a 1 year program, I find it normal that APs must have no kids, these APs would not easily complete the program, nor accept to have authority again. It is part of the AP program in many countries.
As far as other countries, I think in Europe there are no legislation for European APs about age (a friend will replace a 29yo one !) and in Australia or NZL it is up to 30 (the age for a WHV).

Considering the married ones, well, it is not forbidden to have a boyfriend, I don’t see the difference besides engagement. It should actually be a good point to the immigration, always afraid we will stay forever.

DarthaStewart May 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I wasn’t sure what to think when I saw it, but it did set off a set of alarm bells in my head- like what was I being sold, but what is the full story, and all of the ramifications.

TexasHM May 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I wish they were on a separate visa type too. Let them extend more than one extra year if they want and create a national database so that if a girl goes into rematch it can be documented and families violating the program can’t agency skip and agencies can’t monopolize based on volumes, they can compete based on customer service vs captive audience. Oh yeah, and world peace. ;)

Kelly Hand May 12, 2013 at 12:28 am

Texas HM, I like the idea of having a national database with info about au pairs and host families, although it does raise some serious privacy concerns. As a former counselor, I do think there would be some advantage to having oversight by some external entity (there is State Dept. supervision of the program, but it’s always mediated and indirect via counselors and auditors). I was an independent contractor technically, but functioned more like an employee, so perhaps it would be good to have people working closely with the au pairs, but not actually representing a single agency. While I think most counselors do really care about au pairs, the au pairs have a lot less power in their relationships with host families. There is a lot of detail in this report, and I may have a superficial understanding of it, but the idea of having more transparency about the “supply chain” is also a good one. Some au pairs have to pay more fees than others, while some pay none at all. In my experience, western Europeans did not have to pay fees while au pairs from poorer countries did have to pay third party recruitment agencies that helped to connect them with au pair agencies. The system for protecting au pairs is much better here and now than what I encountered as an au pair in France over 20 years ago (it might have changed dramatically since then), but I do think there is plenty of room for improvement. I think it would be helpful for someone to do an analysis of how the for-profit agencies function in comparison to the non-for-profit agencies. I worked for a for-profit agency that was part of a larger organization with both non-profit and for-profit programs. There’s a lot of potential for confusion and opacity.

FutureAP May 12, 2013 at 4:46 am

100% agree.
A french au pair, from one agency to another will have to pay between $600 to $1600 (+ visa fees, around $200) and it used to be you could pay less than $400.
A chinese au pair has to pay around $3500 which is nuts.

Another thing, the american agency should try to have the abroad agencies not take any money before the au pair has matched. The au pair could then take more time to choose a host family and avoid more rematch because the agency still care since they haven’t been paid.
I consider myself to have been pressured by my agency during the match, I did not want to speak french to my host family or kids too youn and they told me I was too picky (?!!) I don’t see the point on forcing me if it is for me to rematch after 1 month, and then the american agency will be “well, you knew how the family was before coming, not a reason to rematch”…. Endless !

Old China Hand May 12, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Our AP (from China) said that her family paid what amounts to 6 months salary for her to join the AP program. That seems crazy to me. She saves half her pay check each week to try to pay them back.

Host Mom X May 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

One of our former au pairs from a former Yugoslavian country was also required to pay quite a bit to her home recruiting agency; she didn’t tell us how much, but it sounded like it was a good portion of her family’s savings. She sent money back each week to pay her parents back. (For her family this was worth it because she achieved her goal – which was simply to get to the U.S. We ended up in rematch; she wasn’t really here to be an au pair. Even having had that experience, though, I do think that au pairs are probably in far greater need of protection from trafficking-related issues – i.e. families who do not follow the regulations and use the au pairs for extremely cheap labor far beyond what the program allows, knowing that the APs have little protection and in many cases stand to lose a lot of money if they are sent home early – than this country is in need of “protection” from au pairs remaining in the country illegally. I have no numbers to back this up, but I would wager that illegal immigration resulting from the au pair problem is insignificant compared to illegal immigration generally.)

HRHM May 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

Not sure about needing “protection” from illegally remaining APs, but I can tell you that with all but a few countries, the risk of an AP staying, either off the grid or by gaming the system (shady student visa, shady quick marriage) is very high. Of all my APs, the only ones who haven’t done it is the current German one. Brazilian AP1 – took off to Florida before the first week was out. Bosnian AP2 – had to be escorted to the plane after stealing from us, said she would just stay with her cousins (former APs off the grid in DC) Serb AP3 – living in DC on student visa, curiously, 3 years of student visa with no sign of actual going to school! Czech AP4 – married a guy she met 3 months before her extension year was up, living in Chicago. I must be showing these girls how great the US is, cuz no one wants to leave! LOL
In large cities (Miami, SF, LA, NYC, DC) there are huge diaspora communities of illegal immigrants who help each other navigate working, find a place to live etc. You might be surprised, but no most of the illegal immigrants aren’t Mexicans.

Host Mom X May 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I agree – I think a lot of APs from Eastern European countries with high unemployment, corrupt government, etc. and from other countries with similar issues, poor countries, etc. aim to stay here and do (we have this experience with two APs from former Yugoslavian countries; the one who stayed illegally after rematch and is just working “off the grid” with no visa at all, and the one is planning to stay through a shady student visa). My point was just that the “problem” of illegal immigrants “leaking” out of the AP program is probably insignificant when compared with the “problem” of illegal immigrants arriving by other means. I just don’t think there are that many APs here to begin with as compared with the potential illegal immigrant population as a whole.

TexasHM May 13, 2013 at 8:58 am

My Brazilian AP paid $1500ish and in her country in particular (where the minimum full time wage is $300 a month, avg about $500 per month) that’s a big investment that most can’t afford. I’ve had two Brazilian APs and it took one two years to scrape together enough money and my second AP worked extra and her family chipped in on some of the fees and it still took her 5-6 months saving every dime she got. This is part of why I get so frustrated when I know of host families that take advantage, lie to or threaten APs. These girls have a huge investment and this is a dream many have had since they were children, we have a responsibility as people who got lucky enough to be born here to treat those that were not with grace and respect.

SouthAfricanAP May 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

I have just applied to the aupair program in my country (South Africa) and am working two full time jobs to pay for it. One as an aupair and another as a waitress. My mother can’t afford to help me out so I am doing it alone but it isn’t easy. I spent ages looking around for a reliable cheaper aupair agency but even the cheaper ones are still quite expensive. This is my dream so I am doing everything I can to get enough money, but it isn’t easy.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 13, 2013 at 10:40 am

I do know that the Visa to the U.S. alone can be as much as $1,000 for countries that are considered “high risk” for a permanent stay in the U.S.

And while I agree with Host Mom X that APs need the protection that the State Dept regs., agencies, and LCCs provide, I do think the agencies are only kidding APs if they emphasize the cultural exchange over the employment nature of the AP experience. (That said, 7 of the 8 APs I hosted came fully prepared to work – but also had a great time during non-working hours.)

Host Mom X May 13, 2013 at 11:26 am

I completely agree, TACL – being an AP is work, and since the pay isn’t great, I think the visa and the “cultural exchange” that the AP gets (i.e. being in America for the year) is the real “pay” in the eyes of most APs. I agree that many of the agencies actually do a pretty terrible job in communicating to potential APs that this is real work (if what APs have told me about the recruiting materials are true – emphasizing a year of “fun,” “classes,” and “travel” in America). So that definitely works to host families’ disadvantage – when they get APs who are only in America for “fun,” “classes,” and “travel” and do not understand that this is 45 hours of hard work. But I have a feeling these APs are primarily from (1) 1st world (e.g. Western European) countries who don’t have to pay huge visa and agency fees; or (2) other countries, but from fairly well-off families. (Not that there aren’t exceptions of course.) These young people can “afford” to risk rematch or even just go back home if they are being taken advantage of by a host family.

So – since this IS work, if the proposed legislation that the agencies seem to be lobbying against is actually meant to give greater protection to those APs who have little means of their own, have paid or borrowed a lot to get here, and are then taken advantage of by host families who utilize them as little more than domestic near-slaves, this might be legislation that most of us could get behind rather than attempt to derail as the agencies seem to be lobbying us to do. (Again, still haven’t made the effort to actually try to read the proposed legislation! More fun to just debate something about which I am woefully uninformed!)

Host Mom in the City May 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

This has been a really interesting discussion – thanks for posting. I too am troubled by a lot of aspects of the program and the ease with which both host families and au pairs would be able to take advantage or use the program in ways other than for which it was intended. It obviously fills a need on both sides, so I’d like to see it continue. I agree with others that if it got too much more expensive (particularly if that meant more money going to the agencies instead of the au pairs), that many host parents – us included – wouldn’t continue. Laying out $8,000 at once is already a big risk that we worry about every year. If the fees went any higher, we wouldn’t be willing to put up that much money before an au pair even arrives.

But at the same time, it certainly appears to need clearer regulations and perhaps more oversight although who knows if that would actually solve anything. Count me among the host parents that feel like *something* needs to change, but I don’t have the expertise to know exactly what. We’ll just keep plugging away trying our best to use the program for its intended purpose and reevaluate as changes come.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’m really glad for this discussion- I got the email and was going to send a letter to my senators without giving it much thought. I hadn’t thought of some of the problems with APs being in the realm of human trafficking- but I see that they are. It just hadn’t occurred to me that some APs were spending exhorbitant fees to enter the program, and would put up with unreasonable conditions because so much money was riding on them sticking out a year in the US. My current AP is from Thailand and I know she sends money home. I don’t know how much she had to pay, but I get the impression it was a lot.

Seattle Mom May 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Gotta add something here-

At the same time, I fear that this legislation might have some unforseen negative consequences that end up killing the AP program. If it gets much more expensive we just can’t afford it, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of families are in a similar position. I don’t really trust that Congress is thinking carefully about this, based on my previous experience with other legislation (I used to work for Congress). I just wonder what would happen with DHS in charge of the program.

Host Mom X May 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Agreed – I wish we knew how much money was actually at stake here in terms of increased program costs, and why that would be? And if the program is truly in jeopardy? The agencies’ emails and the Alliance website are quite (perhaps intentionally) vague.

If anyone who posts here has any greater knowledge of what the actual consequences of the proposed legislation might be on the AP program, would be great if they could share.

KM May 13, 2013 at 8:42 pm

The au pair program – is it a work program or is it a cultural exchange program? It’s both and the same at once. How best to learn about American culture by living with host families and experiencing their schedules, a school system, America’s health care system, and all the daily cultural differences?

If it is seen primarily as a work program, there will be movement to incorporate more agency and HP paperwork like AP time sheets, more reporting to regulatory bodies, higher government fees. What about family time? Where does this fit in?

If new government agencies are born for monitoring and government reporting, this ultimately leads to higher fees. HP fees are already high for regular working families. Regulations already stipulate work hours, vacation time, medical benefits for au pairs. Many issues arise on this site that don’t quite fit into a regulation box. Issues like traveling with host family. For instance, does a plane ride with host family members count toward work hours?

How much should an au pair pay to apply to the program or match with a host family? The security deposit was already eliminated. Should the program be “free” for au pair applicants with host families bearing 100% of the financial burden? Would it be better if au pairs had no obligations? How could this impact host families? Would there be more au pair turnover? Would the program then attract a different type of applicant?

The question is what will be added or changed in the Bill? Do Senators really understand the program or will political winds sway and the program becomes financially unavailable to regular Americans? Is there really a problem with the au pair program? Just how many incidents are there among the 14,000 plus au pairs in the U.S.

Many of the au pair agencies are non-profit organizations. Their annual reports can be publicly viewed.

KM May 13, 2013 at 10:49 pm

More info. If au pairs are considered “workers”, HP are considered employers. The Immigration Bill lumps all types of Exchange visitors into one big category. As such, it greatly affects HP. There’s verbiage about “employers” posting a sizable bond. That would be HP. There’s more verbiage about fees to be set but they are not defined. There’s more verbiage about “employers” pay foreign agent fees and all relevant costs.

There must be a better way to deal with this. Should the au pair program be exempt from the Immigration Bill?

KM

hOstCDmom May 14, 2013 at 10:35 am

Are you a HP, AP, or a lobbyist for an agency/agencies?
Do you work for the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange?

Your posts above read like a lobbying position paper or pitch….

Random Host Family May 14, 2013 at 10:45 am

Last night I heard even the accountants are lobbying against the legislation. It may be that this does not go anywhere.

hOstCDmom May 14, 2013 at 11:10 am

my query was post was re KM’s posts

KM May 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Not a lobbyist, do not work for the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange, and not a member. Worked in an industry that was highly regulated and learned to look at details. When I received the info, I checked the Alliance site. Then began a search. I do have a lot of questions how this will affect HP. The proposed language says “exchange visitor”. That includes au pairs.

KM

Host Mom X May 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

For anyone who wants to read the proposed legislation, it is here:
http://traffickingroundtable.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/CIR-413-Senate-Bill.pdf
Subtitle F – Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving Workers Recruited Abroad – is the relevant provision.

I can see where issues may arise – it isn’t really clear in the bill exactly how the legislation will impact au pair agencies; the language seems to encompass both the agencies and host families as having liability for various activities, and certainly does seem to impose certain reporting and bonding requirements, though I don’t know how much more burdensome these are than what the agencies currently must do. The legislation also prohibits “foreign labor contractors” from charging certain processing and recruitment fees to the workers (and the term “worker” does include “exchange visitors”). It seems to me that the au pair agencies’ worry about the immigration overhaul bill is that it just isn’t quite CLEAR how au pair agencies will be affected. For instance, the term “au pair” appears nowhere in the 844 page bill, though “exchange visitor” is encompassed within the “worker” definition. Au pairs probably were not the focus of the drafters, though they are probably encompassed in the broad language.

But – I’m not sure if the solution is to lobby that au pairs and au pair agencies be completely exempted from this section of the proposed bill, as the agencies advocate. It does seem that the bill also aims to provide what could be valuable protections for the au pairs, including protection from discrimination, and perhaps from the over-burdensome fees imposed by some of the foreign recruiting agencies that we have been discussing.

And honestly – I have no idea what our $8000 currently goes to. I know there is the plane ticket, training (which does not seem very useful in terms of preparation for childcare, but which does serve an important welcome experience for the au pairs, and provides them with opportunity to forge connections and bond with other au pairs so they feel like part of a “program,” and supported, when they arrive), LCC and general agency support (which really varies depending on the LCC), filing and processing whatever paperwork needs to be filed with the State Department, and major medical insurance. I assume there is also an insurance and bonding requirement for the agencies. I’d be curious to hear how much the agencies think they will have to raise that $8000 fee as a result of this bill. I’d also be curious to hear how much of the current $8000 fee represents profit to the agency (and while there may be smaller, NFP agencies, I believe the majority of the agencies are for-profit).

Anyway – even after doing some more research, I’m still not sure where I fall out on this issue, or if I want to join in the specific Alliance appeal, i.e. that au pair programs be totally exempted form the bill.

KM May 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Host Mom X – Much better explanation.

KM

Dorsi May 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

I think one of the major differences between the AP program and the other J-1 visa holders (Hershey factory workers) that have been in the news for abuse recently, is that the vast majority of APs have a predictable, reliable income and living situation when they arrive in the US. I have read that many other J-1 visa holders are required to pay room and board that is equal to or exceed their salaries, or are given so few hours that they actually owe their employer money. These types of abuses are rare (and as far as I know) in the AP community.

While I am also uncomfortable with APs spending 6 months of salary to come to the US, I don’t see a great alternative — I want my APs to have a vested interest in succeeding in the program. Also, if an AP must spend $2000 to arrive here, she can be reasonably confident that she will recover that money by working for 10 weeks. The AP is making a calculation about what the value of a year in the US is. With due dilligence by the AP (and the HF in explaining what the expectations are), she is making an informed decisions. (A Hershey factory worker who doesn’t know their living costs, their hourly rate, their weekly hours cannot make that calcuation).

I would love to see APs on their own type of visa. However, I think the program mostly works and don’t want to make major changes that would sharply restrict the APs ability to come or the HPs ability to participate.

Host Mom X May 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

I wonder if there is an effective way to regulate what the APs are charged by the “home” recruiting agencies to get here. I understand WHY AP agencies in certain countries feel justified in charging higher fees – the APs from those countries are at higher risk for staying in the U.S. illegally, and need to prove that they have some means. (It is hard for people just coming as visitors from certain countries to get visas unless they prove sufficient means in their home country, i.e. that they have incentive to return home.) But I wish I knew how much unscrupulousness is going on in the home country agencies, i.e. do they just set these fees themselves to reap the profits, do the fees get kicked back to the U.S. agencies, etc.? Obviously visa costs themselves are fixed.

Certainly I have no problem with the concept of the APs paying money to participate in the program, since they too benefit from participation and do receive certain services (e.g. minimal health insurance, LCC support), and it does encourage responsibility.

Also agreed that there is probably less potential for abuse in the AP program IF families all follow the regs, but the problem is, so many families don’t. And there does not seem to be any accountability for these families; they keep being allowed back into the program, and who is going to prosecute them?

I have spoken with friends of our APs whose families deduct, e.g. utilities, and other expenses from their paychecks. Many APs work far beyond 45 hours. (And while plenty of APs are happy to do this and get paid extra, many don’t have a choice, and DON’T get paid extra.) APs are given substandard accommodations, inadequate food “allowances,” are forced to use their vacation time to work on family “vacations,” are used for domestic help other than childcare, etc.

Surely there is room for improvement, though I’m not sure this bill achieves that (or was in any way at all focused on the AP program; it is not tailored to the AP program by its language in any way, shape or form).

JJ Host Mom May 14, 2013 at 11:38 pm

This has been a good discussion. Thanks to all of you who posted your thoughts here. I’ve read through the section of the proposed bill (thanks for posting that, Host Mom X) and also read the excerpts of the International Labor Recruitment Working Group report that Should Be Working posted (thanks!). I feel that from reading all of your commentary, I have a better understanding of how the au pair program works. For example, I knew that some au pairs have to pay fees to get into the program, but had no idea that those with the least means are paying the most. That’s really unfortunate. On the other hand it may explain why our Ukrainian au pair was so much more motivated than most of our French au pairs, and we sure did like our Ukrainian au pair. So given that the au pair theoretically has reliable income that they can use to pay that money back once they arrive in the US, in a perfect world with host parents that always did right by au pairs that worked hard to get into the program, I wouldn’t necessarily change the way that the fees are structured. In a real world, though, I just don’t know. It’s complicated.

From the host parents’ point of view, I’d really like to see the agencies presenting a more balanced viewpoint of au pairing being a cultural exchange AND a job. From what I’ve read, though, it doesn’t seem that this bill even addresses that. OTOH it does seem like it might add significant expense and overhead to the program. For example, if au pairs are not allowed to pay any fees to get into the program, presumably those fees would get passed onto host families. If the program were costing my family an additional $500-2000 and moreover bringing us candidates who have no personal vested interest in making it through the year, we’d no longer be hosting. And that doesn’t even cover the costs of additional oversight and checks and balances and computer databases and what have you that the bill proposes.

So I think I’m coming to the same conclusion that a couple of you expressed: the au pair program does need to change, but this bill isn’t it. Because of its unique balance between being a job and a cultural exchange, the au pair program probably needs its own category and related legislation. I think I’m going to find a coherent way to say that in a letter to my congressman, vs. sending the canned letter that the agencies provided.

Thanks again to all who posted here. This has been really helpful.

Host Mom X May 15, 2013 at 11:37 am

I think that is a great analysis, JJ Host Mom.

It also makes me even more certain that the proposed bill really did not have APs in mind. I have a hunch that the provision requiring the foreign contracting agencies to pay all recruitment, visa and processing fees for foreign workers is geared toward the “Hershey factory” worker category of foreign workers (or the chicken factory workers – was listening to a story about foreign chicken labor on NPR last night; folks are brought in on special visas to do this, and other types of “undesirable” labor because Americans don’t want to). I assume these workers incur many more personal expenses here in America than au pairs do, including as suggested above paying their own room and board directly to their employer (or independently), and would bet they don’t have a support system in place with “LCCs,” and that they don’t have any kind of medical insurance at all. From the chicken factory story, it sounds like these workers generally don’t have a “rematch” option either if the chicken factory they end up in is abusive (though it sounds like the proposed legislation aims to give more options in that regard as well to other foreign workers, i.e. the ability to seek other visa-appropriate employment once in the U.S.). And of course, there is no cultural exchange going on, nor is that the purpose of foreign factory worker programs. The benefits of these foreign worker programs are weighted heavily on the side of the employer. (Obviously the foreign workers benefit too; presumably they sign up for these programs because – while the labor is hard and in many instances they may be diving into a situation full of abuses – the opportunity is better than what is available in their own country, and they hope to create a future for their children in America who will then be able to lead more prosperous lives than they. But again, the weight of the benefit seems to lie with the employer here.)

It is fair for APs, on the other hand, to pay a fee for their program, because the benefit is not entirely on the side of the employer. The AP – in addition to stipend – receives room, board, utilities, agency support, major medical insurance, and the opportunity for cultural exchange. On the other hand, the fee issue may need to be better regulated (e.g. the State Department could impose penalties on the U.S. agencies that continue to contract with shady foreign agencies; who knows, maybe they already do?).

So yes, it may be a good idea for us to make our elected officials aware of the different issues for au pairs – who ARE workers, but are also cultural exchange program participants, with better support and benefits than factory workers – and that Subsection F of the proposed immigration overhaul bill should do a better job of making that distinction.

JJ Host Mom – if you do end up drafting something, would you share it here so others of us might crib from it?

Emerald City HM May 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm

If you host mom’s on here do decide to contact senators, I urge you to call in addition to the email. A phone call is weighed much more heavily than an email. All you have to do is ask to leave a message for the staffer dealing with immigration reform.

Honestly, I sent the letter provided by the agency with a few revisions of my own explaining why I think they should be on a different visa and why this program is important to me and my family. However, I know it wasn’t read by at least one of my senators, becasue I got a “canned” response that didn’t even address the issues I wrote about at all. Not even a little bit.

The reply talked happily about doubling the number of H1-B visas (which is a threat to my job…) and about increased border control or something. Needless to say, I’m disappointed in the process in general and I don’t think the senators really understand the implications on some of the smaller programs.

JJ Host Mom May 16, 2013 at 11:00 am

I ended up sending a slightly revised version of the agency letter, to be honest. I was in a hurry and that seemed like the simplest solution. Sorry. :-(

I will probably follow Emerald City HM’s advice and call as well.

Seattle Mom May 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Thanks for doing all this analysis & summing it up nicely. Now I don’t feel like I have to, necessarily, though I would like to read the provisions directly. I didn’t realize they were so detailed.

I think this sums up how I feel, too: If the program were costing my family an additional $500-2000 and moreover bringing us candidates who have no personal vested interest in making it through the year, we’d no longer be hosting.

Our current AP from Thailand is much more energetic and a harder worker than our former French AP was. We love them both, but it sure is nice having an AP who seems to love working and never complains. I spent a lot of emotional energy worrying that the French AP was overworked and tired and possibly unhappy, I haven’t ever had to think any of those thoughts with our Thai AP. I do think the fact that our Thai AP sends money home to pay back whoever she borrowed the money from for her AP fee makes her think of this time more as a job and less as an adventure/vacation.

Au Pair Australia May 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm

In Australia Immigration does not allow the au pairs to work for more than 6 months with the same family, making it difficult for all parents to have to change au pair every 6 months, hope this will change one day

Host Mom X May 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm

So – I actually did take the time to write a letter to submit to my Senator (using some of the language from the Alliance letter), since I did all this research (how did I get so dorky?). Anyway, here it is if anyone is interested in using some of it:
As your constituent and as a parent whose family hosts an Au Pair Exchange Program participant, I write to ask you to consider amendments to provisions of the Senate immigration bill that affect the Au Pair Program, a program through which young people (18-26) are granted a J-1 visa (as a cultural exchange visitor) to live with and work for an American family – providing childcare – for 1 or 2 years.

The broad language of Subsection F of the immigration reform legislation proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee – entitled “Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Abuses Involving
Workers Recruited Abroad” – would seem to encompass au pairs in its definition of “workers” who are brought in by “foreign labor contractors.” The issue I wish to bring to your attention is that au pairs are both workers AND cultural exchange participants, and that Subsection F may unintentionally sweep the Au Pair Program into its ambit in ways that have not been well-considered. While I laud the purpose of Subsection F – i.e. providing greater protection to workers recruited from abroad, including prohibiting discrimination in their employment, making sure they are not subjected to overburdensome fees, and giving them more choice in extricating themselves from abusive working situations – Subsection F does not take into account the variety of different “workers” who come to America as part of different cultural exchange programs. I do believe that au pairs deserve robust protection from discrimination and abusive working conditions imposed by families who do not follow the State Department regulations regarding treatment of au pairs. But I do not believe that Subsection F in its current form appropriately balances the protections needed by and deserved by au pairs when considered against the background of their particular situation as differentiated from, e.g. foreign chicken factory workers, or the Hershey factory workers who have recently been in the news.

For instance, current State Department regulations require that au pairs work no more than 45 hours/week and 10 hours per day; that au pairs receive a weekly stipend of $195.75; that host families provide au pairs with FULL room and board (a separate bedroom, all meals); that host families pay for $500 in education costs and ensure that au pairs are able to attend 6 course credits worth of courses each year; that au pairs receive two weeks of paid vacation; that host families pay approximately $8,000 in fees to au pair agencies, who provide the au pairs with training, major medical insurance, extensive program support and mediation services when situations with host families do not work out (families also must continue to host an au pair with whom they are “rematching” for two weeks while the au pair agency helps the au pair to find a new host family, if appropriate). The program provides the host families and au pairs with a great cultural exchange experience – a young person from another country exposing the American family to their country’s culture and language, and the young person in turn learning about American family life and experiencing living and traveling in America for a year. And host families receive 45 hours of weekly, flexible, and low-cost childcare. Obviously there is potential for abuse here, if families do not follow these guidelines. But there are systems in place for au pairs to air grievances and to extricate themselves from abusive situations. I do understand that in a dispute the balance is frequently weighted toward the host families, who pay the agency $8000 in fees, and as “paying customers” may get better support from the agencies. But many of the agencies work hard to provide equal support to au pairs and host families when disputes arise, and to address abusive situations if au pairs raise them. The point I raise is – Subsection F, while seeming to encompass au pairs, does not seem to recognize that their situation is different from that of the typical foreign worker, who is recruited to work hard labor in a factory. They do indeed work, and work hard, but there are also cultural exchange and employment benefits.

One issue not taken into account by the provisions in Subsection F that seem to require that the “workers” not be charged fees by recruiting agencies is that – because the Au Pair program is a cultural exchange program and the au pair does receive benefits, some of which are described above – it does not seem inappropriate for au pairs to be charged some fee for their participation. (Though I am aware that some of the foreign agencies that contract with American agencies may be quite inconsistent in the fees they charge; I do not know enough about this issue.) If this provision of Subsection F would work to substantially raise the cost of the program for host families, many host families would cease to participate in the program. Obviously this is a complex issue – especially where it is the au pair agencies who may be charging fees to the au pairs, and host families are not given clear information by the American au pair agencies as to how much of the $8000 we pay to the agencies already would comfortably be able to cover any fees the agencies would be required to pay under the proposed Legislation that they do not already pay.

I ask that you consider how the current language of Subsection F might be amended to either exempt au pairs from certain requirements of this subsection, or to take into account some of the differences between the au pair program and other foreign worker programs in terms of the evils Subsection F was designed to redress. I believe that the immigration legislation – while protecting foreign workers, including au pairs – should also strengthen the important cultural exchange fostered by the au pair program, rather than weakens it by creating greater fees and obstacles for host families, recalling that the individual families are NOT large corporations like Tysons Chicken.

I greatly value the daily cultural exchange that occurs between my family and our au pair. American children with au pairs grow up with an exposure to the countries, cultures, and languages of their au pairs. I have no doubt that this exposure will only benefit our children’s ability to thrive and compete in a globalized world, whatever they decide to do when they grow up.

The au pairs themselves become a part of their American host families. In addition, au pairs engage in community activities outside the family home, broadening their exposure to our culture and values and giving back to their host communities. After the completion of their program, they return to their home countries not only with more positive views of the United States and the American people, but also with true friends for life in us, their host families. When I think about the fact that this kind of cross-cultural bonding occurs many thousands of times over each year, I can only conclude that the Au Pair Program truly does contribute to peaceful relations between the U.S. and countries around the world, including those critical to U.S. foreign policy priorities and national security. We should not diminish the incredible value of this program.

Thank you for your support of cultural exchange programs like the Au Pair Program, which – while certainly providing low-cost childcare to American families through the labor provided by the au pairs -have undeniably significant benefits for our country.

JJ Host Mom May 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

This is a great letter. Thanks for writing that up and posting it Host Mom X.

Silvia May 17, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I did not read the article, but I read what you guys have posted and even though I am not 100% well informed, I got two things (initially three, but I just forgot the third one) to say (let me know if I’m wrong somehow, this is just my opinion):

1. For all those who are leaving their country, no matter what (vacations, work, study, etc.) locate the embassy of your country. Make sure you have access to their phone and address.

And the second, which might be a little off topic, but since some of you are talking about immigrants, I’ll say it.
2. Why do Americans get so upset about them (immigrants)? Wasn’t the american land of the indians? Then IMMIGRANTS came along: the british. We are all immigrants, or a mixture of them. I’ve read and heard of a lot of italians living in NY, a lot of irish settling in Boston; what about Texas? It was mexican territory. I, personally, don’t see as a problem to want to live in the U.S. It’s being always said that there are better opportunities here. And I must add that most of you, americans, come from a mixture of all the different cultures that settled in America. WHY THE BIG DEAL? WHY THE DRAMA? You started to employ (legally or illegaly) and that’s why people keep moving here. Last but not least, it’s like my home country forbids NISSAN to be here, only cause most of their employees are Japanese, even AMERICANS (just to mention a big company, cause there are a lot of americans or from other nationalities living in my home country). That being said, I am not on the illegal immigrants side; we cannot be sure of the damage they want to cause, like drug dealers and that kinda stuff. You must know better when it comes to au pairs who want to stay in the country, it’s obvious when they’re trying to hook up with somebody. And even though you’ve all shared your opinion about being against this, I’VE BEING ENCOURAGED BY AMERICANS TO GET MARRY SO I CAN GET THE CITIZENSHIP. Still don’t want to. I love my country.
PEACE OUT.

JJ Host Mom May 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Is anyone here saying they’re against immigration? I don’t remember that ever coming up in this thread. Why would we be hosting au pairs if we were against immigration?

Skny May 17, 2013 at 4:49 pm

In this topic I’d just like to input that I did read somewhere that many au pairs stay illegal and I’d like to say that while some do, au pairs Tend to be higher educated than typical immigrants and rarely actually stay illegal (in the matter of no visa). $290 buys them 6-12 months under tourist stay. Very easy process. They should not be working under tourist visa, but they are legal in the country. Few will change visa to student, and different than someone suggested early on, they ARE required to go to school for 12hs a week (1/3 of each can be on line). If they don’t go, school will cancel their status. So girls will go. They may take longer to graduate (purposely) but I feel that by the cost of the school (twice as much as of a regular student) they are paying for their stay.
So while not ideal, the majority of the au pairs who stay in the country stays here legally.
I was a case. I was in the program for 18mo, got my NY physical therapist license, and stayed as student until my work visa as therapist processed. 6ys later I am a mother of 3, and host mom… But wanted to point out that all cases of au pairs that stayed that I know (or have seen in the support groups) are of au pairs who stayed legal. Even the runaways. As long as they request the change of visa the day before they run, they are still able to stay.

Skny May 17, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Oh my… I am getting old. 8yrs later, not 6.

Host Mom in the City May 17, 2013 at 5:25 pm

While I certainly agree that there are Americans who are against immigration, I think your rant is very misplaced and entirely off-topic. If I’m not mistaken, the bill were discussing is actually trying to protect immigrants and temporary workers and everyone who posted that they were not necessarily for the bill meant that they were dismayed to see it didn’t specifically add more protections for au pairs.

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Bethany May 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I didn’t like that email either, so I found your site and read the report proposing changes to the program. They sound both reasonable and not like they will change the program much if at all–accountability by agencies for recruiter behavior, freedom of movement in the US when not working or when in an abusive relationship, having the contract terms spelled out before workers leave home–these are either part of the program already or should be. I wrote this letter:m

I have received an email from AuPairCare telling me to oppose proposed changes to the J-1 program. I have read the report of the International Labor Recruitment Working Group, and I support the proposed changes, which appear to be about ensuring accountability by employers for recruiters actions and ensuring freedom of movement. While I have had very good relationships with my au pairs, I know they both paid significant fees to recruiters to be part of the programs, and would be glad for the US-based agencies to supervise these issues. While this is a great program, I would support more accountability for au pair agencies and basic protections for au pairs.

Emerald City HM May 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I think one of the bigger problems is that host families are the employers, not the agencies. So the legislation takes into account big employers that hire lots of visa holders, not an individual family that hires 1 person a year.

Momma Gadget May 19, 2013 at 8:49 am

Isn’t the Agency the employer? With interexchange all the paperwork our latest AP has ( for Social Security, drivers license etc…)states that he is employed by Interexchange. We are ‘hosts’ not the employer.
Is it different with the other agencies?

Emerald City HM May 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm

This shouldn’t be agency specific. When it come to taxes ( both ours and the Au pairs) it’s very clear we are the employers. The agency is a sponsor for visa.

In some states host families have to pay workman’s comp insurance and it’s the host family, not the agency.

JenNC May 19, 2013 at 8:21 am

My aupair had a career and bachelors degree prior to choosing to be an aupair, she planned very well for this experience, saving her money, because she, her mom and sister own a condo together in her home country, so she had to have enough money to continue paying her part of the mortgage etc. Her primary reason for becoming an aupair is to improve her English skills, so that when she returns to her country and resumes her position in the company she will be more likely to advance higher in the company. She received a license from her company giving her this year “off” with a promise her job will be waiting for her.

My point is that it depends on the aupair,their planning, etc. and probably were they are coming from, to the financial circumstances, a girl I spoke with from brazil said she paid $250 to sign up with agency, so she didn’t want to sign up with another.

I will have to ask my current aupair what her costs were for the agency.

A second thought…. No aupairs are not coming over to the US and making tons of money, but the “non financial” benefits are huge in my opinion. I mean if a person came to the US and had to pay for the basics, rent for a shared decent place to live would be minimum $400 a month depending on what part of the country, utilities probably $100,groceries $200, then think about transportation options, probably total minimum of $1000 a month. Not to mention extra curricular activities, some are free but a lot of things cost money.

My brother is a professional with a decent paying job, and struggles horribly, he has a hard time surviving on $2000 a month because everything is expensive.

My aupair has a great place to live, privacy, all the food she wants, free access to a car, if dh and I go to dinner, I usually bring her something home to eat. We invite her everywhere, and we pay for her to go, to eat every meal with us. We aren’t eating McDonald’s… My point is, if an aupair is with a good host family, then they are getting “paid” in other ways, money they couldn’t make to pay for these things with a regular job here in the US. We will be going on several vacations, Boston and Maine, disneyworld in the fall….

My brother can’t go on a single vacation, it isn’t in the budget.

So I think focusing on the $200 stipend only, not a lot of money, but all the added benefits of being hosted in the US by families that should be providing good living conditions and experiences for these women can be great.

I guess maybe host families should be investigated more, to ensure they can provide a Fulfilling year to the aupair in exchange for child care.

I mean families who are scraping by and having to worry about paying extra food for another person, or who can’t afford to to do fun things with an aupair, who can’t go on family vacations, probably shouldn’t have an aupair… Because it is a cultural exchange, and these girls, women are looking to get alot out of the experience, not to come and just work and be stuck at a host families house. Because in that sense the only wont go far.

I would think most people choosing to go the aupair route can “afford it”. That they want the cultural exposure, and they want to have a fun year with a young woman from another country. I know the companies just want to get paid, and In tht way they are probably doing a disservice to some aupairs by signing up some families that just aren’t ideal candidates to be host families. Our company just wanted to make sure we had an extra bedroom and I guess that we were “normal”. Whatever tht maybe.

Jen

Momma Gadget May 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

“Or who can’t afford to to do fun things with an aupair, who can’t go on family vacations, probably shouldn’t have an aupair” …Wow!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 19, 2013 at 10:13 am

Jen,
I understand what you are trying to say, but please, families who cannot afford a vacation still have a lot to offer APs. DH and I save for the entire year to pay the AP fees. The $23,000 we pay for an Extraordinnaire is worth every penny – our APs have been far more wonderful with our special-needs child than any of the 25 nurses that rotated through our house in an 11-month period ever were (and none of them have failed to show up for shift the way the nurses did – forcing her bus driver to knock on neighbor’s doors trying to find someone to take her). However, there are entire years when our expenses are such that we don’t take a vacation.

What do we offer? Because we have school-aged children, our APs tend to work 25-30 hours per week, with a 6-hour gap in the middle of the day (while some have just used that time to Skype with friends and family back at home, others have explored the city, worked out at a gym, or formed a cooking club with friends). They also have plenty of time in the evening to enjoy the company of friends who work a 45-hour week with infants and toddlers.

Our APs have enjoyed playing board and card games with us. DH and I really enjoy cooking, so our APs have eaten nutritious meals that reflect our interest in a variety of cuisines. We try to have a family dinner every night – no TV, no radio and no cell phones – so our conversations are rich (and it has been a lot of fun to watch APs go from being listeners to participants over the course of their year). Some of our APs’ friends have become family friends and joined us at the table regularly, other APs have chosen to socialize completely outside the house. The AP has the option of going to school concerts (child #2 plays an instrument) or helping out in the special-needs child’s classroom (APs who wanted to work with special needs children when they returned home found it enriching). They are invited to join us in family activities (most are free or low-budget).

Most of our vacations are spent in the homes of family members, so several APs have become friends with our extended family (and are FB friends with them!).

I don’t think a family has to be wealthy and be willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of extra dollars on an AP for her (or him) to have a rich, cultural experience. I also think that APs are also capable of creating a cultural exchange on their own terms through participation in cluster meetings (understanding that that takes a decent LCC), taking classes, going out with friends, attending concerts or going to clubs, reading, etc. All 8 APs I have hosted have created a rich life for themselves on their own terms, separate from the life they had with us, their HF.

I do think our APs have made far more money than the summer camp counselors at my children’s sleep-away camps (those adults barely break even) or the “exchange” workers who work at summer vacation places – Ocean City, Maryland comes to mind – where they must pay for room & board and are lucky to break even. You’ve seen the places where employees wear badges that state where they’re from. Chances are, if they are not American, they are in the U.S. temporarily on an exchange visa (I know one A.P. who came back and worked for Marriott on a cultural exchange visa). It may be those workers that the law intends to protect and APs, being the minority of cultural exchange workers, are unintentionally affected.

Au pair May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Well, Jen is right.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 19, 2013 at 8:28 pm

How so?

Penn AP Mom May 19, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Keep in mind, if Jen is right that would probably eliminate many, if not most, host families and it would be MUCH more difficult for AP’s to find a match. In addition, if the idea is for this to be a cultural/work exchange and to live the American style of life the regular middle class family who do need the childcare help and must think about their spending, is the American style of life – most Americans are not living the tv/movie lifestyles portrayed by Hollywood.

A Host Mom May 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm

After I posted 3 replies to AP’s post, it just dawned on me that AP is probably a troll. Oh well, shame on me.

Little M. May 21, 2013 at 4:15 am

Well, if your idea of American culture is on the Disney side, maybe.

Otherwise (and realisticlly) America is just like any other country and families do just like yours would. People work, pay for their bills and have normal lifes. And if they can’t afford fancy vacations, they don’t have them!

HRHM May 20, 2013 at 7:23 am

A family that is “scraping by” because they prioritize providing a relatively expensive (certainly more so that before/after care at most public schools) childcare option for the benefit of their kids and the benefit of the Au Pair they host…shouldn’t do so?

Only wealthy families that could probably afford a “real nanny”, provide their AP with a separate apartment so they don’t have to deal with her during off hours, make sure she has a Lexus SUV to drive, iPhone with unlimited data, can take her along on vacation to the tune of an additional 1500 dollars for the week so they don’t have to deal with their own kids on vacation….those are the best HPs?

The biggest benefits good HPs have to offer to an AP have NOTHING to do with money. Cultural exchange is free. And honestly, the most egregious HP behavior I’ve heard of from my APs friends has been at the hands of the more well-heeled HPs.

A Host Mom May 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

Exactly, throughout the years, it is the au pairs from “well-off” families that are left alone on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A Host Mom May 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

Oops, pressed “submit” too early. And it was my family who offered to host those au pairs at either my home or my relative’s homes.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Yes, we too happily invite anyone who is stranded to our table, and have a couple of little gifts for them on Christmas.

Host Mom X May 20, 2013 at 10:48 am

I do have to agree. We are in the category of host families who cannot provide a lot of “extras,” but we try to be kind, understanding, flexible people who do what we can to enhance our APs’ experience of living and working in the U.S. for a year (or two). We give little gifts where we can to show our appreciation, provide extra time off when we can or flexibility when requested – so that our APs know that they are appreciated, and so that they can create the rich experiences for themselves that TACL describes.

Our APs’ friends who seem to have the worst experiences are – by far – those who are hosted by extremely wealthy folks. I don’t like to generalize, because we have well-off friends with APs who are wonderful hosts to their APs and truly include them as part of the family, with great benefits that we could never provide – like vacations to fun places where the AP gets a lot of free time, or a car dedicated to the APs’ personal use. We have also heard stories of APs’ friends hosted by typical middle class families who treat their APs horribly, and do seem to think of the APs as all-around domestic servants – the sort of help they could never afford if they had to pay for it legally (instead of coercing that help from an AP). But I think the majority of AP-friend “horror stories” we have heard have been in the context of wealthier families who do provide, e.g. the guest house, the fancy personal car, the “opportunity” to travel to exotic places for “vacation,” etc.

A Host Mom May 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

We do not take our au pairs on vacation with us, because primarily we do not need child care when we travel and moreover we cannot afford to take them with us (by this, I mean vacations that require airfare, hotel stays, etc.) It usually isn’t an issue because we tend to take our big vacation during the summer in between au pairs. We are upfront about this during the interview process and all of our au pairs were fine with it (at least, I’m assuming they are since none of them complained or have rematched). We provide them with other perks (i.e. access to a free train pass to bring them to NYC on their days off), as well as all the standards perks (cell phone, car access). While it is nice that some host family are able to take their au pairs with them on vacation, many host families choose to not vacation with their au pairs (for financial reasons or otherwise) and I think that’s OK. But, I do think it is unfair to say that host families who cannot afford the “vacation” perk shouldn’t host au pairs because that mentality fuels resentment among au pairs and breeds “entitlement.” To be honest, au pairs are very protective of their vacation time, as they feel they need a “break,” so why aren’t host families allowed the same luxury?

Host Mom X May 20, 2013 at 11:09 am

Agreed. I would say a great many au pairs prefer to take their own separate trips when the host family goes on vacation – so that they can create their OWN American experience, choose where they go, choose who they travel with, etc. We did take one AP on a beach vacation where we actually needed to work half the time, so we scheduled our AP to work in the mornings, and then gave her time off to explore, or just hang with us if she chose, in the afternoons and evenings (this was not counted as HER vacation time, btw – I think it is horrendous when host families do this). If we did activities, she’d join us – but there weren’t many; it was mostly just a “sit on the beach” vacation, and we had very young children, who couldn’t really do any “activities.” While I think our AP enjoyed spending the time with us to some extent, and we certainly had fun with her and enjoyed the bonding time away from our busy lives and getting to know each other better, I think she was primarily bored and would have really preferred being back with her friends, or going someplace else that she chose herself. Also – we had rented a two-bedroom place, so we squeezed into one small room with the kids; this was tough for us, but we could not really afford to rent a 3-bedroom place. And this beach was within driving distance. An extra plane ticket is generally a hardship for us.

We would never DREAM of subjecting our AP to family-visit “vacations” and labeling that a “benefit.” Stranded in the mid-west in the winter, with no way to get around, and shuttling between various relatives’ houses (some of whom are not the pleasantest people) sounds AWFUL to me, thinking about it from an APs’ perspective. We have offered, but our APs have (quite intelligently, I think) refused! And had they accepted, bringing the AP along would probably make what is an already somewhat stressful visit to the sometimes unpleasant relatives even more stressful – paying for an extra plane ticket, figuring out how to provide a separate room in each house, trying to figure out how to get the AP out of the house to have at least mildly entertaining experiences in the nearby cities (while trying to please family by spending enough time with each relative), etc. Even figuring out how to transport everyone – we don’t have our own car when travelling to visit family, and we’d probably have to rent an extra car to transport all of us with the AP – would be an added level of stress and difficulty. Unfortunately, we do travel to family over Christmas, so that means our APs can’t be with us for Christmas. But we do always have a “little Christmas” before we go to celebrate with the AP (in addition to Hannukah, which we also celebrate), and we provide options for the AP to join friends or family near our home for the holiday if they choose. (Though the majority of our APs so far have actually come from cultures and religions that don’t have Christmas, or where Christmas isn’t such an important day because it isn’t religious for them, e.g. Asian countries, so being “alone” on Christmas doesn’t feel bad to them, except to the extent they were hoping to participate in this “American” experience. And that we do try to provide before we go.)

TexasHM May 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm

At the risk of getting roasted on this, I will toss out what we have done for family vacations. We too, cannot afford another plane ticket and all expenses on our trip. We also, cannot afford to take an AP and not have it count as vacation if they go (because we have to fly in granny or grandma to cover the APs vacation weeks generally) so maybe that makes us horrible but here is what we have done with 2 APs and it’s worked fantastically and stayed within budget.
First – we lay out all the details, accomodations, flights, prices, etc to set expectations. Next we explain that while we can cover existing expenses (say renting a minivan for the week, condo for the week, etc) we can’t cover the additional personal overhead (plane ticket, more expensive meals out or Disney tickets, etc) and we let the AP decide. Both APs have decided to go, we dont have them work at all and they have complete freedom. They do pay for a plane ticket (usually around $300) and some incidentals like plane tickets or big meals out. The food at the condo we cover, vast majority of the time we or my parents pick up the meal tabs at the casual places for the AP so they end up getting an awesome vacation for way less than they would have if they went with friends but we also get to stay within our budget – everyone wins.
Maybe they are fluffing me up but both APs told us hands down those were their best vacations here. Where else can you get 8-10 days on the beach in Florida plus a day or two at Disney for $800 or less or more recently – 8 days in California, 7 of which included some park ticket while staying in nice hotel or vacation rental home for $800? It could have been more but both girls used deals like we did and were discerning about spending their money. Yes, we spent more but instead of shouldering double that and ruling out the vacation we spent more and they covered the rest.

TexasHM May 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm

PS – If its their vacation time the separate room requirement is waived so we let them decide if they want to pay for their own hotel room or share a king with a kiddo or take a rollaway or pull out couch, etc. They get every option but both always decided they were fine with free, everyone slept great and had a great time. Its all about expectations.

Host Mom in the City May 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm

TexasHM – sounds like you found something that works great for both your APs and your family, sounds like you’re very upfront about expectations and costs, you give your au pair the option of what she wants to do (come or stay home), and it all works out great. What’s to roast?

Host Mom X May 28, 2013 at 11:50 am

That sounds like a true vacation – if they weren’t expected to work (and it looks like it was their choice to come or not), I see no problem having this time “count” as their vacation time, and it sounds like you showed them a great time!

(I guess with the “roast” you were thinking because you dictated which weeks would have to count as their vacation weeks, rather then letting them choose? I think this is personal to each family, as long as it is made clear ahead of time. We make clear that we expect to choose one week of the vacation time, i.e. one of the times we expect to be away visiting family, and that the AP gets to choose her other vacation week. We decided this was fair, and seemed pretty common practice, but I know not everyone does this. And some are more generous, and let the AP choose both weeks. As long as the expectations are set out up-front, I think all ways work.)

Taking a Computer Lunch May 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm

It sounds like you had formed a close relationship with both APs, so that they wanted to join you on a family trip. I don’t think your decisions were bad – you communicated openly about expectations.

The majority of APs who have joined us on family trips wanted to be with us, too, because they were as likely to hang out with us during non-working hours as working hours. We’ve even had APs vacation with us during their travel month.

TexasHM May 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I guess I thought I might get flack for a couple things – making them count it as vacation days, not getting them their own room (not a requirement if they are on vacation), or possibly for making them pay for anything (I’m sure some host families would consider our arrangement rude or cheap). We do the same thing actually for weekend trips, they can come and we cover what we would anyway but they decide if they are ok sleeping on the sofa sleeper and they pay for meals and can come and go as they please, less stress for everyone and allows us to take more weekend trips if we aren’t covering all expenses for another adult but still cheap trip for the girls.

Host Mom in the City May 20, 2013 at 10:58 am

It’s pretty simple – if you’re a host family, you put out what you offer. If you’re an au pair candidate, you get to decide what you value most. There is so much variation in terms of what different host families offer. I would advise au pairs that there are going to be very very few host families who are going to take you on fancy vacations, give you your own luxury car, have a private separate apartment for you to live in, truly treat you like a family member, have only 25 hours on the schedule each week, not ask for any housework at all, have one constantly well-behaved child, give you an unlimited iPhone 5, and be a perfect personality match for you.

All of those au pairs who don’t find this family will have to sacrifice on one or more of those things. There are already more au pairs than there are host families. If you as a host family were required to demonstrate that you could afford to offer your au pair her own car, her own smart phone, and take her on at least one fancy week-long vacation each year, then there would be even fewer host families.

Listen, I know we don’t offer the best “package” and I admit to feeling badly about it sometimes. Both of our au pairs have been happy overall and we are very welcoming and do our best where we can. I do hope that our au pairs have recognized the things we do do for them (which do not always involve spending money).

I agree that you also have to be careful what you ask for. My au pair currently has a friend with a very wealthy family (who is actually now in rematch). She has her own Lexus and her own separate apartment. She never sees her host parents and is basically banished to her apartment when they are home, they require tons of housework (outside of the bounds of what should be allowed IMO), literally screamed at her when she got a ding in the car, etc. I’m not saying that all wealthy families are going to be like this at all, but if you’re an au pair only talking to host families with the best perks, I think you’re missing out on the big picture of what makes for a good year.

Momma Gadget May 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

This is a cultural exchange program not a free ride to an all inclusive vacation resort. Candidates “expecting” this should probably not be Au pairs.
There are absolutely HFs that have no business participating in this program, but that has very little to do with their financial means.

The State Department requirements for the AP program are clear:
A separate bedroom, 195.75 weekly stipend, $500 education fund, meals, transportation to class and cluster meetings,45 hour work week max. No where does it stipulate all expense paid vacations.
To suggest that families who cannot afford to take the AP on family vacations and entertain AP’s with “fun stuff”, shouldn’t participate in the program is ludicrous.
Our Family falls somewhere in the middle as far as perks go- Cell phone, car, weekends off. We don’t need child care on vacation with our older HCs, but we have brought our AP along because we really clicked, appreciated all he has done for us during the year, and thought he would enjoy it… It was not “expected” and was greatly appreciated. We invite our AP on any of the outings with the kids that we think he might enjoy, and any celebratory dinners whether it be at Mc Donalds,or a 4 star NY restaurant. We do these things not because we are obligated to do them, but because we want to.We have spent countless hours helping our AP’s find rewarding, inexpensive things to do,Classes & etc..
There are families in our cluster who can give their AP’s smart phones, luxury AP cars, separate apartments in huge homes with House keepers and awesome vacations ( who could easily afford to hire full time elite nannies). There are other families who really struggle to afford the program and do the best with the means they have. I would not begrudge either the right to choose the best childcare option for their family.
Having been and exchange student myself, I can attest that there is no better way to learn/improve a language skill than to be immersed in it. On this front,the value of being able to stay here in the US and live with a family to improve one’s english skills is significant…. regardless of the other perks offered or not.
Moreover, being and AP is also supposed to help young adults become more independent… how is it becoming more independent ( or fair) by transferring the responsibility for their entertainment from their own parents to the HPs?
Our last AP wrote us a lovely letter upon his (very sad) departure. The things that he appreciated most was the kindness, thoughtfulness time and effort we took to exchange ideas and learn about each other’s culture… none of it monetarily measurable.

Back to the subject –
From the case studies for this bill it seems that they are really trying to address the abuse and exploitation of seasonal and skilled workers-since. Because the AP program falls under the same visa system they are “tarred by the same brush”.
I sent in a version Of Host Mom X’s Letter ( Thanks!)

Sadly I think that regardless of what laws are passed, as long as there is a demand of people looking to come into the US to work, there will always be scum out there looking to skirt the rules, and exploit them.

Angie host mom May 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I’m really surprised by the payments that au pairs are making to become au pairs posted here – my last four au pairs (we are through APC) all said they didn’t have to pay anything to apply. It was essentially free for them. From Poland and Germany.

I’m not sure who is charging them to come here….but the girls/women we’ve had with us have never paid more than a few hundred dollars, and the ones who paid that got it back when they completed the program….

JenNC May 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I guess I shouldn’t type straight out of my head, my major point was really wanting an aupair for the right reasons, I want mine to have a full filling year with us and as she explores herself. I didn’t say a family had to take an “expensive vacation” but I think that if an aupair is part of the family then she goes on vacation with us. It could be camping out in a tent , visiting grandmas house etc… I know hardworking families use aupairs, normal families, …. I am really talking about in relation to the legislation, about people who may exploit an aupair, people who may opt for an aupair because in their mind it maybe “cheaper” but have no real plans to enrich their own lives or an aupairs life. Meaning, the type of family who gets some poor girl here, she has limited to no transportation to leave when she isnt ” and there are no extra curricular activities. And I am sure it happens, a local aupair is going thru this here, she has been here months and the family has made minimal to no effort to get her acclimated, haven’t taken her to get registered for school, they don’t have Time to take her for her drivers license test. So she cant drive, and we dont live somewhere were there is public transportation. so she is at the mercy of her host family and kindness of other aupairs, she is on a military base, which complicates things and makes it hard for regular people to come on propety. rThe other aupairs have been offering to take her and drive her so she can get her school credits done….. This is just a few of the things…… So sorry if I offended about vacation but I was thinking about what being able to take a vacation whether free or expensive implies……

We work hard and we play hard, but I want my children to be enriched by this experience, as well as Our aupair… I want her to want to stay, not for what we have but for the special moments and memories we all create. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Jen

Cate B. June 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Just as a point of clarification, the Hershey workers are technically Summer Work Travel (SWT) participants, and like au pairs, they are typically in their late teens or early twenties since they must be enrolled in university studies full-time in their home country as a requirement of participation. In other words, SWTs are likely to be the classmates and friends of au pairs back home–responsible young people seeking meaningful cultural opportunities.

The proposed changes to the program (Subtitle F) are designed to ensure that participants of cultural exchange programs (au pairs, camp counselors, SWTs, trainees) do not suffer abuse and that U.S. authorities have enough information to ensure their safety and well-being. Young students motivated to seek cultural enrichment while also working to pay for their time abroad should have these basic protections–it strengthens the reputation and longevity of the program for au pairs and host families alike.

Momma Gadget January 27, 2014 at 3:22 pm

New article in the Wall Street Journal our LC sent out.
– I guess they didn’t feel this subject was worth really investigating, just jumped right to the negative insinuation. What a lazy piece of (so called) journalism!
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304864504579139232039637674

Momma Gadget January 27, 2014 at 3:23 pm
Host Mom in the City January 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Man these articles always bug me. It’s always so obvious that the reporter really has no idea how the program works and doesn’t even do minimal research. I would love for them to show a balance by also interviewing any of the thousands of happy au pairs – au pairs that came to the program for the right reasons and who lived with host families that are in it for the right reasons. All three of my au pairs had the time of their lives – it was the perfect gap year of growth and traveling and deciding what was next for them.

I’d also love to see them get the facts straight on what the program costs. Although I would happily pay more directly to the au pair instead of to the agency and agree that it’s time for at least an assessment of the stipend and education fee, it’s really misleading to simply say that the au pair is paid a stipend which is one half to one third of what a nanny would make. Simply adding basics like phone, food, insurance, transportation costs for classes and meetings, and the education fee bumps it up to more than the reporter states. And comparing a live-in au pair to a live-out nanny salary is misleading. And finally, I would love to know where the writer got the $7,000 agency fee number. APIA is $8,445 (not including the travel fee from the training school), CC is $8,300 (again, not including travel fee), Eurapair is $7,845 (again, plus travel fee), etc. For those of us who use Extraordinaires, the fee is $9,500, for a total of nearly $10,000 spent even before the au pair arrives.

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