Sad Host Mom: How to break the bad news about her visa

by cv harquail on February 20, 2010

Parents, we got this email from an active commenter, who doesn’t really have a “problem” we can fix — but she does need us a little bit. Can you share any wisdom that might make this hard situation a little easier for her and her Au Pair?

shaded memories etsyWe love our au pair. She came to use through rematch, and extended. Things are so easy with her. Not perfect, but stable, loving, and easy. She loves both our girls, they love her–and they listen to her. She is smart, talented, trustworthy, and an overall good egg.

She has asked us to help her get a student visa. This topic has been discussed a lot on the blog, but because my DH and I both work for the government we can not take any chances skirting the laws.  If she got the visa and then walked the kids home from school for us regularly, that would be “work” even if it were bartered, and she is not allowed to “work” for the people who sponsor her student visa. (If I’m wrong, please somebody tell me!) We cannot in good conscience skirt that “work” issue, even though we could reduce her work week down to only about 15 hours.

(Those are 15 hours I don’t feel comfortable warehousing my kids in the after-school program for; yes, I’ve thought about it, it would be cheaper than a full time au pair, but I’m not ready to do that yet. And since we don’t have the latch-key option anymore, we need an alternative. The summertime hours problem kills the educare option for us. Ultimately no cost savings there at all, since you have to buy camp and other babysitters to keep their hours down.)

So I’m sitting shiva with the impending end of this very lovely thing we have going.

Sadly, we can’t afford to sponsor her student visa, pay for her to go to college until she finds adequate other income, and also host another au pair to take care of the kids. (For us, the cost of sponsoring and sending her to college here would be basically equal to the cost of hosting an au pair.) If we had an extra room, I’d happily house her and feed her but I can’t even offer her that. Also, the idea of being so responsible for someone who has no job or other income is intimidating.

I just dread telling her that there isn’t much we can do for her.

I dread several parts of this:
– telling her the bad news,
– knowing how letdown she will feel after the conversation sinks in, and
– wanting to spare her feelings from seeing my screen or hearing me on the phone while I search for her successor.

And we have to tell her soon, so this will be looming around the house as she finishes out her year. It seems disloyal, when she has been so loyal and lovely to us. Any ideas on how to make this less painful for all of us?

Parents and au pairs, the lines are open. Send in your suggestions!


Elle February 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

My host family had to let me go early (6 months in) because they misjudged their budget and realized they couldn’t financially afford to stay in the program. It was quite upsetting for both me and my HF because we had gotten along fantastically. They were very honest and upfront in explaining to me that it was absolutely a financial issue and not personal, and even though I understood that anyway, it was nice to hear and helped soften the blow. It was painful to say goodbye and awkward to be in the house knowing I was about to leave, but it’s part of life and the experience. I think the most important thing to do is to be honest and open about the whole thing. Push past through any resulting awkwardness and maybe ask her advice in finding the replacement. If she was a good AP and really cares about your family (and it seems like she does) then she’ll have your best interests in mind and would probably appreciate being included in the process.

Anonymous February 21, 2010 at 8:30 am

Since you both work for the government, perhaps you can explain that due to your employment you are not allowed to sponsor her, that your job does not allow it. Maybe that would help cushion the blow. Or, you could just frankly explain to her that you simply cannot afford it. Have you asked her how she intends to come up with the money? If I am not mistaken, I believed that in order to get that visa one needed $10,000. or the ability to show that they had that money towards schooling, etc. I know there was another family that sponsored their former au pair, and she had to show some proof as to money, etc. Even though you get along, and things are going well, no matter how you tell her, I have the feeling there will be some bitterness on her part. That might be one reason to explain that you job prohibits it. Good luck.

franzi February 21, 2010 at 8:35 am

having her work for you while yo sponsor her student visa is not allowed. from the way you describe your situation there is no way to keep her caring for your kids and have her go to college full-time.
there is really not much you can do to ease the pain, both for her and for you as family. make it clear to her that it is not her performance, her personality, or anything in her ability to change.
in the end, this is an exchange program that involves the AP to go back home at the end of it. the parting process is hard, even more so when the life the AP lived has been such a positive experience.

you can support her in finding other ways to come back. there are scholarship opportunities and the like if she wants to study in the US/continue her studies she started at home.

do not allow her, for her own sake, to fly back home and then come back on a visa waiver immediately (if she is from one of the participating countries). no matter if she intends to work for you or not on the waiver, it’s very likely she will be denied entry and then she’s got 10 years of problems obtaining a visa.

HRHM February 21, 2010 at 9:57 am

You could be describing us! Our AP does a great job with the kids and with me getting ready to deploy, we asked her to extend. She told us (we kind of knew already) that she would but that she would then want to get a student visa and stay to go to school full-time. We have very little ones (and may be having more) so I still need full time care. I pointedly explained to her that with DH’s clearance that we don’t break the rules. This was not the first time she’d heard this during her year. We also explained that we don’t have 20K lying around in an account (that’s what the local university and CC have as their financial requirement!) I helped her to find a new HF in a more metropolitan area and she’ll be leaving to join them in 3 weeks. It was difficult, but she understood that with our jobs and our needs it just wouldn’t work. In reality, I would never do it, even if it would.

She has one friend who is in her first year of student visa, is being worked 55+ hours by the HF, only gets the same stipend as before, pays her own tuition with money from home and has no one to complain to. I think it’s a bad idea overall. Neither side is protected if something bad happens.

Jeana February 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

Our first aupair lived with us for three years. She was our aupair for one year. She wanted to go to college in the US, and I supported this. She is a lovely woman, and really became part of our family. I helped her with appointments at the college she hoped to attend. Our aupair completed her year with us, returned to her home country, applied for a student visa, and returned to us in less than two weeks. Prior to this, she had to work with her family, to show that she had the entire amount of tuition for the two years she planned to stay. I wrote a letter indicating that our former aupair would have no living expenses, as she would be living with us. My older daughter was in school full-time, and I had not yet adopted my younger daughter. I did not need an aupair. Johanna was only permitted to work on campus for the two years she attended school. It isn’t easy to accomplish, and Johanna was the one that made this happen. I merely supported her with meeting with the college to make sure we were understanding the legal way to proceed, and by writing a letter indicating she would not have living expenses.

Your situation of working for the government makes it especially important to make sure that you’re following the guidelines, and I would hope that your aupair understands this. I have to say that I also took the commitments that our aupair and our family made. I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with our agency, which I love (AuPair in America). I also suspect that there is some type of record keeping when aupairs don’t complete their commitment, return to their home country, and apply to be an international student from home. I was so thankful for our great experience, that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the program for other families.

There are so many pieces that need to connect for an aupair to be able to study in the US; I sensed from what was written that you were feeling the burden was on you, to make this happen. Realistically, I couldn’t take on that challenge. I needed to know that our (former) aupair had the problem solving skills and fire in her soul to be the one who made this happen.

We had a lovely experience when our aupair returned to our family. It was so exciting to see her graduate with her Associates Degree in Business. My sister, brother-in-law, daughter, and I attended her graduation. The next day, we had a party for Johanna, to celebrate her accomplishment, and to say goodbye, as she was returning to her home country. Lots of tears from all of us! Johanna just graduated with her MBA in International Business, and we’re so proud of her!

ArwenAuPair February 21, 2010 at 10:55 am

I think it is most important that you are honest with your au pair. Tell her that you just cannot afford to sponsor her. Sponsoring is a big deal, and, yes, it certainly can appear pretty scary, you are made ‘officially’ responsible to support her. Also, I can imagine that she has a pretty ‘romantic’ idea what it means to go to university in the U.S. If she is a full-time student, she won’t have time to work as an au pair! (and it’s illegal anyway) When you are an au pair, this is your job, when you are a student, that is your job! I was an au pair in Florida, then I moved back to my home country and started my studies there. Now I am back in the U.S. as a Master’s student. I work 10 hours per week as a graduate assistant (which covers my tuition), and I can hardly manage to complete all the school work. Expectations are high, especially in a graduate program. But it was the right decision for me. Unless you have a VERY safe financial background (rich family), it is almost not worth it to get a B.A. degree in the U.S. (at least not for Western Europeans). Maybe you can tell her that it might be an opportunity to come back to do her graduate studies. At least, she can meet you again then! I know graduate studies may seem so far away for her, but there is no use for her to ruin herself financially just to be able to stay.
I would absolutely include her in your search for a new au pair. I am sure she might highly appreciate it when she has the impression that her opinion counts. It proves how much you trust her! Good luck!

Deb Schwarz February 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm

How sad! I have many au pairs in my group stay on with a student visa (and a much reduced work schedule), but these families don’t have government/law jobs. I would help ease the pain by helping her find a family to sponsor her. Craigslist is a good place to start – e.g. “Former, experienced au pair looking for 25 hours a week/live-in”, or Great Au Pair – perhaps you can help edit her ad? I’d advise her not to work more than 25 to 30 hours a week, and help her screen the families by offering to give her a recommendation – and then interview the host family when they call you… make sure that she’s not walking into a bad situation like someone mentioned above (55 hours a week and going to school – yikes!). Hopefully she can still stay in the area and spend time with your family and your new au pair – that would be my goal.


Anonymous2 February 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

As an LCC – Isn’t this a bad idea to be encouraging an au pair to return and work while having a student visa? I would think an agency would frown upon this…just wondering…

ArwenAuPair February 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I just want to emphasize that working for a host family while being in the U.S. on a student visa is ILLEGAL! As a student, one is only allowed to work on-campus (at least for the 1st year and then one can apply for an off-campus working permit – but it is difficult to get one, one must have suffered ‘financial hardship’ (how it is officially called) and the application might be denied!)!!! You should keep that in mind! When you are supporting your au pair to find a live-in nanny position, you are supporting something illegal! If the au pair gets caught, she might not get granted a U.S. visa for many, many years. I personally think that’s not worth it.

CT Host Mom February 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Our first au pair aske us to sponsor her for a visa (either tourist or student) and since my husband is an attorney, we were in a similar situation. Also, this host mom might want to keep in mind the responsibility involved when sponsoring someone for a visa, if something were to happen to the au pair, she and her husband would be financially responsible (i.e. medical care, etc). I think that’s a lot to ask of them. When this situation came up with our au pair we explained that we couldn’t do it because of my husband’s position as an attorney and also that sponsoring someone for a visa is really meant to be done by a father, mother, fiance, husband, wife, etc and not a host family. While we do consider our au pairs part of the family, I don’t think this is what the program had in mind. It’s a tough situation, but our au pair was totally fine with it and it didn’t change our relationship. Good luck.

Sara Duke February 22, 2010 at 12:07 am

We did attempt to sponsor our first au pair as an employer (meaning that the application was successful but in the 2 1/2 years it took the Department of Labor get around to reviewing her application to see if we might proceed with the the sponsorship, she was ready to move on). We had a lawyer assist us with the application process (because he spent time making sure it was Kosher, not us).

However, because she was basically trapped without a valid Visa while she waited for her application to be processed, we also sponsored her as a student. We didn’t have to prove that we had money in the bank (because we didn’t). Matt went with the AP to meet with the school official doing the intake, and he gave his official statement, “She can’t work for you,” while he basically winked. Students MAY work off campus IF they can prove financial hardship. The AP continued to work for us, full-time for another year, and then 3/4 time for 1 1/2 more years. When she was ready to move on with the rest of her life, we went back to the AP program.

If it means that the president won’t appoint me for a cabinet-level position, so be it. The AP got what she wanted – the ability to stay in the US, earn her Extraordinnaire salary, and have 100% of her college tuition paid for (it really hurt us the first year, but afterwards it was cheaper than being in the AP program). We got what we wanted – a former PICU nurse caring for our medically fragile child with special needs (who survived 2 major crises, including a 5-week hospitalization, with the critical skills our former AP brought to the table) and stable care for our typical child. We were able to go ahead and sponsor her as an employer because of her critical skills. She now works as a nurse in the US.

Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Was it the right move for then? Without a doubt.

HMinPNW February 22, 2010 at 1:56 am

I’m all for the “be upfront” approach. Usually, even if you can’t help her directly by hosting her, you can help her in some other way, like helping her find a new host family, writing good references, navigating the visa & student stuff. With the screening stuff, she sounds mature enough to understand that you’ll need someone new and not take it personally; perhaps you can somehow involve her in the process, maybe by asking her to help generate questions for the new au pair, or give input into how to change your family handbook. We’ve had past APs either talk to or email with potential new APs, which does have it’s potential downsides, and is probably not as directly beneficial, though it may communicate to both the current and potential APs the relationship you are capable of.

NoVA Host Mom February 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think you break it to her just as you told us: there are many points where this becomes prohibitive, and then lay them out. Remind her how much she means to you and that you do appreciate all she has done and been to your family.

You laid it out in a very loving and positive manner here (the paragraph after “sitting shiva”), and I think that you should do the same when speaking with her. Then tell her what you worry about with regards to the news.

Maybe she would feel better about departing if she has input in the next AP? In discussions with our AP (who came to us the same way and is also extending), she worries about who will care for the girls when she is gone. So, we agreed she would be able to help us choose the next AP for the girls. She knows the end will happen at some point (for us, it’s just under a year from now), but having some say in what follows will give a sense of security knowing the family she loves is taken care of by someone she knows or had a say in, rather than just feeling like everything is out of her control or impact.

Even if she does not have the final say (that is yours and HD’s), having some input might help soften the blow. But only if this is something she wants to be included in.

Original Poster February 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Wonderful advice. Thank you all! Of course just saying it is the right approach.


As I researched the issues at play here, I had kept our au pair in the loop, emailing her links to sites that showed the paperwork, the affidavits, estimated total costs, and the dreaded rules about “work”. It was not my intention, but it seems that reading about the hurdles prompted her to realize that staying here would really be a Big Deal, and to do some soul searching (I think one of the commenters hinted that this might–or should–happen).

I just got an email from her (her preferred communication style, from a life of texting, I suppose). Weekend conversations with friends helped her figure out what it is that she does not want to return TO, and how she might return to her home country but build a life that is different from the one she left behind when she joined us.

In the next few days I will sit down with her and have a mentorly/motherly chat with her about what she wants to do next, and how I can support her in the time remaining to take advantage of opportunities here.

Part of what I love about hosting au pairs is that it’s kind of like going to a wedding: while enjoying the ceremonies and traditions, you remember your own wedding, and those of other loved ones. This issue reminds me so acutely what it was like to be 20-something, and trying to figure out “what you want to be when you grow up”!

I remember how small the doorknobs seemed at my mom’s house after living in the college dorm for a semester. One really can’t “go home” again, because our travels change us. And that’s just as it should be.

Sara Duke February 23, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I have had several au pairs who wanted to stay in the US (actually only one so far came knowing that after one year she would return home no matter what). One has stayed in the country, the rest returned home after their term ended.

My advice to my APs has always been, “Don’t do it for a man, do it for yourself.” Meaning, that if the reason for staying is love, it isn’t enough. They need to do soul searching and determine if they could really make a life for themselves here. Most have gone home and made lives for themselves on their own terms. Perhaps their year here liberated them to think for themselves and decide what’s important to “me,” instead of “my parents,” “my boyfriend,” “my family.”

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